System of Rice Intensification – A Triple-Win Situation

by Akshay Parashar |Indian Intern| July 22, 2017 05:20 pm

UNESCO World heritage site Jatiluwih Rice terraces Bali.©

“The impact of climate change on agriculture could result in problems with food security and may threaten livelihood activities upon which much of the population depends”

Indonesia is the third largest producer of rice. The National economy place reliance on rice cultivation and it holds central place in Indonesian culture and Indonesian cuisine. The National dish “Nasi goreng” (fried rice) clearly point out that rice is the main staple food. Rice cultivation in the archipelago dates from eighth century and still in this contemporary world the conventional methods of cultivation is prevailing.

With the emerging threat of climate change and mounting global temperature, it’s high time to start questioning such methods which are contributing in damaging the planet earth. Indonesia is constantly increasing its world share in green house gas emissions (GHG) and fitting in top GHG emitters in the world.

The country is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as rising global temperature will also raise the threat of submerging islands, irregular rainfall, droughts and other consequences. It is the need of the hour to opt for respect existence or expect resistance. The agricultural expansion and deforestation are hand in glove.

According to Mr. Chakra Widia, sustainable solution expert and founder of Tri Hita Karana Bali, the agricultural expansion is primarily happening to satisfy the food production and for generating income which is less likely to happen as farmers utilize huge amount of agrochemicals and hybrid seeds that mount their expenditure and because of these harmful chemicals the harvest is heavily affected resulting in less income out of it. This is happening constantly while disregarding the ill-effects on the planet earth. Let alone Bali island is losing its precious forest land just to satisfy the needs and this extensive forest clearance exerts huge amount of carbon in the atmosphere. The methods are around to counter this climate change threat and reduce these green house gases emissions but still the conventional methods prevailing and increasingly impacting the environment.

SRI- Method to counter climate change with triple win situation

Sustainable farming
Balinese farmer using SRI method in rice paddy ©

The System of rice intensification, well acknowledged as SRI, can trim down water requirements for irrigation, enhances soil fertility and encourage less dependence on synthetic agrochemicals such as a pesticide or herbicide, all whilst protecting against the climate change consequences and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s high time to substitute conventional methods and implementing the System of Rice intensification for existence.

According to Mr. Chakra, Sustainable solution specialist, who has been working for respect existence motto by doing rice cultivation using SRI method for more than a decade. He describes SRI as,” this is not a rocket science or something that is technology based, it is basically a set of principles and ideas. The implementation of principles and execution of ideas go hand in hand. The SRI accurate application makes it triple win situation, can boost farmer income, enhance soil fertility, and achieving the foremost reason behind this method, protecting environment with less or no fertilizers, water conservation by not flooding the rice paddies and absence of agrochemicals increases the productivity.”

Rice tillers (left) SRI and conventional method (Right) ©

Despite knowing the benefits and effectiveness of system of rice intensification, the use of conventional methods is gloomy.

According to Balinese farmer, Mr. Pak freddy.”It’s always hard to switch from one to other method and even we have to fight for our survival. Before struggling against climate change and other environment issues, we have to fix continued existence needs.”

It’s completely arguable that if one doesn’t mend his own problems, how he could suppose to work for environmental conservation.

This is absolutely true, but opting SRI method is far better than utilizing excessive chemicals, agricultural expansion and even selling land to be in the black.

But why settle for these? When using simple method of SRI can set right the entire problem.

SRI proved very useful for farmers in Madagascar, the birth place of this system. China and India, too going ahead for attaining benefit through it, even though the demand, cropping patterns and aggro-ecological circumstances vary a lot.

The application of System of rice intensification is not only limited to rice cultivation, the boarder application of SRI methods for varied crops is recognized as system of crop intensification, and these clearly show the success and capability of SRI. Wheat, millet, sugarcane are some of the major crops now being cultivated through SCI (SRI).

Wider spacing between plantations (SRI method)  ©

The main concepts, ideas and principles of SRI,

  • Enhancing plant intensification by transplanting young seedling (8-12days old) not more than 15 days old, to maintain development potentials.
  •  Providing plants wider spacing (30cm x 30cm) in square pattern. Wider space reduces competition among plants and increases their productivity. Very crucial in extreme climate conditions such as storm or drought. Lesser the competition for resources enhances more productivity.
  • SRI strengthens roots and soil bio-ta by keeping soil moist but not flooded; soil should be mostly aerobic, not continuously saturated. This reduces water requirement and use of organic matter keeps water chemical free that allows farmers to preserve water and utilize it for other daily purpose. Proper drainage system is necessary to increase the growth potential of plant.

This method is very beneficial in water scare areas also as water conservation at farm level; mainly due to controlled irrigation and alternative wetting and drying.

The chief idea of SRI is, MORE OUTPUT FROM LESS INPUT.

SRI adaptation to climate change, increased soil fertility strengthens tolerance to abiotic (drought, heat waves, cold snaps, winds) and biotic (pest and diseases) stresses.

According to Independent SRI institutes report on System of rice intensification, increase in rice yield per hectare by 52%, Increased net income per hectare by 128%, reduction in cost of production by 24%, Reduction in water requirement by 44% , shorter time to maturity (1-3 weeks less), and protection against bio-tic stresses pests/disease by 70%.


The methane emission from rice fields are determined mainly by flooded water regime and by excessive agrochemicals, flooding causes methane. Reduction and proper water management also reduces methane CH4. Mid season drainage management for alternatively wetting and drying rice paddies can reduce methane emissions by 40%.

Some studies argued that SRI reduces methane but keeping soil nearly saturated conditions may promote Nitrous oxide N2O, which is another green house gas. The nitrous oxide mainly release due to manure and fertilizers added to soil, but in SRI there is less or no use of fertilizers, but there will be less release of Nitrous oxide which can be controlled by nitrogen fertilizers if necessary, as the common perception is that, methane and nitrous oxide are harmful than carbon as they both have greater heat trapping capability and remains in the atmosphere for longer time, but it’s essential to mention that nitrous oxide accounts only 3-5% of green house gas even less than that whilst carbon and methane share approx 80% and 10-12% respectively.

Carbon is the biggest single driver of Green house gases but even carbon emissions reduces as soil organic carbon declines after a shift from flooded system to non-flooded system and powerful roots will increase carbon sink and provide sustainability to soil.

The more efficiently and resourcefully SRI will be adopted, the more environmental problems will be solved, the struggle for survival will be over, decline in deforestation, increase soil fertility and use of degraded land will enhance land conservation and definitely it will reduce green house gas emissions.

However, in the Intended Nationally determined contribution (INDC) Indonesia, the agriculture sector will be targeted for mitigation but success depends on individual participation.

After learning how successful SRI can be, in strengthens the soil fertility to climate change mitigation, so far very few farmers have involved in this method, it’s high time to choose respect existence and accomplish the single task to work sustainably and safeguard climate for upcoming generations. The best use of our existing resources will determine our better future.

“I’m often asked whether I believe in global warming. I now just reply with the question: do you believe in gravity?” – (tyson, 2015)i


The author is a researcher at the Symbiosis school of International Studies, Pune, India.

(Disclaimer: The article is based on the perception and understanding of the author. Data and statistics may vary depending on the source referred. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Tri Hita Karana Bali )

i (tyson, 2015)