The System of Rice Intensification (SRI): Complicating the global narrative
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The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) developed in Madagascar by French Jesuit and agricultural scientist Fr. Henri de Laulanie in the 1980s has since been propagated to over 50 countries worldwide. By transplanting younger seedlings, increasing the spacing between individual plants, irrigating intermittently and consistently aerating the soil, SRI promises to increase global rice production to twice the 3.7 t/ha currently experienced (Uphoff, 2003). Notwithstanding regional variance (Uphoff, 2003) and contestation of the results (Sheehy et al., 2005), SRI advocates in various countries posit SRI as an agro-ecological innovation that is an alternative to top-down, input-intensive agriculture, yet can greatly expand yields and farm incomes. These properties are argued to be particularly important in a world of rising temperatures and increased demand for foodstuffs. In projecting SRI as a singular solution to current and future constraints upon rice production, however, little attention has been given to its translation and embedding within diverse socio-ecological settings. Given that socio-ecological and political climates vary greatly from region to region, my broad research question uses political agronomy as a theoretical framework to ask: what social realities are silenced in order to craft a narrative in which SRI can become a universal driver of agricultural development? Through ten weeks of participatory observation and interviews with farmers, NGO representatives, researchers and extension officers directly involved in SRI in two districts in Nepal’s Terai, (Chitwan and Morang), I was able to observe how SRI is enacted in unique settings. The aim of this project was to understand how SRI practices are institutionalized on the ground and whether broad characteristics lead specific types of farmers to gravitate towards, or be selected for, the adoption of SRI (such as land holdings or access to water and institutional channels such as bank credit and agricultural extension). In asking these questions, this research aims to more adequately assess SRI's suitability as a global agricultural innovation.