Find it here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/bethhoffman/2013/02/22/can-we-revolutionize-agriculture-without-science/
Beth Hoffman, Contributor
I write about the changing food system.
2/22/2013 @ 10:59AM |1,360 views
Can We Revolutionize Agriculture Without 'Science'?
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Farmers in Orissa, India created a play about the benefits of SRI and perform it for neighboring villages. Photo by author.
Henri de Laulanie arrived in Madagascar from France in 1961 as a 40 year old Jesuit priest assigned to the local mission. There he found one of the poorest populations on earth, and an environment quickly degrading as hungry farmers tried desperately to cultivate rice in the eroding soil.
Armed with a degree in agriculture, he spent the next 30+ years of his life working with farmers to establish a series of protocols for growing rice. And in the process, Fr. de Laulanie set in motion possibly one of the most important, and most controversial, advances in modern agriculture.
As its name implies, a System of Rice Intensification is a "system" a set of practices which include using less seed, water and fertilizer to grow more rice with less inputs and, therefore, cost.
Yet the controversy, and arguably the strength, of SRI is in its lack of "science." The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and prominent rice scientists say it is at best a "methodology" with some of the individual practices long promoted by researchers. Other parts of the "system," they say, run directly counter to well established scientifically proven best practices. Little peer reviewed evidence exists regarding SRI, opponents say, and researchers have had difficulty replicating the results found in the field.
In fact, Thomas Sinclair, a plant physiologist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, dismissed SRI completely in 2004 in an article he wrote in Rice Today.
- Discussion of the system of rice intensification (SRI) is unfortunate because it implies SRI merits serious consideration. SRI does not deserve such attention.
In fact, farmers in Bihar, India recently broke records for the world's highest rice yields using SRI techniques ( recently reported on by John Vidal of the Guardian), and others in the village used the same principles to grow record amounts of wheat and potatoes. Farmers in Goa last year found they spent 70 percent less on seed with SRI to grow up to twice as much rice. And because less water is used in to grow rice with SRI, studies now show both the land and the rice grown with SRI has less incidence of arsenic contamination and paddies release less methane two huge issues in rice cultivation world wide.
So the question is: "science" or no science, with 70 percent of poor people in developing countries dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, and nearly half the world's population eating rice as a daily staple, shouldn't we promote environmentally friendly, inexpensive options for higher yields? Why is the focus of "science" on the more expensive, product-based outcomes like genetically modified seeds and chemical pesticides?