System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Wayanad – Experiences of RASTA


Wayanad in Kerala once had nearly 40000 hectares of paddy cultivation, the name Wayanad itself came out of “Wayal Nadu” meaning the land of paddy fields. But, gradually there was a decline in the area cultivated under paddy. Today rice is cultivated only in17000 hectares.

Farmers gave up rice cultivation because of its low productivity and profitability owing to high labour costs.  Area under paddy was replaced with banana cultivation, owing to its high profitability.  While the profit out of one acre of Rice per season is Rs. 3000 to 4000, banana from the same area fetches around Rs. 30000!

Revival of paddy cultivation

However, these huge profits are earned out of destroying the natural ecosystem,  at the cost of depleting ground water and loss of local bio-diversity due to the intensive application of toxic pesticides like Carbofuran (phorate), thimate etc.  The recent incidents of death of one child after eating banana at Pulpally and hospitalization of 24 children after respiratory problems due to inhaling pesticide polluted air in Kottathara Panchayath have opened the eyes of consumers as well as farmers. Also, there was a sudden fall in the price of banana. Thus, farmers started turning towards reviving the rice.

The conversion of paddy fields to Banana fields has resulted in many social problems as well. Women used to get substantial labour opportunities in rice (27 human days per acre per season). The tribes, especially the Paniya and Adiya communities had been contributing to the major part of labour force in rice.  Due to the conversion to banana, it could be estimated that women lost nearly 15,00,000 labor days per season. This is one of the major reasons for poverty and increasing health hazards in tribal communities. The new cash crops have adversely affected their livelihood and food security.

Relevance of SRI

Though banana cultivation was found to be the reason for falling ground water levels, gradually leading to the drought situation in Wayanad, systematic efforts for reviving the paddy was lacking until recently.

Technological intervention, innovations and support services are prerequisite to bring back paddy cultivation. The system has to focus on increasing productivity, reducing labour costs and developing eco-friendly pest and disease management practices. The System of Rice Intensification method developed in Madagascar focused on managing the soil, water and plant in a balanced eco-relationships enabling enhanced productivity of rice plants. The SRI method with its potential to double the production of paddy, using lesser amounts of seeds, water, manures and labour was found to be an appropriate intervention to revive the rice cultivation in Wayanad.

RASTA, a two decade old grassroots development organization working in Wayanad district, promoting sustainable agriculture, started conducting trials in SRI practices. RASTA conducted PTD in SRI in 2003 with five farmers. It continued for two years with more number of farmers. The analysis is based on the results of 30 trials using different varieties involving 10 farmers. The experiments have given promising results for reviving rice cultivation in Wayanad.

The SRI Methodology

The SRI (Madagascar) method follows transplanting of single plant in one clump at distances of 25×25 or 30×30 cm. The uniqueness of this method is that the transplanting is being done between 7th and 9th day of sprouting of seeds. The current practice of transplanting is after 4 to 8 weeks and often 5 to 10 plants in one clump that cause trauma as roots take 12 to 14 days for establishing after transplant.  In the conventional way of thick planting (50 to 60 clumps in a square meter) roots of the plant cannot grow widely and deeply resulting in low nutrient uptake from different zones.

Water management is an important activity in SRI. Here in Wayanad conditions, different ways of controlling water have been tried out. Except in the swampy fields, the fields are flooded in the morning and drained in the evening and in some plots it is vise versa. Water is allowed to remain in the fields for few hours only.

In Puncha (summer) cultivation, in one plot, we tried with flooding for two days and a drying period for 3-4 days. This trial also resulted in similar response to the yield. We adopted this method to know about the required periodicity of irrigation.

Income and Expenditure Analysis

There was an increase in the yield up to  65% to 80%  in the SRI plots. Tiller production increased by 256% across different varieties.  The total income from SRI plots varies from Rs.10000 to 16000 while that in conventional plots varies from Rs.4400 to Rs.9600 per acre. On the other hand, total expenses in the SRI shows a slight increase (5 to 13%) compared to the conventional methods. This is because of additional weeding required in SRI. This could be reduced further in the coming years with effective water management as well as adopting small weeding machines. The profit increase  in SRI method ranged from 50% to 100%.

The analysis shows that SRI can be very well propagated in the district and rice farming could be rejuvenated. Moreover, for every one-acre of rice cultivated, 27 women labor days are generated per season.  So the revival of rice cultivation enhances the income level of poor families as well as ensure food security to women of tribal and low income groups. SRI helps it.

Reaching out..

The ten farmers in three villages who initiated trails in 2003, gradually converted their entire rice farming into SRI systems. More number of nearby farmers followed them. The results were shared within farmers as well as experts groups and was well appreciated.  The lead farmers were also given opportunity to share  their experiences in regional agricultural fairs where they could explain to more farmers about the advantages of SRI.  In 2004, one of the lead farmer, Mr. Cyriac delivered a lecture to 300 farmers in an agricultural fair.

In 2005, a rice farmer who just visited RASTA, learnt about SRI systems, started the method and achieved excellent results in yield. This is very remarkable as he was not supported by RASTA in any way. 50 to 60 farmers are now following him and are practicing SRI.

At the local level, the Kaniyambetta Grama Panchayath in Wayanad has come forward to replicate the process in the whole Panchayath. For this, they have set apart an amount Rs.1500 each for a farmer, to do a demonstration farm on SRI in each ward. Two farmers from one ward will be selected for this. In this Panchayath, 34 farmers in 17 wards will start SRI this season.

The agricultural department having noticed these developments requested RASTA to present its experience to the Principal Agricultural Office in Wayanad. Meanwhile, the Director of Agriculture for the state agriculture department visited the stall of RASTA, in the exhibition held at Bathery. Impressed by the results he directed his colleagues to initiate SRI methods. Meanwhile, RASTA also presented its learnings to one of the members of the State Planning Board. Fortunately, in the 11th Five year plan guidelines, the planning board has given emphasis to promote SRI systems of rice in Kerala.

C.K.Vishnudas, Research Officer, RASTA, Wayanad, Kerala,;.


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