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!

Coffee Sales and Gift Fair Launch the 2014 SRI Latin American Rice Project

Thank you for helping us celebrate our 2014 SRI Rice and Food Security Project for Latin America.  This special event was was a great success and a perfect kickoff for the Project.  Nicaraguan Fairly Traded Organic Coffee and “Alternative Gift Cards” let many of you share the gift of helping families gain food security and increased incomes by supporting their transition to growing rice using the “The System of Rice Intensification”, SRI.

A special thanks to the Bridging Peace Fund for providing matching funds as well as to Three Americas Inc and several individual donors for making the very generous donations that have made the project financially possible.

The projects partners will include SRI Global Inc, Cornell’s SRI RICE and Earth Links Inc.  After finishing his Masters Degree at  CATIE University in Costa Rica Jorge Acosta Butriago will be coordinating our collective work which will include developing and identifying SRI training materials, starting demonstration plots with small farmers as well as creating social and popular media.  We will provide updates and pictures as the project unfolds.

 

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.

Farming Matters: Special Issue on SRI

The international quarterly magazine Farming Matters has come out with a special issue on SRI (SRI – Much More Than Rice, 29.1, March 2013), featuring wonderful people and projects promoting SRI worldwide and making a serious difference in the food security and food sovereignty of the communities where they are working.

The issue does an excellent job of exploring the theme “much more than rice.” As SRI-Rice’s Erika Styger writes in her article “SRI 2.0: How is SRI evolving and what are we learning?”,

Ecological approaches for sustainable agriculture intensification still offer much potential for development. With the accumulating evidence that the application of SRI core principles improves productivity not only for rice but also for other crops, the potentials for using the SRI methodology become broader and more relevant.

As longtime “champion” of SRI Norman Uphoff (former director of Cornell University’s CIIFAD) argues in an interview in this issue,

SRI is not a technology that can be put into a box. It is a set of ideas and experiences, a set of relationships and a set of values. This is often really hard to get across, especially to agronomists or to economists who want consider SRI as “only this” or “no more than that.” It should be kept in mind that the original objective of Tefy Saina in Madagascar was not just to grow more rice, but to help the rural people understand their situation and take the opportunity to improve it. While SRI was intended to help people produce more food, it was also expected to help them “liberate” themselves from unfounded beliefs or social pressures.

Check out this article on SRI in Peru, one Latin American country where SRI is making inroads. “We are convinced that this is not a crazy idea at all – and are sure that more farmers will join us,” writes farmer Divar Moya Zavaleta, whose success since he started using SRI in his rice fields in 2008-9 is beginning to convince other local farmers of the benefits of SRI. This snapshot of one project in Latin America highlights the need for information, resource sharing, technical assistance, and funding to allow Latin American countries to reach their potential for sustainable rice production and to expand to other crops.

We were also happy to see a piece on Hamidou Guindo and his self-help association 3A-Sahel in Douentza, Mali. Earth Links provided financial support to SRI Global, who in turn funded Hamidou’s project (read Hamidou’s progress report here). Hamidou and 3A-Sahel will be receiving funding again for 2013, and are going to expand the project this growing season.

The whole issue is available online, so check it out!

Searching for SRI on the website of Ileia will produce lots of very interesting results. https://www.ileia.org/

Farming Matters is a publication of the wonderful international organization the AgriCultures Network, which “shares knowledge and provides information on small-scale family farming and agro-ecology.” Visit their website at http://www.agriculturesnetwork.org/

El Mirador Farm

Aldao Choatalúm, San Martín Jilotepeque, Guatemala

El Mirador Farm, winner of the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture’s Model Organic Farm Award, promotes an ecological, organic, and sustainable agriculture that fosters native plants and biodiversity.

Manuel Huz leads a training session at El Mirador

The dream of Manuel Huz—co-founder of the renowned Campesino-to-Campesino Movement and the Maní School of Ecological Agriculture—El Mirador is in a region particularly affected by Guatemala’s civil war. It is a testament to Manuel’s healing vision that El Mirador has become such a vibrant community center and has changed so many lives in the process. The Campesino-to-Campesino Movement that Manuel helped to establish emphasizes soil conservation and sustainability in the context of traditional campesino agriculture, promoting hands-on experimental learning, innovation, and exchange of ideas on the campesinos’ small holdings. It has spread from San Martín throughout the Americas and around the world.

Visitors at El Mirador

El Mirador is a self-sustaining, working farm and a training facility. Thousands of visitors come to the three-acre farm each year to learn about innovative, small-scale, low-cost practices in cattle, pig and fowl husbandry; production of corn, coffee, fruit, vegetables, firewood, cheese, animal feed, fish, compost and worm bins; soil and water conservation, reforestation, water recycling and the use of a biodigestor to produce methane as a fuel source.

Casita for overnight visitors

Three Americas and Earth Links have been the sole international supporters of El Mirador. Three Americas is currently working to help El Mirador produce a brochure, and a DVD of their farm tours, as well as working to identify funding for a much-needed second bungalow so that additional visitors and groups can spend the night at El Mirador during training sessions.

Watch Café Maya, a documentary video about Manuel Huz and El Mirador, directed by Emery Hudson, and produced by Roger Bunch for Three Americas.

Flor Sanmartineca Coffee Cooperative

San Martín Jilotepeque, Guatemala

Nazario Huz, Coordinator of the co-op, at the co-op’s new coffee processing plant

The Flor Sanmartineca Coffee Cooperative, in San Martín Jilotepeque, is a remarkable group of coffee farmers who produce some of the most delicious coffee in Guatemala. Their cooperative, which promotes the cultivation, processing, and marketing of certified organic fair trade coffee from San Martín, has made a significant difference in the lives of its members, who live and work in an area particularly affected by Guatemala’s civil war. Three Americas and Earth Links were proud to help finance the cooperative: the financial donation helped bridge a critical gap in the economy of the cooperative, giving the co-op the ability to start paying cultivators when they deliver their coffee to the co-op, rather than having to wait for payment from coffee brokers, which can take up to six months for them to receive. With the co-op, not only are farmers able to get much better prices for their coffee, they have been able to convert individually-owned plots to organic, ecologically sustainable, shade-grown crops, and do much of their own processing of the raw coffee berries.

A meeting of the co-op board

San Martín’s coffee is exceptional – processors in Antigua pay more for the coffee from San Martín than for coffee from any other region in Guatemala. The co-op’s work so impressed Anacafé (the Guatemalan National Coffee Association), that the association donated $600,000 worth of materials and machinery to help build the co-op’s coffee processing plant.

Now in its third year, the co-op provides orientation, education, financing, and buys and processes coffee from over 2,000 local producers, an estimated 2 percent of the coffee production of San Martín.