- To feed an estimated nine billion people in 2050 food production must increase by 70 percent.
- Climate-smart agriculture practices increase the productivity and resilience of crops and reduce greenhouse gases at the same time. An innovative practice - the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) - is one such example.
- The World Bank Institute connects African farmers with farmers in India to learn from each other.
April 13, 2011—In 2009 Kenya suffered from severe droughts leading to food and water shortages. Two farmers in the Mwea region, Kenya’s most important rice growing area, decided to start growing rice in a new way that would need less water and less seeds and yet bring higher yields.
All they received was encouragement and guidance from local researchers and officials and a World Bank team working on a Natural Resources Management project to rehabilitate the Mwea Irrigation Scheme. The two farmers received no financial support for their endeavor, but a lot of resistance from their worried families and local villagers. In August 2009, they started using the new method, called System of Rice Intensification (SRI), on a small plot of their land and continued with conventional planting methods on the remaining land – just in case.
“At first my neighbors laughed at me a lot,” says Moses Kareithi, one of the farmers. “They could not believe young plants with wider spacing could produce as much yields as conventional farming. My wife also resisted the adoption. However after a month my wife began to realize the gradual changes in the paddy field that were taking place.”
Shortage of water is a big constraint in Kenya. Any measures that reduce water demand in a region like Mwea helps. If farmers adopt SRI even without receiving much financial incentives, up-scaling can be easily promoted.Christian Peter, the World Bank’s task team leader for the Natural Resources Management Project in Mwea
During the first harvest in December 2009, the increase in yields from the fields that used the new method was significant. Despite the drought and shortage of irrigation water the new method had been a success.
“I got eleven bags of paddy from my quarter acre trial, compared to the usual eight bags for that plot. But what’s amazing was that each bag weighed 95 kg for the SRI paddy but only 80 kg for the conventional method. In the following year, I converted all my two acres to practice the SRI method,” confirms Moses Kareithi proudly.
Spreading the Word Through Knowledge Exchange
Local radio broadcasted the news. The World Bank Institute organized video conferences for the farmers and local researchers to exchange knowledge with Rwanda, India and Madagascar where SRI had been used to learn their experience. SRI researchers from the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University and from Japan came to Kenya and provided hands-on advice. Local officials and farmers from Kenya joined a delegation from Africa to visit India, talked to SRI farmers there, and saw results first hand. This made more farmers confident to try SRI.
“Kenya wanted to learn and India and other countries provided the knowledge they needed,” says Mei Xie who is leading the program at WBI. ”The World Bank Institute connected them and facilitated the exchanges. We help link innovative practices to where they are needed.”
In 2010, 14 farmers started using SRI for the planting season that followed. By the 2011 season, over 200 farmers were applying the new method in Mwea. “I will not go back to the traditional rice cultivation practice, because SRI rice has less breakage and better quality. It’s sold very fast on the market,” confirms another farmer from Mwea.
Convincing Results With the System of Rice Intensification (SRI)
To feed an estimated nine billion people in 2050 food production must increase by 70 percent. Climate-smart agriculture, such as SRI, offers hope. It increases the productivity and resilience of crops and reduces greenhouse gas emission at the same time. Crops cultivated with SRI practices showed greater drought resistance. Their deeper root system and stronger stalks better withstand wind and flooding. SRI rice fields which require less standing water in the paddy fields also reduce the emission of methane gas. This is particularly important as 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture and forests.
“Shortage of water is a big constraint in Kenya. Any measures that reduce water demand in a region like Mwea helps. If farmers adopt SRI even without receiving much financial incentives, up-scaling can be easily promoted. It’s a no-brainer,” comments Christian Peter, the World Bank’s task team leader for the Natural Resources Management Project in Mwea.
“It was so encouraging to see the success of the new system of rice intensification. SRI doesn’t involve changes in seed varieties, complex research or extensive inputs of chemical fertilizers. It can increase yields while reducing farm inputs, especially water, seeds and labor. This is climate-smart agriculture,” adds Prof. Bancy Mati from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture.
Working Together Through Local Partnerships
Local partnership was crucial to make SRI known amongst farmers. The network for Improved Management of Agricultural Water in Eastern and Southern Africa (IMAWESA) funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) was instrumental in disseminating information and a SRI toolkit produced by WBI amongst farmers. The Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and the African Institute for Capacity Development (AICAD) organized the first country-wide SRI seminar with support from the Kenya National Irrigation Board and the Mwea local officials. This helped bring researchers, stakeholders and the private sector together for innovations
More knowledge sessions have since taken place linking practitioners, researchers and government officials with Mali, the Philippines and India. Worldwide over 40 countries use SRI today – including larger rice producers like India, China and Vietnam. The SRI multimedia toolkit developed by the World Bank Institute draws on field experience from South-East Asia, and includes step-by-step “how to” for practitioners and farmers. It is also available in French.