Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Indian small farm miracle?

A village in India is using new planting methods and has broken two records for food production: rice, as shown below, and potatoes.  Not surprisingly, this news is being picked up by various alternative food sites.

India's rice revolution
John Vidal, The Guadian (U.K.), 16 February 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Instead of planting three-week-old rice seedlings in clumps of three or four in waterlogged fields, as rice farmers around the world traditionally do, the Darveshpura farmers carefully nurture only half as many seeds, and then transplant the young plants into fields, one by one, when much younger. Additionally, they space them at 25cm intervals in a grid pattern, keep the soil much drier and carefully weed around the plants to allow air to their roots. The premise that "less is more" was taught by Rajiv Kumar, a young Bihar state government extension worker who had been trained in turn by Anil Verma of Professional Assistance for Development Action, an Indian NGO which has introduced the SRI method to hundreds of villages in the past three years.
While the "green revolution" that averted Indian famine in the 1970s relied on improved crop varieties, expensive pesticides and chemical fertilisers, SRI appears to offer a long-term, sustainable future for no extra cost. With more than one in seven of the global population going hungry and demand for rice expected to outstrip supply within 20 years, it appears to offer real hope. Even a 30% increase in the yields of the world's small farmers would go a long way to alleviating poverty.
For myself, I will wait and see.  The methods don't seem different enough to be a world record practise, and there are not any confirming, follow up reports.   That world farmers can probably squeeze out a bit more efficiency wouldn't be stunning news.  But world records with fairly mundane practises seems unlikely: time will tell


Degringolade said...

Perhaps you should read


Fukuoka worked on this years ago and it does work

It is difficult, and requires labor inputs far beyond what is allowed by factory farming.

But it works

PioneerPreppy said...

Yep I would bet there are a number of factors above and beyond the few mentioned in the article. Just like Dero pointed out above. Also I would be interested to see, and I don;t think the article mentioned if this was the first year for this crop on a rotation or if it had been grown int hat same spot year after year.

PioneerPreppy said...

Oh ya one season several years ago I let a local farmer talk me into tilling up my hay field and sowing wheat on it. My little hay field broke several state records in yield that year.

There is just no telling.

russell1200 said...

Degringolade: Yes, there all sorts of labor intensive techniques that can do wonders. But you have to factor in the energy cost of the labor, and these are WORLD RECORDS. Not just local or country bests but WORLD RECORDS.

Pioneer: Yes, how long the field had been fallow, or at least used for other purposes would make a big difference. Obvioulsy if you had used this guys techniques you would have had a WORLD RECORD rather than a State one.

I don't mind the guy's story. I just shake my head at people jumping on it as if it were proven revalation, rather than a scam, or a one off outlier.

Degringolade said...


Actually, the beauty of Fukuoka's method is that it decreases labor. It has worked many times in many areas. It is very unusual so there are a lot of "experts" who claim it cannot work. But I have seen his farm in Japan.

Sure seems to work


russell1200 said...

Degringolade/John: It looks interesting, but less labor is relative. Our current practises, problematic as they are, allow something like one farmer to feed over 150 people versus less than 30 in the 1960s. Modern farming methods also tend to avoid plowing, that is the whole point of the Roundup method.

Since fuel/energy inputs are likely going to be getting more expensive, obviously ways of farming that trade off people time and effort for energy are going to be important. But Lossing a huge number of people back to the land is not costless.

John D. Wheeler said...

The phrase "carefully weed around the plants" catches my eye. The primary reason for traditionally flooding the rice paddies is to keep the weeds down (it also helps maintain the fertility). This phrase to me indicates that this world-record setting method is likely far, far more labor intensive than traditional methods. Where space is constrained it probably would be very useful, but the question becomes whether the extra output justifies the extra labor required, which is, after all, another mouth to feed.

The nutrient issue also needs to be addressed. If this method consistently produces record yields year after year, great, but it could be sacrificing future year yields by decreasing nutrient levels.

russell1200 said...

John: Yes there is a certain bio-chemical equivalent to physics. You can't extract more in outputs, than you get in inputs year-in year-out. At some point the stored resources are used up.

It is a huge problem for "sustainable fuel" ideas that work around extracting energy from crop waste. It is sustainable until your soil quality bottoms out, or you start adding (energy produced) fertilizers.