SRI: Open Source Rice Farming

Photo by Ali Mohammad Ramzi from the Aga Khan Foundation.

Afghani SRI farmers Jawan Shamali and Juma Ghul share their experiences with SRI.

Earth Links is working towards the release of our “Open Source” database and website for small-holder rice farmers in 2018.  With CAD files, free CAD software and easy to share PDFs of well used and tested equipment designs, we want to help facilitate the adoption of the System of Rice Intensification, SRI, in rice growing regions around the world.

A growing number of people are interested in helping resource-limited farmers improve their living conditions and have marveled at the improved yields of the System of Rice Intensification. Using less water and seeds, this method has been adopted in an ever-increasing number of rice-growing communities around the world. SRI’s combination of synergistic practices including: irrigating by alternative wetting and drying, healthy soils, wide plant spacing, and early transplantation helps create higher yields, with less water use and much less seed.  Some institutions and researchers have trouble understanding this “organic growth” – both of the plants and the larger number of farmers using SRI.

It is interesting to consider SRI techniques and its adoption by 10,000,000 small farmers (users) in terms of the movements of the computer age called “open source” (in which computing source code is made freely and openly available to programmers, developers, and users to cooperatively develop and use).  This helps to understand SRI often spreads from farmer to farmer, and how it can change to meet local conditions.  And how the necessary tools, field markers, weeders and harvesters, are adapted to local conditions with locally available materials.

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Variations of the rotors for turning weeds under and aerating the soil.

SRI methods have primarily been developed and disseminated outside mainstream agricultural institutions and corporations, do not rely on hybrid/GMO seeds or petrochemical fertilizers, but rather encourage and rely on farmer-led research and experimentation, indigenous knowledge, as well as scientific studies and the assistance and training of agricultural professionals. As Indian researcher Dr. Shambhu Prasad has recently argued,

“SRI shows how a less hierarchical and less linear architecture of innovation has enabled a new ‘knowledge commons’ to emerge in Indian agriculture, contributing substantially to household-level food security, also enabling farmers to cope with vulnerabilities.”

 

SRI farmers Khidir Hameed and friends in Najaf, Iraq.

This past January, Dr. Prasad spoke at the 13th biennial conference for the International Association for the Study of the Commons in Hyberabad, India, describing the “agroecological innovations” shared through the Internet and other digital social networks by Indian SRI practitioners. Conference attendee and author David Bollier reported on the talk in a recent blog post:

Rather than adopt the farming practices of the conventional market and the knowledge paradigm of the scientific/government establishment, however, the SRI practitioners use indigenous varieties of crops and shun chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The whole enterprise is a vast social network of Internet-mediated participation that is aimed at learning how to eke out better yields on marginal plots of land. Some farmers even learn to “play with the monsoon” and its capricious ways to build soil health. The SRI knowledge commons has scientists, farmers and citizens all talking together on the same platforms, rather than the market-oriented “experts” declaring how agriculture should be pursued.

SRI and open source farming create opportunities and possibilities to address serious global problems. We have the resources of the commons and collective wisdom as tools to respond to these challenges. And there is also a treasure, unacknowledged by some, in the ability of rice and other crops to respond positively to conditions farmers create in the field. They give hope where others only see insufficient resources and insurmountable challenges.

Ms. Im Sarim, Peak Bang Oang Village, Takeo Province, Cambodia, holding an SRI rice plant.

Donate now to help fund SRI training in Latin America!

Six Publications that tell the stories and possibilities of SRI

SRI is a set of sustainable rice farming technologies that can help small farmers to significantly increase their rice yields. It is a low-input technology, which can be flexibly applied based on the local factors and farm conditions.

SRI methodology is based on four main principles that interact with each other:

  • Early, quick and healthy plant establishment
  • Reduced plant density
  • Improved soil conditions through enrichment with organic matter
  • Reduced and controlled water application

Based on these principles, farmers can adapt recommended SRI practices to respond to their agroecological and socioeconomic conditions. Adaptations are often done to accommodate changing weather patterns, soil conditions, labor availability, water control, access to organic inputs, and the decision whether to practice fully organic agriculture or not.

sri-cover1. From The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), Responses to Frequently Asked Questions, Norman Uphoff  Norman Uphoff has lead the worldwide movement to understand and promote SRI,  a work for which he has won numerous awards. His SRI FAQs is just one of an extraordinary number of publications he has produced.

 

2. SRI has been successfully adapted to many cultures andmore-rice environments. Here is a link to an excellent joint publication which highlights the successes that Oxfam, WWF and AfricaRice have all had with SRI.

 

 

 

3. Here is a link to the worldwide Leisa issue on SRI. This is an excellent introduction to SRI and how it has been adapted to local conditions by farmers, researchers, governmental organizations and NGOs.

4. Here is the SRI-Rice website at Cornell which is the most comprehensive resource in the world. There are academic articles, reports on conferences as well as how SRI has appeared in both the popular and business press worldwide. The site is media rich and it is possible to search for resources by country as well as language.  Monthly updates are provided in several forms.

  • http://sri.ciifad.cornell.edu

5. This Handbook for the Peace Corps was done to provide an Introduction to SRI for West Africans.  It was part of a very successful, multi-year project that expanded SRI in 13 West African countries using groups familiar with SRI as the trainers or “Champions”.  It is an excellent example of how training materials have been used to successfully adapt SRI for countries around the middle of our planet.

feed-the-future6. Here is a link to a major West African SRI project. SRI-RICE at Cornell was a major consultant on the SRI-WAAPP project, which will hopefully have a second phase/expansion. Thanks to Devon Jenkins, returned Peace Corps volunteer, and and Erica Styger for their work on this publication.

 

Coming Publications

Equipment for small scale farmers that can be built at the village level, for less than 50 USD, by metal workers and blacksmiths is a critical element of the successful adoption and spread of  SRI.  Here is an example of a weeder, called the “Mandava” Weeder that has been successfully used in many countries in flooded rice fields.  Earth Links produced these CAD drawings as part of our work to make these well tested designs available worldwide without cost. Earth Links also contributed some of these early weeder plans to the West Africa project above as well as to Latin American demonstration projects with IICA..

The NGO (SRI Global Inc) which Earth Link helped start, in turn helped to start the NGO, 3ASahel, that was a Champion promoter for Mali.  The first phase of the WAAPP project has successfully ended.

mandava-weeder

SRI has many benefits such as climate change adaptation and mitigation which is described in the publications above.  An emerging issue and critical health problem is the high levels of Arsenic in some rice. The real reduction in arsenic that appears to be produced by SRI growing techniques (from significant reductions in water use) is an area of research that needs to be done and shared worldwide. Here is a link to the study that should have published results soon.

Stephen Leinau
Executive Director
Earth Links Inc
elinks@cruzio.com

 

 

 

Small SRI Rice Farmers Can Reap Big Benefits with Affordable Tools

500,000,000 Rice farmers worldwide need high-quality, effective tools for transplanting, weeding and harvesting their crops. Earth Links is continuing our collecting and evaluating of well-tested equipment designs that we began in 2014.  We share these tools with NGOs as photos, PDFs, videos and and CAD files. These tools will also be part of our upcoming Open Source Tool Library that will help to meet the needs of small farmers around the world.

As partners in a new grant from Cornell University there will be the opportunity to have key components printed with 3D printers from CAD files that will be shared with researchers and farmers in the field for their evaluation, suggested modifications and then retesting.  These improved equipment designs can then be shared widely with existing networks as well as be very valuable additions to our upcoming tool library.

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Cono Weeder

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Closeup of critical component.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inexpensive farm tools fabricated from good, simple, field-tested designs can make a life changing difference to farmers worldwide.

  • Equipment that encourages deep roots, soil health, minimal soil disturbance and water conservation creates a Climate-smart Agriculture and promotes soil conservation.
  • Small, efficient engines can be added to equipment to allow farmers to respond to labor shortages and increase their income and food security.
  • Women-friendly versions of tools with lighter weight materials and smaller sizes will increase productivity and decrease serious injuries.
  • CAD software allows tools to be resized and modified for local conditions as well as helps to select the best materials and the accurate reproduction of equipment.
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Mechanized rice harvester based on “brush cutter”.

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Close up view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Open-Source Library of Tools will help small rice farmers in many countries in their move to food security and sustainability. These equipment designs have been created over hundreds of thousands of hours by farmers as well as by agricultural engineers, equipment manufacturers and researchers.  When possible, these tools are best fabricated at the local level by blacksmiths and metal workers so that money remains in the community and the tools can be quickly repaired, tested, modified and improved.  Well tested tool designs, when made freely available, become vital elements in the successful introduction and use of agroecology techniques such as The System of Rice intensification (SRI), The System of Crop Intensification (SCI) and Conservation Agriculture (CA).

This is important work; Rice cultivation is the largest occupation in the world.  A well-managed acre of SRI rice and effective tools can produce over 5,000 pounds of food, while adapting to and mitigating climate change as well as using far less chemical inputs, water and seed than traditional farming techniques.

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Donations of Equipment and Supplies to Other Nonprofits from Earth Links

By Stephen Leinau, Executive Director

In my thirty years working in the nonprofit world, I have maintained an interest in meeting the needs of nonprofits and their clients with tangible items: work clothes, tools and the various necessities of life. From my tenure as the Director of the Long Island Food Bank in the 1980s, and coordinator of the USDA food distribution program on Long Island, to my work with Earth Links, I have learned from first-hand experience the value of materials that nonprofits need and can put to good use immediately serving people in need.

Volunteer Chris McPherson and donated clothing, 1995

Since its founding in 1991, supporting other nonprofit organizations has been at the core of Earth Links’ mission of “bringing people and resources together.” Through corporate, business, and individual contributions during those twenty five years, Earth Links has donated over one million dollars worth of materials to other nonprofits, including new clothing, software, computers, communication gear (such as satellite phones and ham radios), office supplies, and other items without costs to the nonprofits we serve. These materials have been and continue to be critical to the work of women’s shelters, community development projects, and advocates for indigenous peoples. Given the cuts to local, state, and federal budgets  (as well as economic uncertainties on the horizon), groups are in even more need, and Earth Links would like to continue this work in future.

We are always looking for the financial resources to support our giving of material donations from corporate and small business sources. Each $1,000 donation to Earth Links allows us to solicit, pay shipping and handling, and deliver $10,000 worth of needed items to other nonprofits.

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Insulated coveralls for local farm workers.

 

Donate now to help our continuing efforts to provide people with the resources they need!

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Jorge Acosta Facilitating SRI-Rice Education in Latin America in 2014

SRI as a network is growing faster in Latin America in 2014! This agro-ecological method for growing rice (the System of Rice Intensification), known in Spanish as SICA (la Sistema Intensivo de Cultivo Arrocero), has increased the food security of people all over the world, most recently in Latin American countries. Since the First International Latin American Workshop on SRI held in Costa Rica back in November 2011, more and more farmers and researchers are discovering the benefits of SRI. This is a critical movement, as Latin America currently produces only 50% of the rice they consume, and could surely benefit from the increased yields with fewer inputs that SRI provides. (You can read more about SRI here.)

SRI rice champion Jorge Orlando Acosta Buitrago

Passionate SRI advocate, researcher and writer Jorge Orlando Acosta Buitrago is the Latin America outreach coordinator for SRI Global Inc and Cornell”s SRI-Rice Center. Jorge is  a recent graduate of Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE) in Turrialba, Costa Rica. Jorge’s article, “El SICA orgánico en Colombia,” which was published in the magazine LEISA revista de agroecología, gives a timely and incisive look at the state of SRI in a country especially ready for large-scale adoption of SRI (you can read it here in Spanish). He is translating key SRI documents into Spanish and developing social media for Latin America.

Earth Links was helping to facilitate Jorge’s work and travel around Latin America. Thanks to an initial donation to Earth Links from Three Americas Inc., Jorge’s position was  funded for 2013. Now through a collaboration with SRI Global, Earth Links, Three Americas and generous matching funding from Bridging Peace Jorge has begun a full time initiative to bring SRI/SICA to Latin America.  Thanks to support  and office space provided by IICA Jorge will be able to spread information through their 35 offices throughout the Americas.