Food Sovereignty: SRI sets the Platform in Irrigated Rice Systems of Tamil Nadu

V.K.Ravichandran, K.R.Jahanmohan and B.J. Pandian

Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, a pioneer public sector research institute has piloted the innovative method of rice cultivation called SRI. It has spread SRI over a large area in the irrigated rice systems of Tamil Nadu through well designed strategies for upscaling.

System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a novel method of rice cultivation based on a set of simple synergistic practices.  They aim to change the management of rice plants and soil, water and nutrients that supports them in simple but specific ways.  Success of SRI depends on strict adherence of its five critical steps viz., young seedlings, single seedling, square planting, water management and mechanical weeder usage.  Among the five critical steps, raising young seedling, planting single seedling and square planting paves the way for food sovereignty in irrigated rice systems of Tamil Nadu.  Since SRI method of rice cultivation is an innovative concept in the production environment, it is being given support by various institutional agencies.  Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, a pioneer public sector research institute has piloted this method of rice cultivation and designed strategies for upscaling SRI in the irrigated rice systems of Tamil Nadu through TN-IAMWARM (Tamil Nadu Irrigated Agriculture Modernization and Waterbodies Restoration and Management Project) – a world bank assisted project.

 A case of Pillaekothur village

TNAU introduced SRI in Pillaekothur village in Krishnagiri district.  Pillaekothur is small village in Hosur-Krishnagiri highway and predominantly depends on agriculture for its livelihood.  Krishnagiri is a newly formed district which was carved out from backward Dharmapuri district. The village falls in the ayacut area of Kelavarapalli reservoir (Pennaiyar River) and rice is the principal food crop.  Besides rice, owing to its conducive environment, cole vegetables are also cultivated.  The farmers are of linguistic minority and belong to one major community and thereby related to one another in one way or other.

The most difficult part of SRI is raising of young seedling and planting of 14-15 days young single seedling in squares at a spacing of 25 x 25 cm.  In the conventional method of rice cultivation, random planting was resorted to and 25 to 30 days old, eight to ten seedlings were planted per hill which required around 70 to 80 kg of seed per ha as compared to mere 8 kg per ha in case of SRI method of rice cultivation. The female labourers mostly illiterate to primary educated were accustomed to traditional planting methods and it was really a Herculean task to shift these labourers to SRI method of rice cultivation in single seedling with conviction.

Training was imparted to planting labourers who are mostly from relatively less resource endowed families.  Then during planting, initially well trained labourers were placed between two to three labourers for imparting and monitoring the work.  The labourers picked up the methodology in a perfect manner and during the mid way these new labourers have invented a new idea – holding half a bundle of seedlings assisted in easy picking out of single seedling instead of keeping in hand full.  In the first instance itself, 20 labourers were able to plant 1.80 acres in less than 4 hours.  The most striking part is that by following SRI method, the labour requirement dropped by 50%. While conventional method needed 40-45 labourers to plant one hectare, only 20-22 labourers could complete planting one ha by SRI method. In that season, SRI picked up well and for the subsequent season, the core group acted as a torch bearers for spread of SRI.  By this, SRI has paved way to these people to define their own food and agricultural system in a sustained manner there by ensuring the food sovereignty.

Usage of cono weeder for 4 times viz., use at 10 days interval from 15th days after transplantation to 45th days should be done for controlling weeds. In the process, weeds are incorporated insitu thereby enriching the organic matter of the soil. By better management of weeds, the number of productive tillers per hill was also high.  Frequent movement of weeders also results in production of robust white foraging roots which enhances the efficient use of nutrient uptake by the plants. The farm women get acquainted with the usage of weeders and could easily operate them. This led to a reduction in labour for weeding to the tune of 30 per cent.

Community nursery a potential tool

Only one cent of nursery area was sufficient for providing seedlings to plant on one acre of land. But the development of mat nursery, promoted in the initial years was technology intensive.   It required trained field personnel for layout and upkeep of nursery.  Instead of training every farmer in a village, a novel concept of community nursery was practised in Bombur village in Villupuram district.  Incidentally, Villupuram district is in high water stress area with larger percentage of resource poor farmers.  In the community nursery, the resources of 15 to 20 farmers were pooled and SRI nursery was grown at one place. This also enabled closer supervision and good upkeep.  On 14th day the seedlings were distributed to the participating farmers.

 SRI method helped in increasing the rice yield by more than 33 per cent. Farmers received incremental income to the tune of 35 per cent. They could also save water by 33 per cent by following alternate wetting and drying method.  Through community actions in following SRI method, the initiative also facilitated better social relations in the community.

Performance of SRI (Kg/Ha)*

SRI Conventional % increase over conventional
Min Max Mean Min Max Mean
8047 6477 7275 6048 4708 5375 35.3

* Yield observations in 16 localities across Tamil Nadu in 7037 ha

Source: TN-IAMWARM project, TNAU, Coimbatore

Owing to its innate yield potentialities, SRI has been considered as a potential vehicle for food sovereignty as this method of rice cultivation entitles the farmers’ their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.  In the State, 43896 ha were covered by this novel method of rice cultivation. Thus food is being produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, which is healthy and also culturally appropriate.


The authors are working in World Bank assisted Multi Departmental TN-IAMWARM project in Tamil Nadu.  Authors are thankful to TN-IAMWARM project which provided excellent platform for spread of SRI in Tamil Nadu.  They are also grateful to Tamil Nadu Agricultural University for making the project a successful one.


Dr. V.K.Ravichandran, Dr. K.R.Jahanmohan and Dr. B.J. Pandian

Tamil Nadu Agriculture University

TN IAMWARM Project (World Bank Funded), Chennai




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