Upscaling an innovative practice in rainfed paddy cultivation

Sangeetha Patil

Farm practices, even with inherent merits, are often difficult to spread over a large area. It is much more challenging for a practice like SRI to be tried and scaled up under rainfed conditions. In such situations, a well planned strategy is all that is required to make it possible. 

Paddy is one of the important food crops grown in Veerapur, Kallapur, Ramapur and Nagalavi villages in Dharwad district in Karnataka. The farmers in these villages have been following time-tested methods of growing crops to accomplish the challenging task of feeding themselves. Paddy is the major crop occupying 95% of the total cultivable area in the villages. The region receives moderate to heavy rainfall, with an average annual rainfall of 772mm. Paddy is therefore cultivated under rain fed conditions. Majority go in for direct sowing using seed drill. Less than 2 per cent farmers undertake transplanting.

Farmers have been facing problems like excessive weed growth, high incidence of pests and diseases, and hence poor yields resulting in marginal returns. They were however living with these problems, not knowing how to address them. AME Foundation, an NGO working in the area was keen to address this issue by promoting a different way of growing paddy using lesser resources, popularly called as System of Rice Intensification (SRI). AMEF was already promoting SRI with success, in other areas where paddy was grown under irrigated conditions.

SRI is based on a set of new ideas and practices that give  rice plants more favorable environment, to get more output and returns, in an eco-friendly way. By changing the management of soil, water, plants and plant nutrients, SRI practices lead to healthier, more productive soil and plants by supporting greater root growth and by nurturing the abundance and diversity of soil microorganisms. For the first time, SRI was being promoted in rainfed paddy, a unique experience to AMEF. 

The Beginning

AMEF conducted baseline survey in Veerapur, Kallapur, Ramapur and Nagalaavi villages in Dharwad district. Grama sabhas were conducted in each village. This was followed by PRA for understanding the village situation and identifying the problems jointly with the communities. AMEF recognized large scope for improvement in paddy farming and initiated SRI promotion through a structured capacity building process with groups of farmers.

AMEF has a firm conviction that farmers’ capacity building through participatory approaches is the most effective way to address problems in farming. It is necessary to widen the farmer’s perceptions, deepen their insights, modify their attitudes and upgrade their managerial abilities. For this purpose, AMEF has been effectively using Farmer Field School (FFS) as a methodology of building capacities of farmers.

AMEF strongly believes in enabling learning situations where farmers are encouraged to understand the relationship/interactions between the crop and the existing abiotic and biotic factors in the field before taking any crop management decisions. Hence, Farmer Field School, a discovery learning process, was considered to be most appropriate means.

To promote and sustain SRI methods in the area, it was felt necessary that at least some of the local people who are motivated to spread the SRI practices be involved in the programme, beyond the farmers. Local volunteers were identified from these villages. They were trained through a two week residential programme on the basics of SRI and also the FFS methodology. They in turn with the support of AMEF conducted FFS in their villages.

Groups were formed with 20 interested farmers in each village. Season long FFS was organized in each of the villages during the cropping season – May –December 2008. Group members were very enthusiastic to learn paddy cultivation by discovery learning process in FFS mode. In different sessions, group members were involved in different short studies which made them to learn by doing and experiencing. In each session, groups actively participated and conducted different short studies which made them confident.

In the inception year 2008, 80 farmers belonging to four villages in Dharwad taluk adopted this innovative method of rice cultivation. Significant changes were observed, such as reduction in seed rate from 30- 35 kg/acre, wider inter row and intra row spacing, use of new weeding implements, etc. as a result of which there was an increase in the number of tillers and yields were enhanced by 40% (12q/ac as against 8 q/ac under farmers practice).

Farmer innovations in Weeders

The iron blades in the cycle weeder were modified and an additional hoe was attached, which helped in ploughing in wet soil conditions.The size of the weeding wheel in roto weeder was increased and the double bar handle was fixed (similar to the cycle weeder), which made the operations much easier and more effective. The cone shape of the cono weeder was changed to round shape; size of the wheel was increased from 3 inches to 6 inches diameter. The existing single bar was replaced with a double bar handle, which ensured firmer grip and easy operation.

With the seed rate reduced by 83% and a similar reduction in the plant population, the SRI plots have still turned out 40% extra yield as compared to the control plot. This is explained by the significant increase in the number of tillers in SRI plots (133% more, particularly the productive tillers 171% higher). There was an increase in the production cost by about 7% in SRI owing to use of bio agents and higher organic matter (EFYM). Yet, the returns were considerably higher in SRI plots with 40.34% yield increase and 106.32% higher net returns.

The FFS has played a critical role in motivating farmers to adopt SRI practices in a short time. Moreover it has enhanced the experimenting capacity of farmers leading to innovations. With good results in the very first year, SRI has shown the potential for wider spread in the region.

Scaling up SRI

For wider scaling, meetings and field days were organized. The results of the efforts were discussed during these events. Farmers from the region participated and got to know the good impacts of following SRI method.

Though the events helped in building awareness among a large number of farmers about this practice, yet it did not help in making them practice SRI. SRI being a new method, farmers were not very confident in practicing it. Moreover, the principles of SRI were almost divergent with what they had been following for ages. A planned effort and a continous support were therefore required to motivate farmers to follow this innovative practice.

In 2009, AMEF with the support of Deshpande Foundation & WWF planned a scaling up strategy to reach around 1500 farmers spread across 25 villages. Also called as “SRI Abhiyaana”, this programme aimed at sensitizing not only the farmers but also all other promoters and supporters of SRI in the district. The Abhiyaan was formally inaugurated on 29 May 2009, wherein representatives from the mainstream institutions like the Agriculture Department and Agriculture University, locally elected people’s representatives and a large number of farmers and volunteers participated. A wide publicity was given to the programme and the event by organizing a press meet in Dharwad Media Club. The media gave a wide coverage to the programme both in the print as well as the electronic media.

The timing of the launch of the programme was well planned. It was planned ahead of the kharif sowing, so that farmers could take advantage of the season to practice SRI.

The strategy for scaling up was well defined to be carried out in phases.

  1. a) Building human resources

Building human resources has been the key strategy for AMEF in all its initiatives. This strategy also worked well in the pilot phase and gave good results – by promoting SRI among farmers by knowledge building through FFS methodology and training local youth for spread and sustainability of the initiative. AMEF scaling up strategy was also built on this premise.

About 70 local farm youth, majority from the project villages were selected. They were trained on SRI concept, principles and practices through 3-day training program, Training of Trainers (ToT). Volunteers, also called as SRI Preraks, were trained to conduct campaigns and to provide hand holding support to farmers. Focus was more on building their capacities in guiding farmers during the sowing period, particularly on the practices like seed selection, seed treatment, sowing skills using lesser seed rate. These trained volunteers were to spread SRI in 25 villages spread across three taluks – Hubli, Dharwad and Kalghatgi.

  1. b) Campaign

The SRI Preraks, in pairs, started various activities giving wide publicity to the programme. They organized Gram Sabha in the selected villages. They discussed with interested farmers and registered them for the programme. They oriented farmers on SRI principles and practices and also trained them on specific skills required to practice SRI. They facilitated huge publicity by helping prepare wall paintings with SRI messages, displayed banners and distributed handouts. During this period they also facilitated preparatory activities like mobilizing inputs and implements.

  1. c) Field support

After the campaigning period, the SRI Preraks helped the farmers in their sowing activities, guiding them the right way. This included crucial on-field support to farmers to adopt SRI sowing practices, including seed selection and seed treatment. They helped procure 57 improved seed drills from the department of agriculture for farmers adopting SRI practices, during the sowing period. They also facilitated procurement of about 200 kg of bio-agents like Azosprillum, PSB and 20 gm of Trichoderma for treating the seeds. About 25 kg of Zinc Sulphate was procured from Department of Agriculture. This was provided to the farmers who were doing small trials on micro nutrient management.

Scaling up SRI through convergence programs

AMEF keen on upscaling this innovative practice to new areas, planned a different strategy. In areas where AMEF was not working at the grassroots, it started influencing the mainstream institutions, like the Department of Agriculture which had a mandate of spreading good agriculture practices in the area. One such experience is the convergence programme in Sakleshpur taluk in Hassan district in Karnataka.

The department of Agricuture in Hassan had earlier initiated SRI promotion. In 2006-07 few farmers in the region were motivated to take up SRI. But the programme did not sustain as the farmers backed out, mostly owing to lack of continued support from the department. In 2009, AMEF initiated a convergence program with Dept of Agriculture (DoA) providing technical support. DoA has adopted an “out of box approach” where young, local boys were hired who also practiced agriculture back home. These volunteers were trained through exposures to SRI and were instrumental in demonstrating SRI practices through motivation and on-field supervision of operations particularly nursery and transplanting. With technical back stopping from AMEF, around 40 farmers spread over 10 villages under ATMA program took up SRI.

SRI Preraks, in consultation with the scientists from Mugud Paddy Research Station, promoted weed management trials by including sunhemp with paddy crop in SRI plots of 67 farmer’s fields.

With this planned strategy, the SRI programme in 2009 reached around 1012 farmers. Around 806 farmers adopted SRI in rainfed conditions and the remaining adopted during the summer season. Around 130 acres was covered under SRI in 2009. The same approach was later extended to Kolar district as well where AMEF was working with the local communities.

Factors influencing upscaling

 Upscaling is not an easy process. A number of factors influence the way a practice or programme is spread. Following are the factors identified that have influenced the upscaling of SRI programme in and beyond Dharwad.

Inherent merits of a practice

A practice like SRI has a number of inherent merits – like reduced inputs, their cost, increased yields and returns, if practiced properly. Farmers who experienced the benefits in the first year itself have been responsible for farmer to farmer exchange and are a source of motivation for many others to follow. 

Continued support through building human resources

The benefits in the first year were achieved owing to the able and continous support provided to the farmers through the FFS process. Being a season-long process, farmers were guided at every step, helping them achieve good results. This has helped in enhancing the confidence among farmers in accepting a new innovative practice. The support provided through the local volunteers during the upscaling period was also most crucial in enabling widespread adoption.

Well defined strategy

Whatever may be the merits of the practice, large scale up scaling hardly happens on its own. A well thought out plan and strategy is crucial. This is clearly evident from the Departments experience where SRI did not take off initially.

 Institutional convergence

Lot of efforts were made to convince and converge various institutions in helping promote this practice. The mainstream institution, i.e., the Department of Agriculture was involved from the beginning, which later helped the programme upscale by providing its support. Institutional linkages and their support become crucial in sustaining a programme.

Sensitisation and large scale awareness programmes in a campaign mode do play a positive role when complemented by robust capacity building processes like FFS.


Thanks to the farmers in the region and the staff of AMEF Dharwad for making this programme  a success. The financial support provided by Deshpande Foundation and WWF is duly acknowledged.


Sangeetha Patil

Area Programme Officer, AME Foundation, #39, 1st Main, 2nd Cross, Channabasaveswar Nagar, Dharwad – 580007. email:


Recently Published Articles

Women-led farm initiatives

Women-led farm initiatives

By using organic farming methods, developing connections with markets, generating income, and enhancing their own...


Call for articles

Share your valuable experience too

Share This