Rice. It’s a staple crop for much of the world. And it uses a lot of water and pesticides to grow it. Not good in a world where water is likely to become an increasingly scarce resource. One supposed solution are proprietary high yield breeds, but that requires repeated purchase from the same company, say, Monsanto. Lotus Foods has another idea.
SRI, or System of Rice Intensification takes a different route than the typical method of rice cultivation – Instead of transplanting 3-6 week old seedlings, planting them close together, and flooding the field with water, they use much younger seedlings, less then 2 weeks old, and plant them farther apart. They need not remain submerged, only requiring periodic irrigation and then left to dry out. Organic fertilizers can replace the typical chemical ones, and there’s no need for pesticides.
In results that are sure to irk the Monsantos of the world, this method can increase yields by 50-100%, decrease water use by 25-50%, requiring 80-90% less seed, with less work to cultivate. Numbers that are sure to be attractive to just about any farmer.
According to Lotus Foods,
Nearly a third of the world’s population depends upon rice for their subsistence and livelihoods, and rice production has to increase by 30-40% percent over the next 25 years. With diminishing land and water, SRI represents a significant innovation to meet these needs.
SRI was created by Cornell University, which introduced Lotus Foods to it in 2005. It was a natural fit for a company which specifically sought out small farmers around the globe growing traditional, heirloom, lesser known rice varieties, grown sustainably and paid fair trade prices for it.
Of particular interest is this paragraph on the SRI website:
SRI does not require the purchase of new seeds or the use of new high-yielding varieties. Although the highest yields with SRI have been obtained from improved varieties, most traditional or local varieties of rice respond well to SRI practices and command a higher market price. And while chemical fertilizer and agrochemicals can be applied with SRI, their use is not required as organic materials (compost, manure or any decomposed vegetation) can give good or even better results at low cost. Farmers report that when SRI methods are used correctly, rice plants are better able to resist damage from pests and diseases, reducing or eliminating need for agrochemical protection.
As Lotus Foods puts it, SRI:
…is an ecologically sound method of rice production that helps resource-limited farmers in Asia, Africa and Latin America to improve their yields, health, livelihoods and environment while producing better quality and more nutritious rice.
Lotus Foods is currently the main producer of SRI grown rice for sale in the US. Here’s hoping the idea catches on broadly, a benefit to the farmers that grow it, the soil it’s grown in, and the people eating it. Even better, the SRI method is being ported to other crops like millet, wheat and sugar cane.
Readers: What sustainable agricultural innovations are you seeing that we should know about?
Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media. Who he has and wants to work with includes consumer, media, clean tech, NGOs, social ventures, and museums.