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article imageOp-Ed: Indian farmers smash crop yield records without GMOs or chemicals

By Anne Sewell     Feb 26, 2013 in Food
In a village in Bihar, India's poorest state, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice. This without any GMOs or artificial chemical fertilizers or herbicides of any kind.
The Guardian recently reported on the story of Sumant Kumar, a young farmer in Nalanda district of India’s poorest state, Bihar.
It turns out that Kumar had, using only farmyard manure and without any herbicides at all, grown an amazing 22.4 tonnes of rice on just one hectare (2.5 acres) of land. Apparently this is a world record, and with rice being the staple food of more than half the world’s population of seven billion, very big news indeed.
Apparently Kumar and his farming friends all recorded over 17 tonnes of rice, and reportedly they were not the only ones. Many other farmers in the villages around the area have claimed to have more than doubled their normal yields.
And it is apparently not only rice. Another farmer in Bihar state has broken India's wheat-growing record the same year. This without any GMOs, advanced seed hybrids, chemical fertilizers or herbicides.
The farmers are apparently using a technique developed in Madagascar in the 1980s by a French Jesuit, called System of Rice [or root] Intensification (SRI).
The technique involves starting off with fewer and more widely spaced plants. SRI basically uses less water and actively aerates the soil and lots of organic fertilizer is used. On top of this, and of interest to note, according to Uphoff’s SRI Institute website [PDF], farmers using synthetic fertilizer with the same technique get lower yields than those who farm organically.
When testing the soil in the area, it is found to be particularly rich in silicon but the main reason for the "super yields" is entirely down to SRI method.
Apparently the method has also dramatically increased yields with aubergine, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, sugar cane, yams and many other crops. The technique is now being hailed as "one of the most significant developments of the past 50 years for the world's 500 million small-scale farmers and the two billion people who depend on them."
Naturally, as with all non-GMO farming practices, there are detractors and critics of the whole process.
Achim Dobermann, deputy director of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) told the Guardian:
SRI is a set of management practices and nothing else, many of which have been known for a long time and are best recommended practice … Scientifically speaking I don’t believe there is any miracle. When people independently have evaluated SRI principles then the result has usually been quite different from what has been reported on farm evaluations conducted by NGOs and others who are promoting it. Most scientists have had difficulty replicating the observations.
And interesting to note that the International Rice Research Institute is currently involved in the development of GMO rice in a campaign to "increase yields worldwide" and "feed the world."
However, it is also interesting to note that regions in India who invested heavily in Monsanto’s GMO RoundUp Ready cotton seeds are seeing yields collapse, not increase. Monsanto naturally blames these crop failures on the farmers (250,000 of which have committed suicide so that their families do not *get landed with their debt.)
Agronomist Anil Verma told the Guardian: "The farmers know SRI works, but help is needed to train them. We know it works differently in different soils but the principles are solid," he says. "The biggest problem we have is that people want to do it but we do not have enough trainers.
"If any scientist or a company came up with a technology that almost guaranteed a 50% increase in yields at no extra cost they would get a Nobel prize. But when young Biharian farmers do that they get nothing. I only want to see the poor farmers have enough to eat."
* For those who are unaware, in India, when the bread-winner of the family dies, so do his debts - in other words his family is not responsible for any money that he owes.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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