Cornell Research Helps Lotus Rice Use Less Water and Taste Better Too

© Oxfam via Flickr -- Sin Chhukrath harvests her organic SRI rice in Tra Lach village Triang district in Takeo Province.

The slogan “More Crop Per Drop,” caught my attention at the organic marketplace tent in the Lotus Foods booth at the Natural Products Expo West recently.

Filled with aisles of delicious enticing goods, this “more with less” idea (a version of "less is more") is worth promoting, especially with record droughts creating water scarcity and food shortages around the world. A method of rice farming, SRI or System of Rice Intensification, can double or triple yields with this food staple. So why isn't it used by every rice farmer?

Lotus Foods offers a variety of rice, from black "Forbidden" rice to red and Jade Pearl. It first learned about SRI in 2005 from the Cornell International Institute of Food and Agriculture Development which had been working with SRI for a decade. Introduced in the 1980s, the methodology has spread from Madagascar to several million smallholder farm families in over 43 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Lotus Foods' organic SRI rices include Madagascar Pink Rice, Mekong Flower Rice and Volcano Rice. Its Pink Rice, for instance, has a subtly sweet flavor with hints of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. It’s nutritionally dense, milled at the Koloharena Coop of Amparafaravola in the Lake Alaotra region. Home to the endangered Alaotran Gentle Lemur, the SRI farming hopes to reduce degradation of its dwindling habitat.

© Lotus Foods -- Lotus Madagascar Pink Rice saving the lemur with SRI farming.

Conventional wet green paddies of irrigated rice are covered by water to suppress weeds. But since rice is not an aquatic plant, roots in flooded conditions rot from lack of oxygen at the end of a growing cycle. Rice Intensification farming alternates wetting and drying of rice paddies, and transplanting clumps of rice seedlings singly with wide spacing, and soil is kept moist but not flooded. The harvests use less water, less seed and without chemicals.

The SRI methodology produces average yields of six to seven tons of rice per hectare (about 2.5 acres), compared to conventional rice yields of two to four tons, according to Lotus. Oxfam has helped train farmers found that where crops failed for years, farmers began producing enough rice for their families to eat daily -- plus surpluses to sell.

Lotus is enthusiastically passion about the process. It’s a win-win-win, and the rice tastes all the more delicious.

Tags: Farming | Organic Agriculture | Water Conservation

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