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How a basic understanding of SRI was constructed, starting with research done in Madagascar but then spreading beyond, has been summarized in Chapter 4, 5 and 6. The preceding chapter, Chapter 7, reviewed how the effectiveness of the methods that Fr. Laulanié had combined together into SRI was verified by factorial trials in Madagascar and by independent evaluators in eight other countries during the first eight years after SRI’s emergence outside of that island-country. There remains, of course, still a lot more to be known as SRI remains a work in progress.

This chapter on collaborative research undertakings is followed by one that reviews the efforts of individual researchers around the world who helped to construct a better understanding of this innovation and made some modifications in it. Fr. Laulanié would surely have been the first to welcome such amendments and refinement of his work, being fully convinced of the importance of empiricism and critical thinking. Just as SRI was based on ‘outside-the-box’ thinking, it has been important that SRI itself not become another ‘box.’

As the story of SRI is being recounted in terms of three parallel but distinguishable streams of activity and learning, the remaining chapters in Part I continue to focus on how SRI knowledge was built up, even as this process was interwoven with the concurrent streams of gaining acceptance for SRI and extending its opportunities. Part II reports on how, at the same time a better understanding of SRI was taking shape, it became a matter of controversy, a global bone of contention, so to speak. For clarity’s sake, the story of what got dubbed ‘the rice wars’[1] is told separately from the account of endeavors to comprehend the surprising but welcome results that were observed with farmers around Ranomafana National Park, and by anyone who paid attention to their success.

How could poor farmers on such poor soils -- without purchasing new seeds and chemical fertilizers, and using less water -- quadruple their yields? Not just in Madagascar, but elsewhere too? Quadruplings of yield were reported, for example, also from India and Indonesia.[2] How the accumulating knowledge about SRI got put to use in dozens of countries constitutes a different but related set of stories told in Part III. This chapter and the ones that follow in the rest of Part I consider how a broader and more diversified understanding of SRI was built up over two decades.

At the first international conference on SRI convened in 2002, discussed in this chapter, there were participants from 15 countries, along with a large number of Chinese rice specialists.[3] An overarching conclusion reached from the four days of presentations and discussions was that SRI should proceed with research and practice being regarded as two complementary legs, each supporting and advancing the other, rather than being sequential.[4] No evident risks could be identified from extending the use of SRI as far and as rapidly as farmers were willing to utilize its methods and evaluate them. Nevertheless it was important to know the why of SRI, along with the what and the how.

The conclusion at Sanya -- to proceed with SRI research and extension in tandem -- diverged from the usual approach taken to agricultural development. This assigned researchers the task of devising and testing improvements which, if approved, would be transmitted through extension personnel to farmers, who were expected to put the new knowledge to use.

With SRI, there emerged a dialectical understanding of the relationship between knowledge and practice. Knowledge and practice were each expected to inform the other in a reciprocal way. Moreover, farmers were invited to participate in the knowledge-building process, rather than play the role of recipients. Instead of being just adopters, farmers were expected to be adaptors, and also innovators.[5]

In this chapter, a variety of collaborative efforts in different parts of the world are considered that in their respective ways were intended to advance the knowledge as well as the practice of SRI.[6] The chapter also reports on one effort that was unfortunately aborted. In the following chapter, we review contributions from individuals in many different countries who helped to build up knowledge for both understanding and utilizing SRI.

It is not possible to know and write about all of the SRI knowledge that was contributed by various groups and individuals because their efforts were and continue to be far-flung. There was no control over them and no centralized record of SRI research and dissemination initiatives. Nobody could be acquainted with all of the initiatives. And since this is a story rather than an encyclopedia, this memoire must be somewhat selective. Accordingly, this chapter and the next consider the build-up of SRI knowledge without trying to be all-encompassing as this would require several books.

Because there was no overall research project or agreed-upon agenda, the knowledge generated collectively and individually was broadly but not systematically cumulative. It was as if SRI were some kind of huge elephant in the room that nobody could see very clearly or fully. Researchers had gotten a rough initial sketch of SRI from Fr. Laulanié, and then the growing body of published literature gave them more ideas of what there was to be seen.

Accordingly, researchers studied whatever issues were at hand or came to mind, ones for which they had the competence and resources to address. To use the metaphor from the classic tale about the group of blind men and an elephant, the various issues were like legs or a tail or an ear or a tusk. Fortunately, the people involved in this tale were not blind, and over time the shape of the creature in question emerged from their cumulative endeavors.

A number of projects or programs contributed to the advancement of understanding about SRI. This then affected how SRI gained acceptance and was spread. Being collaborative efforts, the collective initiatives reviewed here had a larger impact than most of the activities of individuals. These collective initiatives in many ways framed the building up of SRI knowledge. Many references will be made in rest of the book to the group activities reviewed in this chapter. Not surprisingly, these efforts appear now to be more coherent in retrospect than they did at the time, when they were in many ways improvisational.

The projects and programs that are summarized here moved SRI from being just an idea, or a set of ideas, in Fr. Laulanié’s mind grounded in Madagascar experience, to becoming a growing movement around the world, with many people and multiple institutions sharing in the realization of SRI potentials.

No effort will be made to present these projects and programs in their entirety. Rather they are woven into the story of SRI. References in the endnotes will enable readers to dig more deeply into these chapters within a chapter if there is time and interest. Here the focus is on telling the story and highlighting topics and things that were novel, or amusing, or sometimes disappointing.


This five-country collaboration initiated and led by faculty from Wageningen University in the Netherlands like so many episodes in the SRI story had an unexpected and idiosyncratic origin. Despite its serendipitous genesis, it had some very productive payoffs in moving the knowledge and practice of SRI beyond Madagascar.[7]

By happenstance, the Wageningen faculty involved in this initiative planned to work with several institutions and countries with which I or others at Cornell already had good connections.[8] How much personal relationships figured into the quick start-up of this research activity and the ease with which the project became focused mostly on SRI cannot be known, but the role of such connections should be kept in mind. As in so much of the SRI story, personal contacts and linkages were greatly facilitative.

The project’s directors, Huib Hengsdijk and Prem Bindraban, reflecting the thinking of most of their Wageningen faculty colleagues involved with rice, were initially less interested in SRI than were most of the other participants in the project. However, to their credit Huib and Prem were responsive to the interests and ideas of their colleagues in developing countries.

It was through the Wageningen project that I became acquainted with T.M. Thiyagarajan (known as TMT) at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India and with Anishan Gani at Indonesia’s Sukamandi rice research center; and through the project I was also able to reconnect with Cao Weixing of Nanjing Agricultural University in China.[9] The project also provided Prof. Robert Randriamiharisoa with some resources to continue funding student thesis research on SRI in Madagascar. The project ‘s budget made possible the immensely important factorial trials that were reported in the preceding chapter.

As director of TNAU’s Center for Crop and Soil Management Studies, TMT was able with project support to initiate and supervise research on the green-manure effects of mechanical weeding with SRI management,[10] on SRI’s effects on beneficial microorganisms in the rhizosphere,[11] and on the reduction of insect-pest prevalence when SRI methods are used, discussed below.

For example, in an evaluation of the incidence of rice crop pests, it was found that SRI seedlings while in their nursery had 75% to 90% fewer pests than conventionally-grown seedlings (or no infestation in the case of cutworms and brown plant hoppers). Once SRI plants were growing in the main field, they had 60% fewer pests on average.[12] These research results are summarized in Chapter 12.

In Indonesia, Anischan Gani in his research under the Wageningen project was able to evaluate among other things the amount of sunlight that reaches rice plants’ leaves at different levels within their canopy when rice is planted at different densities (plants per m2). Anischan wanted to see what effect SRI’s planting of single seedlings at wider spacing had on rice plants’ photosynthetic productivity.[13]

When rice plants are crowded together with 3-6 plants in each hill and with little distance between hills, there is not only less space for their roots to spread and grow, but this also diminishes the amount of sunlight that can reach the rice plants’ lower leaves. Anischan found that when rice plants were closely spaced, as in standard practice, not enough sunlight reached the plants’ lower leaves for these leaves to be photosynthetically active.

This was a very important finding because it meant that with conventional rice-growing practice, the plant’s lower leaves instead of contributing to its pool of carbohydrate energy were withdrawing energy from that pool for their own metabolism. This made the lower leaves, in effect, parasitic.

This negative effect on plant growth is compounded by the fact that rice plants’ roots get most of their energy supply from the lower leaves. Root systems depend on the carbohydrates produced by the lower leaves to support their metabolism.[14] So, when plants are crowded together and their leaves’ photosynthesis is inhibited, reduced production of carbohydeates constrains the growth and functioning of their root systems. This in turn limits the roots’ ability to support the growth and functioning of the leaves that make up the plant canopies.

With conventional practice, there is thus a circular dynamic of negative feedback. Shading of lower leaves reduces roots’ supply of energy and thus their functioning, which in turn affects plants’ ability to carry out as much photosynthesis as they could accomplish. SRI management, by giving rice plants more exposure to sunlight through wider spacing, enables the plant’s above-ground organs to be photosynthetically more productive, a consequence further confirmed by subsequent research in China and India. Below are some of Gani’s results, with data in the bottom row being particularly revealing.


Radiation intercepted at the heading stage and at different spacings with Ciherang variety, Sukamandi research station, dry season 2002

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* Lumens/m²

The Wageningen project held a mid-project workshop in China in 2001 hosted by Nanjing Agricultural University where these and other research findings were shared.[15] One of the main benefits of this event was that it enabled SRI researchers in four countries to get better acquainted. It also permitted Prof. Robert and me to visit the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center in Sanya, China, to which Prof. Yuan Longping had invited us to share our SRI knowledge with him and other Chinese rice specialists (Chapter 21). This set the stage for convening an international conference on SRI in China the next year.

The Wageningen project held a concluding international workshop in 2002 at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, where Robert, TMT, Gani and I all reported on SRI research findings (Chapter 22). This project managed by Wageningen colleagues was probably as important for the networking opportunities that it created as it was for the knowledge that was generated.


When visiting Sri Lanka not long after the Nanjing workshop, Gamini Batuwitage, who was championing SRI in that country while serving as senior assistant secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, suggested that it was not too soon to convene an international conference on SRI, to share experience, talk about problems encountered, and discuss solutions. CIIFAD at Cornell could contribute toward the costs of this, but we would need some other sources of funding.

Fortunately, an agricultural program officer in the Rockefeller Foundation, Ruben Puentes, was willing to make a grant of $60,000 for convening the conference, half of the projected cost. Also Eugene Terry, a former Director-General of WARDA (the West African Rice Development Association, now known as the Africa Rice Center), got the World Bank’s Rural Development Office to provide another $10,000 for international travel.[16] Given that some of the participants would be able to fund their own travel, the conference suddenly became financially feasible once Ruben approved a grant for the meeting.

Prof. Yuan Longping, whom Robert and I had visited in April 2001 after the workshop in Nangjing, expressed willingness to host an SRI conference in Sanya in the south of China, where his hybrid rice development center did its winter-season crop breeding. Association Tefy Saina, which had originated SRI in Madagascar, was an appropriate and eager co-sponsor for the event.

The China National Rice Research Institute asked to become an additional co-sponsor based on its own positive results from SRI evaluation. (CNRRI is discussed in Chapter 27). Plans for the conference thus came together surprisingly quickly. Prof. Yuan’s hybrid rice center took responsibility for making local arrangements, while CIIFAD handled the organizational and logistical details, relying on the capable and forethoughtful skills of its administrative manager, Ginny Montopoli.

A full report on the conference would require a book in itself, so below is just a summary. The proceedings, published within a few months in hard copy and on-line by CIIFAD,[17] contained reports from 15 countries on SRI experience and results: Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Cuba, The Gambia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Madagascar, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. There were also participants from Honduras and Peru where there was interest in SRI but no experience to report.

International participants came from IRRI, IWMI, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Dutch NGO, ILEIA.[18] There were also 46 Chinese participants, including Yuan Longping; Chang Shihua, the director-general of the China National Rice Research Institute (who co-authored one of the research papers); and Li Xiaoyun, dean of the College of Rural Development at China Agricultural University in Beijing.

The keynote addresses represented the different sectors involved with SRI. Sèbastien Rafaralahy, president of Tefy Saina, led off the conference, speaking as an NGO leader and as a friend and associate of Father Laulanié.[19] Professor Yuan then spoke about SRI from his perspective as a rice scientist, reporting that SRI methods were adding 1 to 3 tonnes per hectare to the already-high yields achievable with his super-hybrid varieties of rice.[20] He was followed by Sri Lanka’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Salinda Dissanayake,[21] giving the perspective of a national political leader (who also remained engaged in farming), and by a Sri Lankan farmer who was the first in his country to use SRI methods, W.H. Premarathne.[22]

In addition to the country reports, there were nine papers reporting on SRI research done in China, India and Madagascar, and finally a dozen reports from various group discussions among participants.[23]

Most of the reports on SRI effects and results were very positive, although the results from India and Nepal were not as impressive as those reported from other countries, and the report from Thailand showed reductions in yield under SRI management. The Thai results, quite different from most other findings, it turned out were explainable through subsequent research.[24] Although the knowledge that was shared at the conference was extensive and productive, the networking that resulted from the interactions and friendships that developed during the event may have been even more influential for SRI’s further elaboration.

One of the important outputs from convening so many colleagues from so many countries was the consensus, noted above, that SRI should proceed with research and application moving ahead together, in tandem rather than sequentially.[25] This ‘walking on both legs’ strategy served SRI well. The conference with its wide participation and substantial proceedings, containing both field results and world-class scientific research, provided an important step forward for understanding SRI and for getting it accepted as well as spread.  Below is a picture of the Sanya conference participants.

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The next major initiative came about unexpectedly. Dr. Biksham Gujja, a senior scientific advisor for WWF, the World Wide Fund for Nature based in Switzerland, had been assigned by his organization to develop initiatives to conserve freshwater-dependent ecosystems. Many such systems in India were threatened by the proposed construction of mega-dams that would disturb hydrological patterns and local environments, as well as disrupt the lives of many thousands of people there.

Biksham was based half of each year at ICRISAT, the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Hyderabad, India, which was hosting a ‘dialog project on water for food and environment’ that WWF had designed jointly with the CGIAR system.[26] The dialog project’s purpose was to find ways to reconcile the need to increase food production with the protection of water sources and supply and with the protection of natural ecosystems.[27]

When Biksham happened to learn about SRI, he approached Dr. Alapati Satyanarayana, director of extension for Andhra Pradesh state’s agricultural university (ANGRAU), about conducting a thorough scientific evaluation of SRI in terms of both its productivity and its water-saving capabilities. Satyanarayana was introduced in the preceding chapter. The two worked out a plan for evaluation of SRI that would be systematic and extensive enough so that skeptics should be satisfied. That this evaluation to some extent repeated ANGRAU’s previous assessment (Chapter 7) meant that the evidence would be more unassailable. The first-year’s evaluation was funded with a WWF grant of just $44,000.[28]

These results were again very positive, with two more years of on-farm and on-station evaluation planned and implemented, involving multi-disciplinary research teams from ANGRAU, ICRISAT, WWF, and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s Directorate of Rice Research (DRR). The Directorate, although a national institution, was coincidentally and fortuitously also based in Hyderabad, where ICRISAT and ANGRAL were located. Over 20 researchers were involved in this collaborative work, summarized in an article in the journal Paddy and Water Environment, based on four seasons of data, 2008-2010.[29]

Among the key relationships documented, it was found that SRI methods used with organic fertilization produced rice plants having greater root volume (31% to 162% more) compared with currently recommended practices. Water savings averaged 31% and 37% in the (wet) summer and (dry) winter seasons, respectively. Significant increases were found in total nitrogen in the soil, soil organic carbon, and soil dehydrogenase (an enzyme indicative of soil biological activity), and also in the total counts of bacteria, fungi and actinomycetes in the soil. The article’s abstract concluded that “SRI practices create favorable conditions for beneficial soil microbes to prosper, save irrigation water, and increase grain yield.”

Adding to the value of this research, once there were two years of positive data in hand, the WWF-ICRISAT project convened a series of three national symposia on SRI. The first was held in Hyderabad in 2006, a second at Agartala in the northeastern state of Tripura in 2007, and then a third in southern India at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in Coimbatore.[30] Over the three years, participation grew from 150 to 250 attendees and then to 350. By the third year, participants came from almost all of Indian states and territories, encompassing 98% of the country’s population.

By 2008, organizing and funding such a large event had become a huge challenge, even though a number of other organizations shared in its financing, so the WWF-ICRISAT project which was winding down anyway decided to discontinue this activity after the three years. The symposia had been immensely useful for creating an SRI community in India, with also some international participation. The events gave researchers who were doing their own respective studies in many states of India a chance to present and share findings.

When the dialog project came to the end of its original plan and budget for six years of activity, there was neither funding nor sufficient will from WWF and the CGIAR system to continue the project, so the project dissolved in 2010. By this time, there was so much evidence and so much conviction among project staff that under Biksham Gujja’s leadership they formed a pro- bono company called AgSri that could carry on the work of disseminating SRI, operating as a private-sector entity.[31]

Of lasting consequence, AgSri branched out from SRI by applying its ideas and methods to the agroecological production of sugarcane (SSI). This crop, very important in India and elsewhere, has very high consumption of freshwater resources, and it also adversely affects water and soil quality in many areas by using large amounts of chemical fertilizer. The Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative, discussed in Chapter 14, which AgSri has pioneered was an entirely unanticipated consequence of the WWF-ICRISAT dialog project.



Research on SRI by Abha Mishra, discussed in the next chapter, led to a large regional action-research project on SRI in Southeast Asia. Abha and her husband Prabhat Kumar, an entomologist working with FAO’s IPM program based in Bangkok, put together a project that assessed SRI in the upland areas of four countries in the Lower Mekong River basin: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.[32] This project was administered from a new Asian Center for Innovation in Sustainable Agricultural Intensification (ACISAI) that was established and located at the Asian Institute of Technology outside Bangkok, Thailand.[33]

Oxfam America and FAO’s Integrated Pest Management program for Southeast Asia became partners with ACISAI for implementing this project, while SRI-Rice and a faculty member at the University of Queensland in Australia joined as project associates. The European Union made a grant of 3.4 million euros (USD 4.1 million) to the project for use over five years. The project’s inception workshop was held in April 2013, and a no-cost extension stretched the life-of-project until the end of 2018.

The SRI-LMB project added to our understanding of SRI in several directions. First, the project’s focus was on rainfed rice production (Chapter 13), assessing how SRI ideas and methods can help smallholding farm households buffer the effects and hazards of climate change. The project added considerably to knowledge of how SRI methods can be adapted to rice production with no irrigation, relying only on seasonal rainfall. This requires alterations in water management which was a key element of the original SRI.

The project’s scale of operation was ambitious, working in 11 provinces of the four countries. Its second area of expanded knowledge was farmer participation in experimentation with and evaluation of SRI. The whole project was implemented based on participatory action research. The FAO IPM program which was one of the project partners had long experience with farmer field school methods of participatory research and extension in Asia.

Accordingly, the project established or worked through farmer field school groups in the selected locations. Once participating farmers understood SRI principles and opportunities, their trials included treatments that the farmers themselves decided upon, alongside plots that were managed according to their own usual methods and other nearby plots that employed SRI methods as recommended. The farmer-experiment treatments were usually intermediate between the other two, testing some of the proposed SRI methods but not making all of the changes recommended, just those that seemed easiest or most promising to the farmers.

The results of the farmer-devised treatments usually proved to be better than those of farmer practice, but also demonstrably less productive than full use of SRI methods as recommended. Farmers could see for themselves the effectiveness of SRI methods. However, farmers were left to decide for themselves whether their additional income was worth the greater effort.

The map below shows the location of sites for Farmer Participatory Action Research (FPAR) across 11 provinces of the four countries. Over 15,000 farmers participated in the action research at these sites during the life-of-project, with another 12,000 farmers involved in observation and assessment.

Overall, farmer yields with SRI methods averaged 52% more than their usual methods, with a 70% increase in net income because costs were reduced. The productivity of labor, water and fertilizer was raised by 64%, 59% and 75%, respectively, while energy consumption was lowered by 34%. Even though this was rainfed rather than irrigated rice production, measurements of greenhouse gas emissions showed a 17% reduction per hectare.

C8 3 10.png

The project’s economic analysis showed that the profitability of the new methods could be influenced more by market prices and government policies than by agronomic improvements alone. The economic profitability of SRI methods during the project was 3 times greater in Thailand than in Cambodia, more because of differences in policy than in productivity. This information was somewhat chastening for SRI backers who had focused mostly on agronomic factors. To achieve significant improvements in farm households’ income and well-being, economic policies and market forces needed to be addressed directly and deftly.

The SRI-LMB project demonstrated in a variety of districts throughout peninsular Southeast Asia how willing and capable farmers are, including or even especially women, to participate in systematic testing, experimentation and evaluation that can improve their lives. It showed that there was much untapped agronomic and economic potential in rainfed areas since the project’s analysis of profitability showed that rice production in unirrigated fields with SRI methods was 28.5% greater than in irrigated rice paddies managed conventionally in the same districts.


In 2010 when becoming SRI-Rice’s director of programs, Erika Styger who had previously lived for four years in Mali and who introduced SRI there (Chapter 44), began investigating the possibilities of getting some World Bank support to demonstrate, evaluate and disseminate SRI within the West African region. Some of the persons with whom she talked were persons whom she had gotten to know while working previously as a consultant for the World Bank. In particular, Gaoussou Traoré and Abdoulaye Touré were helpful in getting the attention and support of key decision-makers within the Bank, and Gaoussou eventually became the regional SRI program leader, based in Mali at the Institute for Rural Economy (IER) in Bamako.

The institutional landscape in West Africa was complicated because links needed to be developed with ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, a confederation of 13 member-states, as well as with CORAF, a consortium of 23 national agricultural research systems in West and Central Africa.[34] Just the numbers ‘13’ and ‘23’ foreshadowed the difficulty of this undertaking, overlaid upon the intricacies of working with and through the World Bank. Moreover, each of the member-states and their national agricultural research systems had particularities and interests that needed to be accommodated as well.

After two years of preparatory work and discussions, funding was finally provided from the World Bank to convene a planning workshop in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in August 2012.[35] This had participation from the agricultural research institutions and other organizations within the 13 ECOWAS member-states. To make the planning effort more participatory, Oxfam America provided funding to bring representatives of NGOs and farmer organizations within the ECOWAS region to the workshop as a complement to the governmental participation.

When the SRI project was finally formulated and launched in January 2014, it had a rather complicated but also an innovative structure and mode of operation for a World Bank-supported initiative. The SRI work was undertaken a component within the much larger West African Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP) that was funded by the World Bank and managed through CORAF. All WAAPP activities were delegated to and managed by the respective national agricultural research institutions in the different countries.

Coordination of the SRI activities (SRI-WAAPP) was delegated to Mali’s National Center for Specialization in Rice, which operated under IER, the Institute of Rural Economy in Bamako, from where Gaoussou Traoré gave leadership within the region.  He drew continually and as needed on technical assistance from SRI-Rice as Erika and Devon Jenkins provided training (courses and materials), organized workshops, introduced monitoring and evaluation, and operated a communication platform for the program.[36]

In each country there was an SRI coordinator, often based within its national agricultural research system, although several of the national coordinators came from NGOs or national advisory services. Some of these coordinators were highly motivated and effective, but some had many other things to do and did not give SRI work much priority. Moreover, levels of experience and familiarity with SRI varied greatly among counties, with some having no prior exposure to SRI, while others such as Mali having seen considerable experimentation, farmer adoption, and successful spread.

In each of the countries, the project was given impetus by designated ‘champions’ who complemented and worked with the respective national coordinators. These champions all had other responsibilities, in government agencies or NGOs or as private consultants, and were not directly compensated. They worked on SRI dissemination more out of love than for the money. Some of the latter was necessary, to be sure, and the project provided some resources to these ‘champions’ to make it possible for them to work flexibly and strategically to advance SRI knowledge and practice within their respective countries.

This mode of operation was quite an innovation for a World Bank project. It was worked into the project’s design based on SRI experience elsewhere, where ‘champions’ have been crucial for progress. For SRI to be dynamic and to have an impact, it needs to be animated by individuals who both understand SRI well and care about its having a real human impact. Readers will meet some of these SRI champions working in the different West African countries in Chapter 44.[37]

A bureaucratic complication over which SRI-Rice had no control (nor did the leadership of IER in Mali) unfortunately truncated Phase I of the project, which had been planned for three years. After the project was launched, it was shortened to only 30 months, which meant that it covered only two, and not three, growing seasons.[38] Subsequently, the WAAPP itself also was reorganized, becoming through a long slow process the West African Agricultural Transformation Program, as part of the kind of churning that endemically afflicts large organizations, especially international and multi-governmental operations.

Ultimately, however, the SRI component did not get included in the new operation. Fortunately, there was a large regional project for West Africa funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). SRI activity in the region was projected to resume by 2021, but arrangements have not been finalized. The following summary takes account only of what was accomplished through June 2016.[39]

By the end of Phase I, the project’s monitoring system, aided by GPS capabilities that Devon had developed, could identify 50,048 farmers, one-third of them women, who were using SRI methods at 1,088 sites within the 13 countries. Project records indicated that 33,514 farmers had received SRI training through the project, as did also 1,032 technicians. Below is an interactive map developed by Devon so that anyone could get some information on SRI from each location indicated on the map.[40]

C8 4 13.png

During Phase I, the number of government, NGO and farmer organizations engaged to some degree with SRI knowledge and practice in the region was expanded from 49 to 215, although these organizations were within national networks rather than forming a regional network. And dmost of the national networks are fairly nominal, not as self-managing as most of the SRI networks in Asia. The project’s M&E system estimated that about 750,000 persons had been reached through project activities that included more than training – field visits, radio and television reporting, newspaper and other print media. But such large numbers would have had less impact than the growing number of champions working personally to advance SRI.

Forty percent of the sites where SRI-WAAPP training and other activities were undertaken were in irrigated rice-growing areas, while 60% were in rainfed lowland rice production. Average SRI yield in irrigated fields (292 sites from which data were gathered) was 6.6 tonnes per hectare, 56% more than average yield with current methods (4.2 tonnes per hectare).

In the rainfed areas (441 sites), SRI yields lacking irrigation were lower (4.7 tonnes per hectare vs. 2.5 tonnes per hectare), but the SRI yield advantage was greater (86%). As in the Southeast Asian experience reported above, SRI yields in rainfed areas surpassed the current yields being achieved with irrigation. This was very important learning. The figure below shows the yield gains in irrigated areas for eight countries under the SRI-WAAPP project.

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In the 2015-16 season, the uptake and use of SRI methods in the region could be credited with production of at least an additional 31,458 tonnes of paddy rice, equal to 20,113 tonnes of milled rice, as calculated by Erika. This increment was worth more than $10 million USD, many times greater than what was spent on the project’s Phase I activities. This provided strong justification for expansion under a Phase II, which is still taking shape.[41]

The projected scale for a Phase II follow-on project is to reach 10% of the rice farmers in the West African region, i.e., 375,000 farmers cultivating 595,000 hectares of rice. Their additional production with SRI, based on Phase I experience, should be 2 million tonnes of milled rice, with a value of USD 1 billion, which makes the expansion highly cost-effective. But it must be kept in mind that improving rice production in the West African region is a very politicized subject, with strong financial interests, particularly rice importers, having considerable political clout and not being enthusiastic about their countries becoming self-sufficient in rice.



Although Cuba was one of the first countries where SRI methods were introduced outside of Madagascar,[42] interest in SRI did not take root in Latin America and the Caribbean as quickly or widely as in Asia and Africa. Given the stereotype of SRI as being ‘labor-intensive,’ it did not appear very attractive to farmers where agricultural labor is both costly and scarce, which is the case in most of the region.

Since the region produces only about 4% of the world’s rice, it was not as high a priority for SRI dissemination as other regions. During the 2000s, a number of initiatives materialized in Latin America (Chapter 46), but the first concerted effort to introduce SRI into the region was not until October 2011, when a first regional workshop on SRI was held at the EARTH University in Costa Rica.[43]

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture, known as IICA, has headquarters in Costa Rica and offices in every country in the Americas, except Cuba. It first got involved with SRI beginning in 2011 through the initiative of the IICA country representative in the Dominican Republic, Manuel Sanchez, who contacted SRI-Rice at Cornell for information.[44] SRI-Rice’s director of programs Erika Styger visited the DR to advise on starting up SRI, and a small trial was set up in Río Limpio through an initiative on organic rice production. This was followed by additional validation parcels in Juma and Hacienda Estrella.[45]

 Oscar Montero, a Costa Rican rice producer who was the first to use SRI methods in his country,[46] visited the Dominican Republic during this time to provide training and technical support. In 2013, IICA obtained some seed funding from a  Dominican research institution to implement a small SRI project. The next year, seeing good results in the Dominican Republic, IICA agreed to host at its headquarters a recent university graduate student from Colombia who had pioneered SRI in his country to help begin an initiative for Latin America.[47]

At this point, IICA was getting more and more engaged with the intersection between agriculture and climate change, and SRI was seen as something that could benefit the first while buffering the effects of the second.[48] Accordingly, IICA staff from the hemispheric Natural Resources and Climate Change team began interacting with SRI-Rice in 2014 to explore how SRI could contribute to improving natural resource use and adapt agricultural production to changing climate within the Latin American and Caribbean region. 

Between 2015 and 2019, IICA and its partners began implementing training programs and establishing demonstration plots in a number of countries in the Americas, including Chile, Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Suriname, and Nicaragua, along with training in Peru and Bolivia. By working with farmers in their fields, this initiative built up local evidence of the benefits of SRI and increased the capacity to adapt SRI in the LAC region.

Working with the Regional Fund for Agricultural Technology and Development (FONTAGRO) and also with two Dominican organizations (CONIAF and IDIAF) as well as the rice producers’ federation in Colombia (FEDEARROZ), IICA as able to mobilize a grant to validate SRI as a climate-change adaptation measure for smallholders in the region.[49] This grant enabled IICA to implement validation parcels in smallholder fields during three production cycles in the two countries.

The results from this evaluation showed that average rice yields were raised by 25%, using as much as 96% less seed and 45% less water. With farmers’ costs of production reduced by 10%, the average profitability in the two countries’ trials was 39% and 68%, respectively. In Colombia, producers also witnessed a reduction in lodging during a strong storm (see picture of this in Chapter 12).

During this time, the project began exploring means for mechanizing transplanting and weeding operations to deal with the high cost of labor that has inhibited the spread of SRI. The project also enabled IICA and its partners to produce technical manuals, videos and other capacity-building and dissemination materials in Spanish to help spread the word about SRI in the Americas. Leadership within IICA for SRI evaluation and dissemination was provided by Kelly Witkowski and Diddier Moreira.

In 2016, IICA translated into Spanish and distributed the ‘short responses’ from SRI-Rice’s book on The System of Rice Intensification: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions.[50] The following year, IICA translated the whole book for distribution within the Western Hemisphere.[51]

In October 2017, IICA organized a regional exchange titled ‘Advances with SRI in the Americas’ in Ibague, Colombia with over 40 participants from 10 countries in the region. This served to stimulate interest within the region and systematize some of the advances made with SRI in the respective countries.[52]  

Since 2016, with internal funding from IICA’s flagship project for ‘Resilience and Integrated Risk Management’ and its Climate Change and Natural Resources Program, IICA has been able to continue to support training and/or SRI demonstrations in several countries, including Venezuela, Chile, Panama, and Suriname plus training programs in Bolivia and Peru to introduce this innovation to institutions and farmers in these countries so they have practices and skills that help them produce more in a sustainable way under a changing climate. 

C8 6 17.png

In 2017, linked to SRI-Rice´s global network, IICA established the SRI of the Americas Network to raise awareness of SRI, support further demonstration, carry out validations and research on SRI, and support regional exchanges.[53] Through the network, IICA developed a virtual course on SRI, radio shows, additional videos, and articulated its demonstration efforts under this umbrella.[54] The network’s logo is seen on the left, the Spanish word ‘Red’ meaning ‘network.


IICA has conducted SRI training programs and set up validation parcels on farmers’ fields in Venezuela together with INIA, that country’s national agricultural research institute, Nestlé, and Fundación Danac during 2015-19 with very promising results in the states of Portuguesa and Calabozo. There have been efforts to mechanize SRI with direct seeders and small weeders to facilitate the process, and to test the performance of different varieties under SRI. Below is a Venezuelan farmer-leader, Miguel Aguero, standing in front of his SRI rice field that he had transplanted 10 days previously with 9-day-old seedlings. Based on his success with SRI, Miguel has established a small commercial rice seed business.

C8 7 17.jpg

At the end of 2017, IICA trained technical staff from the national agricultural innovation system in Chile and established an SRI validation parcel in the southern part of that country. An additional cycle of testing and demonstration was planned for 2018, along with additional validation activities in other countries, including Suriname (with the indigenous rice-growing Maroon people) and in northern Peru. In all of these efforts, IICA has assessed the economics of SRI along with its agronomy.[55

Collaborative work on SRI with and through IICA for Latin America and the Caribbean region is still evolving, being dependent on the further mobilization of resources.[56] This networking not only facilitates the spread of SRI knowledge and practice within the Western Hemisphere, but it also contributes to a better understanding of SRI, in particular, how expand the means and technology for mechanization of SRI operations (Chapter 19).



Unfortunately, one of the most ambitious efforts to undertake cooperative efforts among institutions and countries to advance an understanding of SRI, and to gain its wider acceptance, was stillborn after considerable investment of time and money. This initiative grew out of my reporting to IRRI in early 2007 the results from an evaluation of SRI done in Eastern Indonesia that were summarized in Chapter 7.[57]

In response, IRRI’s director-general Robert Zeigler suggested that IRRI and Cornell together undertake a joint evaluation of SRI using standard scientific methodologies to get empirical results that should be acceptable to everyone, thereby settling disagreements about the merits of SRI ‘once and for all.’[58]

I quickly agreed with this suggestion, with two provisos: (1) At least some of the trials should be conducted on farmers’ fields, not only on experiment stations, because we had often seen SRI methods giving poorer results on-station than they did under farmers’ field conditions; and (2) The evaluation should encompass more than just effects on yield and should consider also costs of production, profitability, water saving, grain quality, and so forth.

Dr. Zeigler readily accepted these stipulations, although he also clarified that IRRI expected Cornell (me) to find the money for such an evaluation. IRRI was not prepared to put any of its own core resources beyond staff time into the evaluation of SRI. This meant that the evaluation could not proceed right away.

Fortunately, I was well-acquainted with an agricultural program officer in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Roy Steiner. When Roy studied for his PhD at Cornell in agricultural engineering, I had been as one of his academic advisors, and we had co-written a book on irrigation management.[59] I contacted Roy to see whether the Gates Foundation might be willing to make a grant for a scientifically-designed, multi-country evaluation of SRI methods and effects to be carried out jointly by IRRI and Cornell.

Roy’s answer, after he had been able to confer with other Foundation staff, was that in principle there was interest within the Foundation in having such an evaluation done. In early 2008, a further development in our planning for the evaluation made it even more attractive to the Foundation. Wageningen University faculty agreed to join in the project, making it tripartite and heading up the evaluation as neutral third party.[60]

In May 2008, Wageningen hosted a three-day planning meeting in the Netherlands to work out the research design and proposal to the Gates Foundation. IRRI and Cornell both had three professionals participating with a larger number of Wageningen faculty involved in the discussions. The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) supported some of the travel to Wageningen as it had already funded evaluation research on SRI in India, as seen above, and it was interested in having a broader evaluation done that would build up knowledge and gain greater acceptance.

The research design worked out included comparative trials in five countries over a five-year period. Monitoring and evaluating a variety of parameters, not just yield, for such extensive trials and with institutional overheads figured in made the evaluation fairly expensive, with a budget approaching $10 million. Actually, this amount was not very large by Gates Foundation standards, and the anticipatable benefit from having SRI validated unambiguously -- and spreading its use widely if the results confirmed what we had been achieving with SRI methods -- could be 10 to 100 times more than the cost of such an evaluation.

The Foundation’s response to the proposal was that it had not been thinking in terms of this amount of funding, but it would consider a request in the range of $3 to 4 million. The principal investigators consulted among themselves and reduced the number of countries and the number of years to bring the proposal down to just under $4 million. This revised proposal was submitted after several months because it took some time to get three different institutional sign-offs.

An answer came back four months later. The Foundation was sorry, but the 2008 financial crisis in the US (and the world) had put some constraints on its decision-making, and it was having to make some changes in its grant-making because of cash-flow problems, to ensure that it could meet all of its current commitments. The Foundation would thus not be making new grants for a while, but it that it would re-consider our proposal again in a year’s time.

This was more than a disappointment, because postponing the start of a multi-year evaluation pushed any conclusion four or five years into the future. But from the SRI side, we had little choice but to wait, not having our own resources for such ambitious and thorough research. The planned consortium drifted apart when five months later the Gates Foundation made a grant of $600,000 directly to Wageningen University to enable two of its research staff to do a desk study on SRI, with a just few field visits and one workshop (in Madagascar).

The proposed research focused entirely on social science aspects of SRI, with no agronomic studies of the kind that had been the original impetus for the evaluation to resolve factual disagreements about SRI’s claims.[61] The Wageningen study was supposed to document instead how SRI had gotten started and how it had spread, considering essentially how we had achieved what had been accomplished with SRI up to that date with so few resources.

The final report from the Wageningen study on the emergence, spread and impacts of SRI paralleled part of what is covered in this memoire, [62] but with little consideration of what was known at Cornell or within the extended SRI network. The Wageningen researchers focused on just two of 50 countries, Madagascar and India, and while the first was appropriate for learning about the origins of SRI, it could not provide much insight into why SRI was spreading more rapidly in many other countries. India was only one of 50 countries where SRI ideas had been introduced and were starting to be used. While India was certainly the biggest of these countries, its experience was not likely to give a representative understanding of SRI’s spread and impacts.[63]

The report and especially its timeline pulled together considerable information about the diffusion process for SRI, but often rather abstractly, and without as much depth of perception as would have been desirable.[64] By taking a purely etic approach, however, forgoing emic perspectives (Chapter 2), the resulting account did not produce insights for anyone fairly well-acquainted with SRI. Possibly it was informative for the Gates Foundation and for IRRI, but considerably more could have been learned, more quickly, and with less cost, by engaging in more extended discussion with SRI practitioners, proponents, and researchers.

If the collaborative evaluation had proceeded as it was originally planned, including essential agronomic assessments, it should have satisfied skeptics and cleared the path to more rapid acceptance and spread of SRI, while generating better understanding of how and why SRI methods have produced the effects seen in a growing number of countries. But this was just one of many ‘might-have-been’ sub-chapters in the long SRI story.



[1] Mae-won Ho, ‘Rice Wars,’ Synthesis/Regeneration, 36 (Winter 2005), Institute of Science in Society, London; on the controversy, see also article by Chris Surridge, ‘Rice cultivation: Feast or famine?’ Nature, 428: 360-361 (25 March 2004).

[2] More on this in Chapter 10. In Aceh province of Indonesia, where the Czech Republic affiliate of the Catholic NGO CARITAS introduced SRI as part of its post-tsunami relief effort in 2005, farmers saw their yields more than quadruple, from 2 tonnes to 8.5 tonnes per hectare (‘Food Aplenty in Aceh,’ CARITAS News, Spring, 2009, pp. 10-11). In India, a correspondent for The Hindu newspaper reported that poor tribal farmers in more than 30 villages of Madhya Pradesh state had similarly boosted their paddy yields from 2 tonnes to 8.5 tonnes per hectare without planting new varieties and without purchased inputs (‘Organic rice cultivation transforming lives of Damoh farmers,’ Nov. 28, 2011). This gave some assurance that the results in Ranomafana were not unique.

[3] Sanya was the winter rice-breeding center for the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center, our host for the conference. Sanya was a burgeoning tropical resort city, with long Waikiki-like sandy beaches, an incongruous setting for a conference on SRI. See Assessment of the System of Rice Intensification, Proceedings of an International Conference held in Sanya, China, April 1-4, 2002, edited by N. Uphoff, E.C.M. Fernandes, Yuan Longping, Peng Jiming, Sebastien Rafaralahy and Justin Rabenandrasana, CIIFAD, Ithaca, NY (2002).

[4] This was adapting, as appropriate in a Chinese setting, a metaphor from Mao Zedong. In the 1950s there was much controversy within the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership over whether to give priority to the agricultural sector or the industrial sector in China’s development strategy. Mao advanced an aphorism that settled the issue: ‘China should walk on both legs at the same time,’ that is, relying on both agriculture and industry with neither dominating or controlling the other. M. Goldman and L.O. Lee, An Intellectual History of Modern China, p. 492, Cambridge University Press, UK (2002). Mao’s metaphor of ‘walking on two legs’ was useful for our thinking and talking about the dialectical relationship for SRI between research and practice.

[5] Farmer innovation through the first decade was written up for a conference at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK, in 2007 and was published in the Jurnal Tanah dan Lingkungan, ‘Farmer innovations for improving the System of Rice Intensification,’ 9:45-56 (2007).

[6] The collaborative project in Bangladesh that was reported on in Chapter 7 could have been considered an international program, as it was planned and implemented by three NGOs (BRAC, POSD and SAFE) and a private company (Syngenta/Bangladesh Ltd.) with funding by the British aid agency (DFID) through IRRI’s Bangladesh program. But it was better considered as a nationally-based collaboration. Below in this chapter, we review seven programs, each quite different, that made important contributions to knowledge, acceptance and spread of SRI.

[7] In 1998, when I was making my semi-annual visit to Ranomafana and when my Cornell colleague Louise Buck who was assisting in CIIFAD’s work was also in Madagascar. She got a dinner invitation from the country representative for the international NGO CARE, Remko Vonk, whom she knew from her earlier work with CARE in East Africa. Louise asked Remko if I could also be invited, which I was. Over dinner, at some point we talked about SRI, but the pleasant evening was mostly a social affair, not about ‘business.’

     A year later, I received a phone call in Ithaca, New York from Remko who had moved to the Netherlands, having joined the research administration staff of Wageningen University. He recalled our conversation in Antananarivo and wanted to know if I would be interested in cooperating in a project that he and some Wageningen faculty were putting together on ‘water-saving rice production.’

     There was interest within the Dutch government in funding such work, Remko said. Since I was neither Dutch nor an LDC national, my role would have to be ‘honorary,’ not paid, but this looked like an opportunity to work on SRI evaluation with colleagues in China, India and Indonesia, the countries selected for cooperation in the research project, and Remko agreed to bring in Prof. Robert Randriamiharisoa from the University of Antananarivo to involve an additional country, appropriate since SRI would be one of the ‘water-saving’ methods assessed. So this collaborative opportunity stemmed from a dinner party in Antananarivo.

[8] Tamil Nadu Agricultural University in India (Chapter 7), Nanjing Agricultural University in China (Chapter 21), and Indonesia’s Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (AARD) (Chapter 27). In my role as director of CIIFAD, I had worked with Nanjing Agricultural University in 1997 (Cornell’s collaboration with NAU dates back to the 1920s), and also with the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture and its Agency for Agricultural Research and Development. In 1991, Indonesia’s Deputy Minister of Agriculture had invited CIIFAD to work with his ministry, through AARD’s Centre for Agro-Socio-Economic Research, to examine needs and opportunities for sustainable agricultural and rural development, which was CIIFAD’s mission. While CASER did not do agricultural research as such, it had close links with some of the Ministry’s agricultural scientists who were facilitative for introducing SRI.

[9] TMT was introduced in Chapter 1, and again in Chapter 7, and he figures prominently in the story of India’s uptake of SRI in Chapter 41. Dr. Gani’s efforts to evaluate and introduce SRI in Indonesia despite bureaucratic resistance (Chapter 39). Dr. Cao had already taken a lead in starting SRI evaluation in China (Chapter 37).

[10] In his factorial trials, TMT found that young seedlings and weed incorporation (mechanical, soil-aerating weeding) had the highest yield. ‘Effects of SRI practices on hybrid rice performance in Tamil Nadu, India,’ in B.A.M. Bouman, et al., editors, Water-wise Rice Production, Proceedings of the International Workshop on Water-wise Rice Production, 8-11 April 2002, 119-139, International Rice Research Institute, Los Baños, Philippines (2002).

[11] A table in Chapter 5 reported some of these results.

[12] This table is from N. Uphoff, ‘Developments in the system of rice intensification (SRI),’ in    T. Sasaki, ed., Achieving Sustainable Cultivation of Rice, vol. 2, 183-211, Burleigh-Dodds, Cambridge, UK (2016).

[13] ‘Report on SRI experiments at Sukamandi, 2002, from Dr. Anischan Gani,’ unpublished paper, Indonesian Institute for Rice Research, Sukamandi (2002).

[14] A. Tanaka, ‘Studies on the characteristics of physiological functions of the leaf at a definite position on a stem of the rice plant: Accumulation of carbohydrate in the leaf at a definite position,’ Journal of Science and Soil Manure, 29: 291-294 (1958).

[15] Water-saving Rice Production Systems, Proceedings of an International Workshop on Water-Saving Rice Production Systems at Nanjing University, China, April 2-4, 2001, eds. H. Hengsdijk and P.S. Bindraban, Report 33, Plant Research Institute, Wageningen (2015).

[16] Dr. Terry learned about SRI from a visit to Cornell for a CIIFAD workshop shortly after I had concluded that SRI was ‘for real,’ and we had some good discussions about SRI then. Shortly thereafter he arranged for a presentation on SRI by the president of Associaton Tefy Saina, Sèbastien Rafaralahy, at a major symposium on sustainable agriculture, held in Baltimore, MD in October 1998. This was co-organized by the Agronomy Society of America and the World Bank. Terry got World Bank funding for Sebastien’s travel to the U.S. for this event.

[17] See endnote 3 above; the proceedings have been available as a PDF file since 2002.

[18] The Center for Information on Low-External-Input and Sustainable Agriculture. ILEIA had published the first article on SRI after Fr. Laulanié’s 1993 article, by Justin Rabenandrasana, ‘Revolution in Rice Intensification in Madagascar, ILEIA Newsletter, 15(3-4): 48-49.

[19] See keynote address by Rafaralahy.

[20] See keynote by Yuan. He reported an SRI yield as high as 16 tonnes per hectare from his seed-multiplication farm trials in Sichuan.

[21] See keynote by Dissanayake. The Deputy Minister reported on results from his own personal cultivation methods, 16 tonnes per hectare with a high-yielding variety (BG358) and 13 tonnes with a popular ‘unimproved’ local variety (Pachchaperumal).

[22] See keynote by Premaratna.  Prema achieved SRI yields of 10 and 15 tonnes on his organic farm the first time that he used the new methods, on his admittedly very fertile soil.  Indicative of the spirit animating SRI work was an unseen episode best mentioned in an endnote. The Sri Lankan delegation, like myself, arrived at Sanya one day earlier than the other participants; I so that I could look after arrangements, and they because they could get cheaper air tickets by coming a bit early. The hotel was fully booked that night and could offer us only two rooms, not four.

     The Deputy Minister, knowing that Gamini Batuwitage, a senior assistant secretary in his Ministry, and I were old friends, suggested that we share one of the rooms, and he and Prema could share the other. I went to sleep that night wondering how many other government ministers would so freely offer to share a room with a farmer instead of a senior civil servant. (I would gladly have shared a room with Prema.) Actually, Dissanayake and Prema were acquainted from having together evaluated in the deputy minister’s rice paddies a new design that Prema had come up with for a better SRI weeder.

[23] Group reports covered: technical and biophysical issues for research and practice; SRI adaptation and diffusion issues; Chinese perspectives; user and NGO perspectives; research issues; and roles for public and private sector. Also there were topical reports on water management, plant management, soil and nutrient management, use of green manures and cover crops with SRI, contributions of varietal development, and economic and social concerns.

[24] We later found out from PhD thesis research in Thailand that endemic root-feeding nematodes in the Chiang Mai area (and maybe elsewhere in peninsular Southeast Asia) had adverse effects on rice plants’ health and performance when their soils were managed with alternate wetting and drying. Thanwalee Sooksa-Nguan, Comparison of Bacterial Activities and Diversity in Soil between Conventional and the Novel Rice Cultivation: SRI, PhD thesis (2006), Suranee University of Technology, Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand.

[25] A personal observation: I think that I can say that all of the participants in the Sanya meeting found the interaction exhilarating and motivating and left the meeting much energized. It is worth nothing that two of the participants, Y.S. Koma and Seng-raw Lahpi, were subsequently given the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, a recognition often referred to as ‘the Asian Nobel Prize,’ in part for their SRI work in Cambodia and Myanmar. An example of the long-term effects of the Sanya experience: 15 years later when SRI-Rice was invited to send a team to Myanmar at the invitation of gthe Minister of Agriculture to help plan an SRI initiative for that country, the two persons best qualified to respond were Koma and Humayun Kabir, who had respectively introduced SRI in Cambodia and Afghanistan and who had also both worked with SRI in Myanmar. Both had attended the Sanya conference and gotten acquainted there.

[26] This is the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, for many years based at the World Bank in Washington, DC, which includes IRRI and other such research centers.

[27] See project website.

[28] Satyanarayana got me together with Biksham when I visited Hyderabad in February 2005, after the joint SRI evaluation had been planned. This was the start of a fruitful collaboration. Biksham’s interest in evaluating SRI had been prompted by a visit to his home village about 100 km east of Hyderabad to see his parents. While there he happened to meet an elderly farmer who informed him about what was called a ‘new line method.’ (Farmers were impressed by SRI’s transplanting in a line, as opposed to their traditional random transplanting.) A young farmer in an adjacent village was practicing the new methods, so Biksham visited him, and the farmer informed Biksham from his own experience how SRI practices could indeed raise rice yields while consuming less irrigation water. Moreover, SRI improved water quality because chemical fertilizers and biocides were not needed. This meant that SRI, if validated, could further the environmental objectives of WWF.

[29] S. Gopalakrishnan, R. Mahender Kumar, P. Humayun, V. Srinivas, B. Ratna Kumari, R. Vijayabharathi, Amit Singh, K. Surekha, Ch. Padmavathi, N. Somashekar, P. Raghuveer Rao, P. C. Latha, L. V. Subba Rao, V. R. Babu, B. C. Viraktamath, V. Vinod Goud, N. Loganandhan, Biksham Gujja and Om Rupela, ‘Assessment of different methods of rice (Oryza sativa. L) cultivation affecting growth parameters, soil chemical, biological, and microbiological properties, water saving, and grain yield in rice–rice system,’ Paddy and Water Environment, 12: 79-87.

[30] These events were sponsored and supported by various institutions in addition to the four partners conducting the research, WWF, ICRISAT, ANGRAU and DRR. The Sir Dorabji Tata Trust was a financial supporter. Other sponsors included the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the national Directorate of Rice Development, and WASSAN.

     The symposia were held first in Hyderabad in 2006; then in Agartala in 2007; and in Coimbatore in 2008. Documents and PPT presentations are available on line for the third.

     In March 2006, six months before the first symposium, the WWF-ICRISAT program organized an ‘International Dialogue on Rice and Water: Exploring Options for Food Security and Sustainable Environments’ that was convened at IRRI’s headquarters in Los Baños, Philippines. WWF hoped for dialogue on SRI with IRRI staff, but only two IRRI researchers were available and willing to participate. They attended only intermittently and insisted on the validity of a recently published critique of SRI by McDonald et al. published in Field Crops Research, not acknowledging the flaws in its data base and methodology (Chapter 28). This meeting did, however, disseminate the experience and data from Eastern Indonesia that was summarized in the preceding chapter.

[31] AgSri’s website is

[32] The project’s website gives more information on the scope and mode of operation.

[33] The Center program is described at The Center was established at the initiative of Abha and Kumar.

[34] ECOWAS has a home page at; and CORAF -- known in English as WECARD, the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development -- is presented at The members of ECOWAS include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

[35] The workshop was planned to occur some months earlier in Bamako, but a military coup in Mali in March of 2012 necessitated delay and relocation, reflective of the difficulties of carrying on development work in the region.

[36] One of the main vehicles for the SRI component was a website maintained for the project and the region by SRI-Rice.

[37] A good example is Gerald Aruna in northern Sierra Leone who is an agricultural instructor and farmer, also working as a country representative for the Italian NGO ENGIM. His work and impact can be seen in this video produced by Flooded Cellar Productions, UK. Gerald’s SRI story is told in Chapter 44.

[38] Administrative decisions within WAAPP and CORAF reassigned the SRI component, mid-project, to a cluster of components that were scheduled to end in June 2016. So six months were lopped off the carefully laid out schedule. Losing a third production season to gain experience and show results was much more detrimental than just shortening the project duration by one-sixth.

[39] Improving and Scaling Up the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in West Africa: Key Results of SRI-WAAPP Project’s 1st Phase (2014-2016). See project summary.

[40] The map can be accessed at: F1iFsie9tAe8kOBE-aSki0dQ&ll=11.862594149051162%2C-6.394732269999963&z=5

[41] The World Bank planned a West African regional conference on agricultural transformation to be held in Abidjan in January 2018 and invited as keynoter someone from India with broad experience and overview of SRI. It was hoped at the time that Phase II could get started before the end of 2018. But as of June 2020, this phase had not been authorized and funded.

[42] Rena Perez, ‘Experience in Cuba with the System of Rice Intensification,’ in Assessment of the System of Rice Intensification, Proceedings of an International Conference held in Sanya, China, April 1-4, 2002, edited by N. Uphoff et al., 52-55, CIIFAD, Ithaca, NY (2002).

[43] See report on this workshop.

[44] As so often in the SRI story, personal contacts played a key role here. The IICA representative, Manuel Sanchez, was a long-time friend of Rena Perez, who was the catalyst for introducing SRI in Cuba. They were serving together on an FAO committee on animal nutrition in 2000 when Rena first told Manuel about her starting up work on SRI in her country. He was at the time secretary of agriculture for the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi, with little responsibility for rice. Once appointed as IICA representative in the Dominican Republic, Manuel had reason to be concerned with improving rice production and contacted SRI-Rice.

[45] See PPT report on this initiative.

[46] Oscar Montero has written up his experience in Costa Rica online

[47] Jorge Orlando Costa Buitrago’s preoccupation with other issues meant that this initiative did not work out as expected, however. In early 2020, Jorge wrote to Cornell indicating that he is starting to work with maize (corn) under SCI management.

[48] ‘Adopting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) for adapting to climate change and producing more with less resources,’ FONTAGRO, October (2019).

[49] IICA´s efforts to raise awareness about SRI have resulted in a consortium forming among the national agricultural research institutes of Nicaragua (INTA), Costa Rica (INTA), and Panama (IDIAF). They have also implemented a FONTAGRO-financed project to validate SRI on experimental parcels in those three countries.  IICA has promoted exchange and sharing between these two initiatives.

[50] This book is available in PDF format on-line. The Spanish translation of short responses to the FAQs produced by IICA is similarly available.

[51] The full translation is available as Sistema de Intensificatión del Cultivo del Arroz (SRI): Respuestas completes a preguntas frecuentes (2017).

[52]  2017 conference report and posters

[53]  Link to RED SRI

[54] Listing of IICA publications, videos, etc.

[55] See IICA report. At the end of 2017, IICA trained producers and technical staff from the national agricultural innovation system in Chile and established an SRI validation parcel at the INIA’s experimental station in Parral. Based on positive results there and removing the water that had served as a thermal barrier to protect the plants in a colder climate, further trainings and demonstrations followed in 2019 and 2020.

     As Chile’s rice-producing area has faced a severe drought, SRI’s reducing water requirements by almost 2/3 plus sharply reduced seed rates and herbicide applications cut by half was quite promising. SRI also shortened the cultivation cycle by 10 days which helps to reduce farmers’ risk. Led by Karla Cordero, Chilean researchers continue to work with SRI and are measuring greenhouse gas emissions.

[56] In October 2016, SRI-Rice facilitated the visit of a technical team from IICA and its Guatemala affiliates to meet with SRI colleagues in India, visiting New Delhi, Uttarakhand and Bihar to learn directly about SRI experience and techniques and also about SCI for other crops.

     This is an example of the kind of international cooperation that has helped to move SRI knowledge around the world. Kelly Witkowski, who has headed the IICA efforts for SRI, has been promoted within the IICA structure which gives SRI more standing and visibility within the organization.

     In May 2020, IICA’s SRI program for the next year was put on hold as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in Latin America was putting forcing drastic cuts in IICA’s budget. It is not known when the program can resume, or at what scale. But there is now widely dispersed knowledge of SRI among Latin American countries so they can proceed with little cost, compared to many other programs for agricultural improvement.

[57] In January of 2007, a colleague with the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the UK, John Thompson, sent me an email. He had the day before participated on a panel at the annual meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where an IRRI scientist who was also on the panel had spoken quite dismissively of SRI.  John was interested to know whether this was just a personal opinion of the particular scientist or the position of IRRI.

    Having recently received from Shuichi Sato the Indonesian data that were summarized in Chapter 7, I sent an email to the director-general of IRRI, Bob Zeigler, with a summary of the Nippon Koei data from over 12,000 on-farm comparison trials in eight provinces over six seasons. These data showed an average increase in yield of 78%, using 40% less water and 50% less fertilizer and with 20% lower costs of production. I suggested that such extensive data showing large and significant differences warranted IRRI’s taking a more positive view of SRI.

[58] Dr. Zeigler suggested in his email response that when this evaluation was finished, the two of us should jointly write a paper on the results and present it at a scientific meeting like AAAS, or we should hold a joint press conference to announce the results. The implication was that once the joint study was completed, one or the other of us would ‘eat crow.’

[59] Managing Irrigation: Analyzing and Improving the Performance of Bureaucracies, also with Priti Ramamurthy, Sage Publications, New Delhi (1991).

[60] The initial idea was for Achim Dobermann, IRRI’s deputy director-general for research, and I to be the co-principal investigators for the project. Although we had very different assessments of SRI, Achim and I had an amicable relationship, and we felt that we could work together, so this seemed a feasible approach.

     However, some IRRI and Cornell colleagues had a better idea. Bas Bouman, IRRI’s water management leader, and Janice Thies, a soil biologist at Cornell, when they met at a conference in China discussed the proposed joint evaluation. They concluded that it would be desirable to bring in Wageningen University, which has had good ties with both IRRI and Cornell, so that the project would not be polarized. And since Achim and I were each identified with one side or the other, it seemed better that we serve as advisors to the project rather than as its co-PIs.

     Everyone agreed with this suggestion, and Herman van Keulen at Wageningen was tapped to lead the evaluation team, with Bas representing IRRI, and Janice and John Duxbury serving as the Cornell co-PIs. They were less closely involved with SRI than I was, and both were skeptical as well as sympathetic. (I no longer qualified as a skeptic.)

[61] See the Foundation’s press release on this grant. This initiative by the Foundation might have been made in consultation with IRRI, but it was not discussed with anyone at Cornell.

[62] Ezra Berkhout and Dominic Glover, The Evolution of the System of Rice Intensification as a Socio-Technical Phenomenon, 2009-2011: A Report to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, April (2011).

[63] To be sure that the Wageningen researchers would have some direct acquaintance of what we knew about SRI, I organized with colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies in Sussex a workshop on SRI in December 2009 to which the Wageningen staff were invited, along with IDS staff, Willem Stoop, and myself. This started a flow of information.

     I also invited the Wageningen project’s principal investigators to visit Cornell, offering them full access to all of our archives and information for this study. Dominic Glover came to Ithaca, NY in April 2010, but he stayed for only three of the five days planned and did not make a second visit as he said he would after seeing how much documentation we could make available for the evaluation. Possibly keeping some distance from Cornell was considered as a way to have more ‘objectivity.’

[64] A more in-depth, field-oriented study of SRI was produced from Wageningen by Soutrik Basu and Cees Leeuwis which gave some insights into the strategies and dynamics of its dissemination in India. ‘Understanding the spread of System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Andhra Pradesh: Explaining the building of support network and media representation,’ Agricultural Systems, 111: 34-44 (2012).


PICTURE CREDITS: Report of SRI-LMB project; WAAPP website; IICA (Venezuela)

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