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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Farmers reap benefits of System Rice Intensification

VILLUPURAM: S. Vijayalakshmi, a middle-aged farmer owning a little over four acres at Vikravandi in Villupuram district, has suddenly become a “very important person” in the area. The reason? The crop she raised recently stood out from others.

In the past two months, tens of farmers have visited her paddy fields, wanting to know the “secret.” System Rice Intensification, or SRI, is her answer.

SRI is a cultivation method that requires less nursery area, water and labour and fewer seeds. More importantly, it yields more than the conventional system, according to a scientist of the Water Technology Centre of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

Alternate wetting and drying of fields, use of rolling markers and mechanical weeders and transplanting seedlings less than 15 days old with one seedling in a square of 25x25 cm are some of the characteristics of SRI.

Ms. Vijayalakshmi, who raised the paddy variety BPT5204, achieved a yield of 7.6 tonnes per hectare using SRI. Through the conventional method, she had recorded 5.6 tonnes. Against Rs.20,500 she had incurred for every hectare under the old system, she spent Rs.2,750 less. Her net income was Rs.45,250 a hectare against Rs.26,000 in the conventional system of puddled irrigation.

The farmer, whose test harvest was supported by the State government under the Irrigated Agriculture Modernisation and Water Bodies Restoration and Management Project, has decided to go in for the next crop without government support.

Ms. Vijayalakshmi’s experience is not unique. Farmers of Mathur Thirukkai near Gingee in Tiruvannamalai district, and Abinavam and Thumbal near Athur in Salem district, also have similar stories to narrate. All these areas are covered by the Irrigated Agriculture Modernisation and Water Bodies Restoration and Management Project.

Ranganathan, a farmer of Veedur in Villupuram district, says though farmers were aware of the drawbacks of the conventional cultivation system, they were reluctant to abandon it in view of uncertainties. About 20 years ago, he tried to adopt a new system but was unsuccessful. “This time, I received support and guidance from government officers and TNAU experts.”

About 1,250 hectares have been marked out as SRI demonstration area. This motivated farmers to adopt SRI for 2,595 hectares, for which there is no financial support. The government provides a subsidy of Rs.10,000 a hectare for the demonstration area to raise paddy and pulses. A senior official says the administration is keen on showcasing the success stories to spread SRI.


Talking of the project, the official says it is not just SRI-centric. Increasing the yield and improving livelihood opportunities for farmers are among its objectives. The administration is planning to follow the broad principles of SRI for cultivating pulses and oilseeds.

In its first year of implementation, it seeks to bring the roles of agriculture, agricultural engineering, horticulture, fisheries and animal husbandry departments under the Water Resources Organisation of the Public Works Department. TNAU’s Water Technology Centre is the nodal agency for dissemination and implementation of better farm technologies.

The six-year project, estimated to cost Rs.2,547 crore, covers 63 sub-basins. Of the total cost, Rs.1,500 crore is meant for the Water Resources Organisation to improve irrigation infrastructure and revive 5,760 tanks, and Rs. 300 crore for enhancing agricultural productivity through better seeds, production technology and high-value crops and providing marketing support.

The Agricultural Engineering Department has been charged with increasing farm water use efficiency, and Rs.350 crore has been allocated for this purpose.

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