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A new method to grow rice could save hundreds of billions of cubic
metres of water while increasing food security, according to a study by
World Wildlife Foundation.
With a focus on India – a country which faces a major water crisis,
yet has the world’s largest rice cultivated area – the study found that
the system of rice intensification (SRI) method has helped increase
yields by over 30% — four to five tonnes per hectare instead of three
tonnes per hectare, while using 40% less water than conventional
The system is based on eight principles which are different to
conventional rice cultivation. They include developing nutrient-rich
and un-flooded nurseries instead of flooded ones; ensuring wider
spacing between rice seedlings; preferring composts or manure to
synthetic fertilizers; and managing water carefully to avoid that the
plants’ roots are not saturated.
The method was initially developed in the 1980s in Madagascar and has been demonstrated to be effective in 28 countries.
“Although the system of rice intensification has shown its
advantages, the scale of its use leaves much to be desired,” said Dr
Biksham Gujja, Senior Policy Adviser at WWF International.
"It is time to start large-scale programmes to support a method that
could make a lasting global impact with far-reaching benefits to people
The report suggests that major rice-producing countries — such as
India, China and Indonesia — convert at least 25% of their current rice
cultivation to the new system by 2025. This would not only massively
reduce the use of water but also help ensure food security. In
addition, this will reduce significant amount of methane emissions. SRI
fields do not emit methane as is the case with the more conventional
system of growing rice.
For example, if the SRI method was applied to 20 million hectares of
land under rice cultivation in India, the country could meet its food
grain objectives of 220 million tonnes of grain by 2012 instead of
Authorities in the Indian state of Tripura have already committed to move in that direction.
“Our farmers proved that the system of rice intensification improves
productivity and we will convert at least 40% of our rice cultivation
using this method over the next five years,” said Manik Sarkar, Chief
Minister of Tripura State.
“We urge this as a model for rice cultivation elsewhere as it
represents one hope for the water crisis affecting so many billions of
Demand for a water-intensive crop such as rice is expected to
increase by 38% by 2040, deepening the water crisis during the same
time. However, less than 6% of rice is traded internationally and
savings in water have potential for mitigating domestic water
conflicts, especially in poor, rural areas where water is scarce.
Already 1.2 billion people have no access to adequate water for drinking and hygiene.
WWF is focusing on sustainable agriculture efforts for cotton, sugar
and rice, some of the most consuming crops for which alternative
techniques can result in a strong yield and water savings.
The report More Rice with Less Water was released at a conference
held 3-5 October in Tripura. The conference is being jointly organized
by the Department of Agriculture of the Government of Tripura, the
Directorate of Rice Research (DRR), the Central Rice Research Institute
(CRRI), the Directorate of Rice Development (DRD), the Acharya NG Ranga
Agriculture University (ANGRAU), the National Bank for Agriculture and
Rural Development (NABARD), Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (SDTT) Mumbai and
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-ICRISAT Dialogue Project based at
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