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DateLine Sunday, 23 March 2008

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Sri agro practices command higher market price

Changing the present agricultural practices in the country for the better is difficult, since our agro researchers and bureaucrats serve multinational agro chemical companies, said Minister of Nation Building, Salinda Dissanayake.

He was addressing a seminar on sustainable livelihood and eco-friendly farming organised by the Sri Network Sri Lanka in collaboration with the Gemidiriya Foundation.

The Minister said that the Sri method of paddy farming has shown very impressive results. Sharing his experience as a farmer who practises the Sri method in paddy farming, he said that it increases the yield by 50% and cuts fertiliser and agrochemical usage by over 50%.

Since chemical fertiliser prices are on the increase due to increasing crude oil prices the fertiliser subsidy is not sustainable.

We have to find alternatives but due to the red tape in agriculture extension services and research institutions it is difficult to change the present paddy farming practices which depend highly on agro chemicals.

Officials work in the interests of multinational companies and not for the farmers or national interests. Therefore, popularising the Sri method has to move from bottom to top, he said.

The seminar was organised to share the scientific evidence of the success of the Sri method. Representatives of NGOs that are promoting the Sri method in the livelihood improvement of poor farmers participated in the seminar.

The keynote address was delivered by Prof. Norman Uphoff, Professor of the Government and International Agriculture, Cornell University, USA under "Sri as an international phenomenon: what has been learned in the Asian region."

Prof. Uphoff said that the Sri method is still being tested. With increasing crude oil prices the situation will change and farmers will be compelled to choose the Sri method. Showing results in various parts in the Asian region, Prof. Uphoff said that the Sri method is suitable for poor farmers to increase their productivity.

The Sri method or System of Rice Intensification (SRI) originated in Madagascar is now practised by farmers in 19 countries. Sri practices lead to healthier, more productive soil and plants by supporting greater root growth and by nurturing the abundance and diversity of soil organisms.

The agro-ecological principles that contribute to Sri effectiveness have good scientific bases. The Sri concepts and methods have been successfully adapted to upland unirrigated rice, and they are now being extrapolated to other crops such as millet, wheat and sugarcane.

Sri does not require the purchase of new seeds or the use of new high-yielding varieties. Although the highest yields with Sri have been obtained from improved varieties, most traditional or local varieties of rice respond well to Sri practices and command a higher market price.

While chemical fertiliser and agrochemicals can be applied with Sri, their use is not required as organic materials (compost, manure or any decomposed vegetation) can give good or even better results at low cost.

Farmers report that when the Sri methods are used correctly, rice plants are better able to resist damage from pests and diseases, reducing or eliminating the need for agrochemical protection.

Since the plants are reduced, seed cost is cut by 80-90%, and because paddy fields are not kept continuously flooded, there are water savings of 25% to 50%.

However, the cessation of flooding means that increased weeding is required. If this is done with soil-aerating implements such as a rotating hoe, this cost has a benefit of enhanced crop production, Prof. Uphoff said.

Gemidiriya CEO Dr.Gamini Batuwitage said that it would not be rude to say that officials of the Agricultural Department are oppressive.

Compared to other countries who were in the same position we are ages behind and our productivity is the lowest.

The attitude of the officials has to be changed and they should see the outside world. Indian agricultural officials who learnt the Sri technology in 1999 from Sri Lanka have now extended the Sri cultivation to 430,000 ha.

The Secretary of Agriculture in India fully supports field testing and promotion of the Sri method in India. Lankan irrigation engineers agreed to promote the Sri method considering low water consumption and its success.

But Agricultural Department officials warned them not to promote Sri, Dr. Batuwitage said.

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