Today I received a regular magazine I receive as a supporter of Oxfam in Australia. Recently the magazine has been focussing more and more on Africa and regions of Australia where my interests lie in Asia and the Mekong delta. This issue though had a really positive sounding article about the how a new way of growing rice, System of Rice Intensification, is being used in Cambodia.
The techniques sounded like a perfect solution for many places with no effort, organic, no genetic modifications, 2-3 times the rice yield… generally I don’t believe in silver bullets so I started reading more….
SRI is a set of techniques combined, it uses organic fertilisers, hand pulling out weeds, moving plants into more optimal areas as they are growing, keeping soil moist but not flooded, and even better it does not use genetically modified seeds – seeds do not have to purchased each year from bio-tech companies and arguably the produce may be healthier.
Many of the techniques are very labour intensive making it unsuitable for large commercial operations; many places in the world, particularly those having problems producing enough rice for food and country loan repayments, produce crops as small family farms. It does seem to produce 2-3 times the yield as traditional techniques, As water gets harder and harder to come by, and damns getting more frequent this situation will only get worse. It cannot work for highland areas, presumably as keeping the soil moist would be difficult, this would limit it in Northern Thailand and parts of China but leaves plenty of land.
A quick google found not everyone agrees; there are very strong groups (John Sheehy) pushing genetic modifications of crops to make them more efficient as the only answer. Probably is a reasonable answer for large scale agriculture with higher profit margins for buying seed every year.
The frustrating part about anything in development, you almost never get a clear, simple, answer. But it is good to read about something which seems to be really positive, involves very little money, and could produce real results in only a year or two!