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Re: NYTimes.com Article: Arkansas Rice Farmers Run Dry, andU.S. Remedy Sets Off Debate

  • Subject: Re: [cg] NYTimes.com Article: Arkansas Rice Farmers Run Dry, andU.S. Remedy Sets Off Debate
  • From: Keith Addison keith@journeytoforever.org
  • Date: Tue, 12 Nov 2002 22:52:18 +0900

The most sustainable option here would be to get the farmers a couple of
cases of the book The Power of Duck which shows how to do sustainable
farming integrating rice and ducks.  The ducks serve as weeders(they don't
care for rice plants--I think that's due to the high silica content of rice
plants.), eliminating herbicide use.  The farmers get greater income from
selling the ducks in addition to their usual rice.  It's an amazingly
interesting system, and I have often thought it would be a fun demo garden
at a larger community garden that had some sloping land and room for a water

The Power of Duck has been translated from Japanese to English, but is still
hard to find in the US.  The Permaculture Activist usually has some copies.

Hello Sharon and all

We have a bit about aigamo ducks on our poultry page at Journey to Forever:
Poultry for small farmers

Scroll down to "Poultry as unpaid labour". There's also this, online:

"The Role of Scavenging Ducks, Duckweed and Fish in Integrated Farming Systems in Vietnam" by Bui Xuan Men, Faculty of Agriculture, Cantho University, Vietnam:

However, I'm not very impressed with the aigamo system, and will probably be changing that page at our site shortly. I've visited organic farms using the system here in Japan, and while the farmers claimed good weed control, in each case it seemed to me it wasn't really an integrated system, only an add-on, and didn't address the real problems.

Others are not convinced that it does offer effective weed control. This is what Roberto Verzola said about it, the President of the Phiolippines Greens:

"They tried ducks in rice fields, but noticed an increase in weeds
afterwards. Apparently, ducks eat weeds, including seeds. The
seeds remain undigested in the gut and when duck manure is
deposited in the field, the seeds germinate. Thus, fields in which
weeds have not been a serious problem in previous seasons now
have worse weed problems due to the ducks. That's what the
farmers say."

I think the question to ask is, why grow rice in water at all? Yes, it CAN grow in water, but it is not an aquatic plant, it's a grain, much like other grains in all but that respect. Growing it under water has a disastrous effect on the soil, and, as ever, this is the cause of the weed growth that plagues rice growers. But the main, if not the only reason for flooding the fields in the first place is... weed control. Go figure.

Most rice-growing countries also produce "upland" rice, rainfed, not irrigated, and of course the rice grows perfectly well under these conditions, as does any other grain. So why should the usual methods of weed-control used for grain in sustainable farming not also apply to rice? In fact they do.

In recent years a truly sustainable system of growing rice has finally been developed. This is the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) developed in Madagascar in the 1980s. I'm particularly interested in this because I did much the same work in Hong Kong in the early 80s and reached the same conclusions, but was unable to complete the project because we left the country. My only question about SRI is whether it's really necessary to flood the fields in the final period after flowering.

"The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) was first developed in Madagascar by Fr. Henri de Laudaniť in the 1980s, has been promoted since 1990 by the Association Tefy Saina, and evaluated by the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development. The system has improved rice yields from some 2 t/ha to 5, 10 or even 15 t/ha on farmers' fields. [1 ton/hectare = 0.4 ton/acre]

"This has been achieved without having to use purchased inputs of pesticides or fertilizers.

"The SRI is centred on making best use of the existing genetic potential of rice by breaking many of the conventional rules' of management:

"(i) Rice seedlings are usually transplanted at about 30 days (sometimes as late as 40-50). In the SRI, seedlings are transplanted at 8-12 days. This increases tillering - with SRI plants typically having 50-80 tillers compared with 5-20 for conventional ones

"(ii) Rice seedlings are usually planted close together to minimise weed infestation. But in the SRI, they are planted at least 25 cm apart in a grid pattern rather than rows. This facilitates mechanical weeding, as well as reducing seed use from 100 kg/ha to about 7 kg/ha. Wider spaced plants develop a different architecture, with more room for roots and tillers. Better root systems means reduced lodging

"(iii) Most scientists and farmers believe that rice, as an aquatic plant, grows best in standing water. In the SRI, however, paddies are kept unflooded during the period of vegetative growth. Water is only applied to keep the soil moist, which is allowed to dry out for periofds of 3-6 days. Only after flowering are paddies flooded, which are then drained 25 days before harvest (as for conventional rice). Such management encourages more root growth

"(iv) Flooding is the conventional approach to weed control. With SRI, farmers must weed up to four times - mechanically or by hand. Farmers who do not weed still get respectable yield increases of 2-3 fold; but those that weed get increases of 4-6 fold

"(v) SRI farmers use compost rather than inorganic fertilizers The improvement in rice yields with SRI have been so extraordinary that, until lately, they have been simply ignored by scientists. SRI challenges so many of the basic principles of irrigated rice cultivation, and so many professionals have been entirely sceptical. But it is the number of farmers adopting SRI that is proof of its effectiveness and efficiency

"It is estimated that some 20,000 farmers have now adopted the full SRI in Madagascar (Tefy Saina estimates that 50-100,000 farmers are now experimenting with elements of the system).

"Cornell have helped research institutions in China, Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Nepal, Cote d'Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Cuba, Sierra Leone and Bangladesh locally to test SRI. In all cases, rice yields increased several fold. In China, for example, yields of 9-10.5 t/ha were achieved in the first year (compared with a national average of 6t/ha)."

http://www2.essex.ac.uk/ces/ResearchProgrammes/SusAg/SAFEAfrica-Projec ts/madagascar/SystemRiceIntensification.pdf

This is from the SAFE-World Research Project on sustainable farming at the Centre for Environment and Society at Essex University in the UK, Jules Pretty's project.

Another report:

"The system of rice intensification (SRI) being promoted by Association Tefy Saina, a Malagasy NGO, was developed by a French priest who worked and experimented with farmers in this country during the 1970s and 1980s. By changing plant-soil-water-nutrient management practices, it greatly increases yields of rice, even on very poor soils. The changes are fairly radical: seedlings are transplanted when they are very young, singly rather than in clumps, and with wide spacing. During the vegetative growth stage, soil is intermittently watered and dried rather than keeping standing water on the field.

"Where yields of irrigated rice have averaged about 2 tons per hectare, yields with SRI have ranged from 4 to 10 tons and even higher at a wide variety of eleva-tions and rainfall levels, without requiring new seeds or applying chemical fertilizers. SRI methods give these results with any variety of rice, although some improved varieties, if well suited to the area, give yields in the 10- to 20-ton range. Compost is used wherever fertilizer is too expensive or not available (Uphoff 1999). Tefy Saina's name means "to improve the mind," as it uses experience with SRI to encourage greater experimentation among farmers."

- Alternatives to Conventional Modern Agriculture for Meeting World Food Needs in the Next Century: Report of a Conference on Sustainable Agriculture
Bellagio, Italy, April 26-30, 1999, by Miguel Altieri and Norman Uphoff (Acrobat file, 120 Kb)

See also:

TITLE: Madagascar rice trials lead to agricultural revolution:
New methods break with centuries of tradition
SOURCE: Financial Times, John Madeley
DATE: January 23, 2001

LEISA 16-4
Update on the System of Rice Intensification

There's a lot of information available on this now. A major promoter of the system is Norman Uphoff, Director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD).

These are reports on SRI from the CIIFAD annual report:

Intensive Rice Management (Acrobat file, 136 Kb)

Intensification of Rice Production (Acrobat file, 120 Kb)

Rice Intensification (Acrobat file, 796 Kb)

A very major benefit of the SRI system, of course, is what this thread started with, water conservation. Conventional rice growing wastes water, vast quantities of it, and water is now THE scarce resource in the world. It also avoids the soil damage widely caused by over-irrigation.

Best wishes

Keith Addison
Journey to Forever
Handmade Projects
Osaka, Japan

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