System of Rice Intensification: Changing agriculture landscape

Updated: Feb 10, 2021

Changing agriculture landscape
Veda Bharat Natural Farming

There is an immense shortage of water across the world. And India is already experiencing water issues in many parts. Considering climate change and soil degradation, the System of Rice Intensification offers ailing farming households better opportunities.

SRI is often called the new “green grassroots revolution.” It is based on certain ideas and changes in practice, justified in scientific terms.

What is SRI?

SRI is the abbreviation of System of Rice Intensification. It is also referred to as le Système de Riziculture Intensive in French and la Sistema Intensivo de Cultivo Arrocero (SICA) in Spanish.

SRI is a climate-smart, agro-ecological methodology that helps to boost the productivity of rice. It is now being used in other crops by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients.

Does it work?

The proof’s in the pudding! Research shows that in many states, the System of Rice Intensification has demonstrated the ability to save water while cost-effectively raising yields. Studies have revealed that 60% of the country’s rice area is irrigated, accounting for 75 per cent of production. It is also impacted by guzzling disproportionately large volumes of water.

With the irregularities in the monsoon pattern, especially a subnormal accentuates the problem of water scarcity. Considering that India supports 16% of the global population with approximately 4% of the world’s freshwater resources, SRI is a boon, sorting water scarcity by manifolds.

What are the principles of SRI?

There are four major principles of SRI that are inter-connected:

Advanced, fast-tracked and healthy plant establishment

Minimize plant density

Enhance & boost soil conditions through enrichment with organic matter

Reduce water application & control the same

Farmers can pick on the relevant principles for their agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions. For farmers, especially in India, adaptations are often mandatory to accommodate changing weather patterns. They are also affected by:

Soil conditions

Labour availability

Water control

Access to organic inputs

But the biggest question is whether they should practice fully organic agriculture or not.

Where can SRI principles be applied along with rice?

SRI principles have been applied to rain-fed rice and wheat, sugarcane, teff, finger millet, pulses, etc. It has reflected enhanced and increased productivity over current conventional planting practices. The process is known as System of Crop Intensification or SCI in such cases.

SRI across India

System of Rice Intensification started in Tamil Nadu with scientific and extension support from Tamil Nadu State University. Studies show that the area under SRI management has now reached about half of the State’s rice area.

In the state of Tripura, SRI had started at just 44 farmers in 2002. This number has increased to about 3,50,000 on 1,00,000 hectares. It clearly implies that almost half of that State’s rice area.

In 2007, Bihar started with just a few hundred farmers, and in less than 4 years, SRI was reported to be about 10% of the State’s rice area. They have a target area of 40% set for 2013-14.

There have been some exceptional results too. According to, Sumant Kumar from Nalanda in Bihar set a record by claiming a harvest of 22.4 tonnes of rice per hectare. Then, S. Sethumadhavan from Alanganallur in Tamil Nadu reported nearly 24 tonnes per hectare.

Top 5 benefits of SRI

1. Reduce water use

The primary benefit of SRI is, of course, saving water. Results show that almost 30-50% water reduction is possible. This has been observed across 50+ countries, which is a drastic decrease in water use compared to growing the same varieties on the same soil under flooded conditions. As per studies by Oxfam America, “The significance of SRI lies not only in enabling farmers to increase yields with less water but in the basket of associated social and environmental benefits.”

2. Lower farming cost

Water is a major contributor leading to high costs in farming. By reducing dependence on purchased inputs, farmers can cut their costs of production. This would be a key benefit for cash-poor households. 23% average reductio was calculated from on-farm evaluations of impacts from SRI methods in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.

3. Increasing household income

With expenditure going down, automatically there is an increase in household income. Since costs can be reduced, income goes up. And this is especially true for areas where rice production is a break-even endeavour. In many households’ net incomes from rice production using SRI methods were increased eight-fold in real terms.

4. Fighting climate change

According to an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), one can find clear evidence of decreased rice yielding higher night temperatures because of global warming. SRI can help in the fight against climate change through:

Improvements in crop root systems. One can get better roots and less degeneration than under flooded, hypoxic conditions.

Improved soil biodiversity and biological activity is a big plus. In particular, there is a highly beneficial impact of soil microorganisms within rice plants as symbiotic endophytes.

5. Improved overall yields

A studied in1997 showed that farmers in Madagascar, who were producing just two tonnes of rice per hectare on their poor soils — were able to average eight tonnes per hectare for three consecutive seasons on the same soils using SRI. They used the same varieties without having to purchase inputs. In simple terms, the average yield went up by almost half!

SRI is indeed a boon for increasing yield and reducing water wastage. It gives the farmers in India a huge bonus of helping save more — and earn more too!