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The roots of the “root revolution”: 
Pre-Green Revolution Antecedents of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in...
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1438 - The Roots of the Root Revolution: Pre-Green Revolution Antecedents of SRI in India

Poster presentation at the 4th International Rice Congress (2014)
Title: The Roots of the Root Revolution: Pre-Green Revolution Antecedents of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in India
Presenter: Dominic Glover
Venue: BITEC, Bangkok, Thailand
Dates: October 27-31, 2014

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1438 - The Roots of the Root Revolution: Pre-Green Revolution Antecedents of SRI in India

  1. 1. P582 The roots of the “root revolution”: Pre-Green Revolution Antecedents of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in India P582 / IRC14–0614 Dominic Glover Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, Brighton, UK (formerly of the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands) An output from the NWO–WOTRO project “The System of Rice Intensification as a socio-economic and technical movement in India” (2010-2014), which involves partners from the Knowledge, Technology & Innovation (KTI) Group and the Development Economics (DEC) Group at Wageningen University, NL, and the Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, IN. SRI methods: A revolution in rice cultivation? The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is often portrayed as a radical innovation based on previously unrecognised features of rice physiology and morphology. SRI cultivation methods are designed to exploit these innate characteristics for a higher rice yield (see Box 1). A ‘root revolution’ by accident Further reading  Glover (2011) ‘Science, practice and the System of Rice Intensification in Indian agriculture’ Food Policy 36(6): 749–755 .  Glover (2011) ‘A System Designed for Rice? Materiality and the Invention/Discovery of the System of Rice Intensification’ East Asian Science, Technology and Society 5(2): 217–237. Historical precedents They include the ‘single-seedling method’ or ‘economical paddy planting’ from British India as long ago as the early 1900s. Similar methods were documented and explored in the Philippines and Vietnam during the 1920s. Citations show that agronomists in these sites read each other’s work. These practices are intended to express three underlying principles:  Exploiting the vigorous growth potential of young rice seedlings.  Giving individual rice plants abundant space to access light, soil nutrients and moisture, firmly anchored by a large root.  Promoting aerobic soil conditions in order to encourage a healthy soil microbial life in the root zone. SRI practices have been hailed by enthusiasts as a radical departure from any that had been tried before, launching a ‘root revolution’ in the cultivation of rice and other field crops. SRI methods are said to have been discovered suddenly, by accident, We found examples of ‘SRI-like’ cultivation methods that were studied, practised, and promoted decades before the Green Revolution, in various locations, going back to colonial times (Fig. 2). Box 1: SRI cultivation practices  Raising rice seedlings in a thinly sown ‘garden-like’ nursery  Transplanting very young seedlings (8–15 days old)  Transplanting seedlings singly and widely spaced (25×25 cm)  Early and regular weeding combined with soil aeration  Sparse irrigation, ideally interspersed with short dryings to the point of soil cracking  Heavy fertilisation using organic sources as much as possible Implications Acknowledgements We are grateful for the financial support of the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research under the Science for Global Development Programme (NWO–WOTRO), grant number W 01.65.328.00 (2010–2014). Please visit the other posters and oral presentations by researchers from this project:  Poster P564 Adusumilli & Schipper “Integrating SRI with safe AWD in Water Constrained Semiarid Areas: New Opportunities to Produce More Rice with Less Water” (IRC14-1041)  Poster P525 Sabarmatee “Gender Issues in the Introduction of Mechanical Weeding with System of Rice Intensification (SRI): Insights from Village Studies in Odisha, India” (IRC14- 0937)  Oral presentation Sen & Maat “User Adaptations in Water Management of Rice Farms of Uttarakhand: Landscape and Farm-Level Interactions and Negotiations” (IRC14-0668, C03-2, Wednesday 14:30, room GH203)  Oral presentation Maat et al. “The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in India: Historical Antecedents, Present Dynamics and Possible Futures” (IRC14-0694, C06-1, Friday 11:10, room MR222) Institute of Development Studies, Brighton BN1 9RE, UK Email: Tel: + 44 (0)1273 91 58 78 Web: in Madagascar during the 1980s, by a French missionary and agronomist, Fr. Henri de Laulanié. In fact, Laulanié drew upon various sources to build his methods, including scientific publications and rice cultivation handbooks as well as direct observation of plants and farmers, and trial-and-error. One of his sources was a rice cultivation manual published in Antananarivo in 1961 – the same year he arrived in Madagascar (Fig. 1). The manual contains a list of guidelines remarkably similar to the one in Box 1, notably the use of young, widely spaced seedlings, with early weeding and adequate N fertiliser. Figure 1. Rice Cultivation Manual by J.-P. Dobelmann. Published in Antananarivo, Madagascar, 1961. Figure 2. Traces of SRI-like methods in colonial India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Burma (Myanmar), French Indochina (Vietnam), the Philippines, and Madagascar. In several cases these were related explicitly or implicitly to Japanese cultivation techniques refined in the late C19th. Many regarded Japanese methods as exemplary. In the 1950s the so-called ‘Japanese Method of Paddy Cultivation’ was promoted in India; it also shared features in common with SRI including low-density transplanting, intermittent irrigation, intercultivation, and organic fertilisation. This was called ‘India’s Rice Revolution’ in 1956 – before the Green Revolution began. SRI has deeper roots and firmer foundations than is commonly known. They draw on a long history of intellectual and practical work. SRI-like methods were studied, practised and promoted, but also struggled with, debated, adapted and sometimes rejected or abandoned over a long period. These historical precedents should be studied for the lessons that may be learned from them, including positive and negative experiences.