This Farmer Grew Four Times As Much Rice in the Same Amount of Land

His controversial farming method has long been dismissed by experts

Photo: Ashley Cooper/Corbis

Over the past 30 years, small farmers in a handful of countries around the world have been working on a rice-growing method called "rice intensification." Many experts and funders long dismissed those efforts as pointless, the Guardian writes, insisting that the farmers were wasting their time. One farmer in India, S Sethumadhavan from Alanganallur, has just proven them wrong. As the Guardian reports, he harvested a whopping 24 tons of rice per hectare this year, or four times more than what an average field of the same size normally produces.

The seemingly miracle method is actually based on very simple assumptions: that focusing on the quality of the rice paddy rather than the quantity of seedlings will make a difference. The Guardian explains: 

It centres on improving the management of the soil, water and nutrients, rather than bolstering the seed, which has been the focus of scientific research for decades.

SRI involves significantly reducing the number of rice seeds planted, transplanting them to the fields when they are much younger than usual, using different amounts of water at critical times of their growth cycle, and improving soil conditions with organic manure.

Many experts are dubious, and some have outright accused Sethumadhavan and the local officials of making up the numbers, the Guardian writes. Other groups, however, point out that the system of rice intensification method consistently delivers higher yields, oftentimes up to 40 percent greater than normal methods. 

Cornell University's SRI International Network and Resources Center emphasized one point to the Guardian, however: Regardless of whether Sethumadhavan did or did not grow as much rice as he claims, he is clearly a statistical outlier. Not every farmer can or will grow 24 tons of rice per hectare. "[It is] averages that feed hungry people and raise farmers out of poverty, not records," international agriculture professor Norman Uphoff told the Guardian

Nevertheless, evidence is building that the system of rice intensification method does make a difference for yield and for profits, as attested to by the fact that 9.5 million farmers and counting have so far taken it up. 

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