Review of System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Program of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Mumbai<br />2009-10<br />Reviewers: <br ...
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Review Report

  1. 1. Review of System of Rice Intensification (SRI) Program of Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Mumbai<br />2009-10<br />Reviewers: <br />Dr BC Barah, Director, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP), New Delhi.<br />Dr MC Diwakar, Director, Directorate of Rice Development (DRD), Patna.<br />Dr Shambu Prasad, Associate Professor, Xavier’s Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar (XIM-B). Executive Summary of Expert Review of SRI Program of the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (SDTT)<br />Indian agriculture is at the crossroads today, as food security is threatened, (2009, which was also the warmest year since 1901), total factor productivity has declined steadily (indicating declining role of technology) and the socio economic changes (for instance, food inflation and agricultural price spiral), has caused several distortions in rural economy. Frequent occurrences of water stress below the field capacity also causes drastic reduction in food production.<br />The Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (SDTT) sanctioned in December 2007 a grant of Rs 1094 lakhs for three years in several states of India. SDTT constituted an expert team to review the program achievement and impacts, and the role of the Trust and its way forward on SRI. The review team comprising of Dr B C Barah of the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP), Dr C Shambu Prasad of the Xavier Institute of Management Bhubaneswar (XIMB) and Dr D R Diwakar of the Directorate of Rice Development Patna (DRD) had extensive interactions with the SDTT Programme staff including the SRI Secretariat and visited three locations where SRI practice has been extensive in the project – Uttarakhand, Orissa and Bihar in November 2009 and January 2010 as part of the review. This report presents the views of the expert team on the project impacts and ways forward for the Trust.<br />The Trust has set itself a five year strategic plan for tackling household level food security for small and marginal farmers in India with a focus on states and regions with poor Human Development Indicators in 2007. The emphasis was laid on System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI is an innovation, a practice that emerged from the farmers’ fields, which has the most important property of productivity enhancing as well as resource conserving leading to sustainability. The SRI practice was experimented by some of SDTT partners to improve agricultural productivity in eastern India since 2002. SDTT was considering an expansion of its activities at a time when awareness of SRI especially in the southern states was quite high with several media reports and also some controversies in the twenty first century often referred to as ‘Rice Wars’. Two national symposiums on SRI were held at Hyderabad and Agartala in 2006 and 2007 and yet support on SRI at the beginning of Phase 1 of the project was dispersed, with some state governments like Tripura and Tamil Nadu taking leads, others like Andhra Pradesh not delivering on its initial promise, and most other regions having SRI experience but lacking critical mass to influence public policy and unable to attract investments. <br />SRI for Food Security:<br />The novel initiatives of the Trust’s project phase I on SRI needs to be seen as a significant initiative embarking on a social cause of improving agricultural productivity for meeting the basic human needs and household food security of the millions small and marginal farmers. While national food security goals can be met through increased productivity in favoured regions as was witnessed during the Green Revolution and/or food import, such a strategy has huge environmental externality. This is seen in term of large and competing water demands for irrigation, land quality, declining total factor productivity and degrading precious natural resource. In this context, the lesser exploited rain fed areas by contrast provide excellent opportunities for increasing rice productivity in one part, entrusting livelihood to the millions in other part with significant impact on poverty reduction through SRI. The SDTT project is thus a potential winner in terms of strategizing and improving agricultural productivity as part of its strategy. It has also added an important dimension to rice debates in India by adding a small and marginal farmer focus with substantial potential for poverty reduction in regions.<br />Programme achievements and Impacts:<br />In 2006 only two SDTT partners were in SRI; that increased to five in 2007. At the time of this review and assessment work in December 2009, the partners crossed 150 in ten states having trained and contacting over 56,000 farmers by the Kharif season of 2009. Based on past trends and with a possible addition of another 10,000 farmers in Rabi 2009-2010, the total spread could be around 65,000 farmers directly (and even more number indirectly due to demonstration effect). The programme covered 105 districts or close to a sixth of the total districts in the country. Achieving this remarkable spread of a sustainable farming system with a modest investment of over Rs 10.94 crores is commendable and has few parallels in the history of agricultural research in India. This assumes added important especially at a time when there has been a large scale distress and farm suicide in India. The review team congratulates the project team and its partners for bringing hope to small and marginal farmers even as large numbers of them have been migrating or looking at other livelihood options and abandoning agriculture. This ‘reaching out’ to rural communities has been done in an extremely cost effective manner. SRI, as is evident from the partners database of increased yields, is indeed a fit case for meeting the Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet and Profit. <br />Increase in rice yields through SRI by SDTT partners is currently being evaluated through a detailed Management Information System (MIS) that is currently in place by the SRI Secretariat at Bhubaneswar and is still being processed. However visits by the project team to the field areas indicate that there has been an average increase in yield of 70% (in Uttarakhand) in the first three years (67, 87 and 53%, respectively, in 2006-2009, and straw yield increases were 25, 34 and 31%) due to SRI. Of greater interest is the emerging result for the current year when many parts of India witnessed severe drought, and overall rice production is estimated to be lower by 10 million tonnes in Kharif. Yet in Uttarakhand, farmers witnessed over 92% increase through SRI over conventional methods indicating the potential of SRI to cope with vulnerability to climate stress. Farmers in Bihar have achieved and received awards from the state government for very high rice productivity of over 10 tonnes/ hectare through SRI. The team did not come across any significant instances of SRI crops having failed during its visits or of farmers disadopting SRI after one or two seasons. Variations amongst regions and farmers are there, however, and need to be respected and appreciated when designing further SRI strategies.<br />Drought and Resilience of SRI:<br />Of particular interest is the resilience of SRI methods in unprecedented drought of the current year 2009. Many which jolted the food economy with overall rice production estimated to be lower by 11 million tonnes. Analysis shows that rice yield under common method declined by 39% due to drought, while the same is only 13% of SRI paddy in Uttarkhand. Actually, in Uttarakhand farmers experienced over 92% increase through SRI over conventional rice plants indicating the potential of SRI to cope with vulnerable climate stress. Farmers in Bihar have achieved and received awards from the state government for very high rice productivity of over 10 tonnes/ hectare through SRI. The team felt the fact that SRI crops did not fail and there were no instances of farmers disadopting it season after season, need to be respected and appreciated while designing SRI strategies.<br />The team members also observed several tangible and intangible benefits of SRI in terms of extra-ordinary savings in expensive modern seeds, precious water (30-40%), growing season duration, reverse migration, revealing labour saving and opportunities for gender participation. Apart from these measured benefits, the valuation of unconventional factors of production such as power and synergy of solar energy, atmospheric air, microbial population and root system, certainly add more value to the approach to attract research and policy attention.<br />Capacity Building:<br />The physical achievement of the project has to be seen in terms of institutional innovations and strategies that the project has been able to put in place. Key to this is the ability of SDTT and its partners to adapt to the ever-changing SRI and rice environment in the country, learning from and contributing to it at the same time. SDTT has used platforms such as the national symposiums on SRI to provide opportunities for its partners to have a wider exposure with SRI developments both nationally and internationally and at the same time influencing the SRI agenda towards a stronger focus on rainfed and small and marginal farmers. A novel initiative in broad-basing and learning by building on synergies is the SRI e-group started soon after the Agartala symposium in October 2007. The e-group currently has over 350 members, not all SRI partners, and is the largest SRI e-group internationally. With over 15 international partners and substantial contribution from members from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh (not covered by SDTT project), the e-group has provided tremendous opportunity for SDTT partners to keep abreast with the SRI community. <br />Policy and Advocacy:<br />SDTT and its partners have also started playing a more active role in policy advocacy. The strategy here has been sound and based on first bringing about a change in the field and establishing a critical mass of SRI farmers and then using their experiences to influence and impact on public policy, especially at the state level. SDTT partners have joined and created learning alliances as in Orissa wherein a conducive atmosphere has emerged with the state government willing to collaborate with civil society organisations for SRI uptake and with participation of research and non-research actors. A mega alliance of NFSM of the government of India and civil society organisation is a necessity for broadening a national-wide promotion of SRI.<br />In Uttarakhand, state-level symposiums and involvement of agricultural scientists and agriculture extension personnel in crop-cutting exercises have helped validate SRI results with the state government, incorporating SRI as part of its agricultural plan. In Bihar, synergistic alliances with the Bihar Rural Livelihood programme-Aajevika have enabled SRI extension. Other states too have either conducted or are in the process of carrying out state-level workshops to explore opportunities in their respective regions. In the absence of a clear SRI policy nationally, and with some policy actors not favourably disposed to SRI as was witnessed in some national-level meetings, the current model of multi-stakeholder state-level workshops and alliances is sound. In some states these workshops have led to increased public investment in SRI through schemes like the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) or the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) with strategic collaborations with district-level agencies such as ATMA (Agricultural Technology Management Agency). <br />Gender participation and mainstreaming:<br />The internal strategy for SRI by the SDTT partners has been unconventional in agricultural extension but quite effective. Women have been the prime movers of agricultural innovation in many of the SDTT areas directly in states like Uttarakhand and through their Self Help Groups in Bihar, West Bengal, etc. by organisations such as PRADAN, where they have been trained as Cluster Resource Persons (CRP), or in enrolling farmers, as BASIX has tried in Bihar. The SRI project and SDTT partners have demonstrated the latent potential of women playing a pro-active role in SRI extension (the review team interacted with large women groups in Bihar, Uttarkhand and Orissa). <br />SDTT partners have also unlocked the creative potential of local farmers and extension personnel that is encouraging. There have been several innovations on markers, weeders and providing organic inputs and bio-pesticides such as Panchagavya, Jeevamrut etc. prepared and sold affordably using local materials; cow dung, urine, curd, ghee and other local inputs (found in our visit to BOJBP in Nayagarh district of Orissa). The broad principles have been understood and adapted locally by partners with different models for extension and incorporation. The transition to more organic and less chemical farming is evident currently amongst the 56000 strong farming households in ten SDTT states.<br />Spill over Effect: SRI in other crops<br />Importantly, through the work of SDTT partners, India today has emerged as the largest adopted System of Crop Intensification (SCI) efforts in the world. As spill over effect, innovations on wheat, kidney beans, millets, mustard, vegetables even has been extensive with over 25000 farmers in Bihar and Uttarakhand. This phenomenon of transgressing beyond rice is significant and merits closer attention by policy makers.<br />Way Forward:<br />Overall there is much to commend on the project in terms of impact, innovations, ability of SDTT partners to cope with drought, and influencing policy at state and national levels. The review team feels that the project surely deserves an extension and enhanced support although with a revised strategy of support in the coming years. This includes both strengthening and streamlining of internal systems of SDTT at Mumbai and secretariat at Bhubaneswar, strategic and region-based planning at the field locations, and greater presence and positioning at the national and international levels. The team recommends continuation of existing strategies with following possible changes at each of these levels.<br />One of the parameters of success of a project can be gauged by the demand it can and has generated through requests for continued support and expansion to newer areas. The SDTT programme office has received several requests from states where it does not have presence and yet where it can be important in the longer run from a national perspective. Should SDTT increase the number of states or deepen its work in current states? Should it enhance its contribution and investment, or think of moving to other regions? Should it expand area or concentrate on strategic extension of, for example, greater organic content, extension to other crops, etc.? The expanded scale of activities on SRI would require a decision-making structure that is not heavily loaded on the programme officer. The trust would do well to have a programme committee or work towards a decision-making mechanism that will enable quick decision making by a system of experts. <br />Any social investment to be effective should be cost effective, efficient and in addition (in this case under consideration) to produce user accepted public good. Incidentally, the government of India seriously recognised SRI as a engine of food security and taken it on board under the mega schemes of National Food Security Mission and also considered under the RKVY (Rashtriya Krishi Vikash Yojana) in some of the implementing states. Interestingly, the SRI under NFSM and of SDTT started in the same period (middle of 2007). A back-of-the envelop calculation shows that a total outlay of nearly Rs.200 crores under NFSM allotted to SRI component to 132 identified districts in 17 states. Three components viz, conoweeder/equipments, demonstration trials and seeds including hybrid are directly considered.<br />Unlike the SDTT, no estimate of number of SRI farmers covered is available in NFSM, but indirectly about 50,000 farmers are provided with conoweeder/markers and nearly 50,000 frontline demonstrations were conducted in farmer’s field each in an area of 0.4 ha in every 100 ha of planted area under rice.. However, the efficiency of SDTT investment is remarkable as with an investment of merely a sum of Rs.10.94 crores during the two and half year period , an astronomical number of 60,000 farmers are brought under SRI programme. The trained personnel and the farmers conducted the promotional activity and thus achieved a higher synergy effect of all the six avowed principle of SRI, that yielded increased production, under the more with less principle.<br />The Trust can institute an SRI innovation fund to carry out investigations on SRI innovations. This could be more in the nature of helping partners scout for innovations in SRI by the partners with possible innovation awards. This fund should be open to non-SDTT partners as well. An extension of this could be instituting SRI fellowships for village-level promotion of SRI using innovative methods. A process of horizontal or peer evaluation could also be explored to learn from and disseminate innovations – in SRI per se, and in SCI with substantial multiplier effect. <br />The SDTT work on research has been good but modest given the emphasis on field-level extension. The Trust needs to see itself as a significant player in the SRI and rice scenario in the country and engage in a series of research studies both technical and socio-economic as well as work on other crops that would enable the poor to improve their nutrition and livelihoods beyond rice. Collaborations with reputed scientists from ICAR and its allied organisations and international researchers even who have worked on SRI can be explored and a committee constituted to help design these studies and suggest timeframes. <br />The current SRI Secretariat is rightly modest and has played a supportive role and is located in one of the partners’ office. The secretariat could be rightly seen as the public face of the Trust and provide a more visible front for future SRI activities. This might require more investments, but alternately exploring collaborations with organisations’ such as XIMB to rent space and infrastructure could help. It is essential that the Secretariat has access to good infrastructure and is able to provide a good support structure to the partners, on the one hand, and to the SDTT programme office, on the other. The Secretariat might require a full-time manager or executive who could be adequately compensated who can expand the role of the Secretariat and include good documentation and regular publications and communications. Bringing out a regular SRI newsletter either electronically is one such option. Maintaining a Website with web-enabled interface and uploading of information could also be explored. The idea is not to replicate current promotional efforts of existing SRI actors but to position the current work of SDTT partners and the Secretariat’s own research on drought and MIS both internally and to the outside world. <br />The Secretariat needs to also carve out and systematise the work on other crops that suggests an increased menu for farmers during drought situation. There is evidence that SWI (wheat intensification) has been particularly popular even as anticipated spread of SRI was affected by severe drought in many parts in 2009.<br />At the regional or field level, SDTT is advised to continue its work of supporting nodal agencis in the following manner. The nodal agencies need to be encouraged to undertake strategic reviews and scenario planning exercises for the next five years on SRI and to help them to develop a strategic plan. They need to be converted into SRI regional resource centres with a mandate for SRI training and capacity building. These could be set up collaboratively if necessary with other organisations and in some cases there is an overlap between existing training centres of nodal agencies and these resource centres. These resource centres will have a regular training calendar on SRI and could potentially become one-stop points for SRI in the state or region in local languages. This would also involve a more active collaboration with state agencies to enable this capacity building as is already in place with watershed and other integrated rural livelihood interventions. <br />A dedicated PME team (Priority setting, Monitoring and Evaluation) should be centrally constituted under the leadership of a experienced person/scientist to monitor, under take continuous, timely evaluation and assessment on-spot. A pro-active hard core research component should be in place under the team, which is a missing link at present. Currently, the SDTT initiative heavily focussed on capacity strengthening only. The trust can develop mechanism to collaborate and coordinate with the central research institution, SAUs (state Agricultural University) and international research communities and join their on-going efforts. <br />The ICAR centre such as NCAP could be approached to host meetings before the Kharif season 2010 with the possibility of organising a larger nation wide symposium subsequently. The activity may precede the country-wide Kharif campaign of the government of India. Getting the research system to acknowledge and further improve upon SRI results continues to be a big challenge faced by SRI actors in India. While individual awareness continues to spread, institutional support for SRI is not commensurate with the capacity of the national agricultural research system. Unless there is a clear endorsement from ICAR, state departments of agriculture are slow to take up these programmes. SDTT is advised to collaborate with other organisations in possibly setting up a National Civil Society Alliance on SRI, that would work closely with government bodies at the local and district level as also the involvement of panchayats as in Tripura, for taking forward these policy initiatives. <br />Acknowledgements:<br />The opportunity to work in the timely assessment initiative to provide policy inputs to the trust is a unique experience and professionally rewarding. The team would like to sincerely place in record its gratitude to the Trust and express appreciation for the untiring cooperation and help from all the members of the programme office and management. We enjoyed the work and will do even more if the reports draw kind attention and comments of the honourable trustees. <br />

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