A Simple Way to Grow More Rice in a Changing Climate


Photo credit: Tormod Sandtorv/Creative Commons
This guest post was written by Le Ngoc Thach, president of the Dai Nghia cooperative and one of the first SRI farmers in Ha Noi province, courtesy of Oxfam America.

Watching my parents' rice crop fail was a heartbreak I will never forget. It was 1984, and that growing season, stem borer grubs devoured our plants and destroyed our harvest. One little bug meant a lost year of rice for our family and community.Our community in Dai Nghia, Vietnam, like countless others around the world relies on the work of small farmers like my parents to grow rice and other crops that help us feed our children and support our families' livelihoods. For farmers like me, the tragedies of a lost harvest are a growing threat as climate change makes the search for scarce resources like water and fertile land increasingly dire. More and more we are seeing floods, droughts and punishing storms push farmers and the millions they support to the brink of subsistence.

When I saw my family's crop crumble I knew that if we were ever going to build resilience to the daily threats to our way of life and ensure a stable source of food, we needed the training and new technology that could help us grab hold of a better future. What I didn't know is that some of the most promising solutions come in the most accessible packages. I didn't know about SRI.

SRI, the System of Rice Intensification, is a revolution for small farmers who are on the front lines of the fight to reduce world hunger in increasingly harsh climates. SRI helps farmers like me produce more rice at lower cost without relying on harmful fertilizers and pesticides that can decrease soil fertility and threaten clean air, soil, and water.

It's surprisingly simple: farmers transplant younger seedlings into un-flooded soils and space them in a square pattern a bit wider than in traditional methods. Soils are kept moist rather than continuously flooded.

The plants become more resistant to pests, like the ones that killed my parent's crops, and less fertilizer is required. Nothing fancy or expensive is needed, but in our village highly productive farmers who adopted the method increased their yields on average by 10%. And in other countries average yields are up as much as 50%. These increases have occurred while significantly cutting their water use, costs and the need for hazardous fertilizers.

When I first learned of the opportunities of SRI I was amazed by its potential. But farmers can be a stubborn bunch. I knew many would be skeptical that one seedling could produce more rice than four or five seedlings together. It was only once I saw with my own eyes the obvious benefits of SRI in the places I visited that I knew our community needed to seize this chance.

With some aggressive persuasion I was able to convince 30 families in Dai Nghia to try SRI on a 10-acre plot. Seeing our success has attracted even more converts. By 2008 all 2000 members of our cooperative were applying SRI to our community's 420 acres of paddy land. The success has been amazing. The combination of cost savings and increased yield has increased the average farmer income by $70, about the cost of one year of school for our children or two years worth of seed for the next growing seasons.

Those who used to spend one month to tend and transplant their rice seedlings now spend between 10 to 15 days. This has allowed them to have more time to do other work such as raising livestock or growing vegetables. Many women in our community have benefited from the extra time to be sellers at the market. Many men have been able to supplement their income with additional work in construction.

It is these small but significant signs of progress that give me hope that the solutions to the world's growing food security and climate challenges can be found if we take the time to try. Right now there are nearly a billion people who go to sleep hungry every night. Many of them live in rural communities like Dai Nghia and rely on the success of small farmers like me.

I am working with Oxfam America to spread the word about SRI in my community and around the world. If our leaders are truly committed to addressing hunger they must invest the necessary resources to spread ideas like SRI that can build small farmer resilience around the globe. With this commitment, and the resources to match, we can create a million Dai Nghia's and feed the world.

Mr. Le Ngoc Thach is president of the Dai Nghia cooperative and one of the first SRI farmers in Ha Noi province. SRI, the System of Rice Intensification, is a new approach for small farmers that helps them produce more rice at lower cost without relying on harmful fertilizers and pesticides that can decrease soil fertility and threaten clean air, soil, and water. This approach is a revolution for small farmers who are on the front lines of the fight to reduce world hunger in increasingly harsh climates.


Read more climate change dispatches:
Climate Change is Not Just About the Climate, it is About Our Lives
It's not God, it's Climate Change
From the Front Lines of Global Warming: California Firefighter Speaks (Video)

Tags: Agriculture | dispatches | Farming

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