REFLECTION

Environment 11 October 2016 Yayasan SHEEP Indonesia

SRI Rice; This is just planting method or planting style

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In a book entitled Peasants; author Eric R. Wolf (YIIS, 1983) used anthropological approach to suggest that humans have grown rice in 3400 BC. Then, humans developed a technology to use animals to tilt the soil. 

There are traces of such technology in Mesopotamia, Egypt and Cyprus, and along Nile valleys. Dry-land and wet-land planting were evident then; where people used the former method for rice planting in the dry mountains while they used the second method in areas where water was plentiful.

SRI (System of Rice Intensification) developed much later. It was developed by a French Jesuit priest in 1983. Years later, the system spread. Now thirty-six countries, including Indonesia, use this method. The focus of SRI is to improve yields through maximum use of available land. Some witnesses said that the method improved yields by 50% or more. Many also testified that SRI could only work in areas where water is available in sufficient quantity.

Experience in Aceh
Yayasan SHEEP Indonesia (YSI) introduced SRI in Aceh since 2013. A peasant in Simpang Jernih Subdistrict – East Aceh felt that he could harvest more. Peasants in Aceh Tamiang said that harvest increased, but felt that the method was too complicated and time-consuming and required much work.

In 2015, YSI introduced SRI in other rice growing communities in Babo and Balingkarang Villages - Aceh Tamiang and in Melidi and Tampor Boor Villages - East Aceh. YSI did not just tell peasants to start SRI. Before planting, peasants attended training sessions, to learn about seed selection, pest control and organic fertilizer production. The project went well, although problems arose during planting because peasants did not have much experience with the method. Some peasants were frustrated because they felt that the method was too complicated and initiated their own shortcuts. In Balingkarang, peasants simply failed because they could not cope with the complexity of the method. In three other villages, SRI proved far superior than conservative methods: yielding more plants and growing better. Yet the results were not entirely positive. In Babo, SRI harvest equaled that of conservative method, while in Melidi and Tampor Boor, peasants failed by pests.

An evaluation exercise showed interesting revelation in Babo. The organic fertilizer produced by peasants is mostly composed of Nitrogen (90%), which is good only for plant growth; particularly leaves. This is consistent with physical observation: abundant green leaves. Yet plants needed more than just Nitrogen, they needed Phosphate to grow roots and potassium to grow fruit. The other issue was that pests (rice ear bugs and planthoppers) are in massive number and therefore difficult to eradicate.

In mid-2016, YSI conducted another SRI promotion which caught the interests of peasants in 6 villages (Babo, Balingkarang, Melidi, Tampor Boor, Tampor Paloh and Batu Sumbang). But peasants in Tampor Boor, Tampor Paloh and Batu Sumbang were busy with dry-land rice harvesting afterwards that they had to delay SRI implementation. In Melidi, one peasant already started SRI seedbeds. In Balingkarang four families already started SRI for six weeks on a 4800m2 land. In Babo, 12 members of Tani Babo Jaya peasant group grew SRI rice on 8,000m2 land  for the last two months.

The difficult process of SRI promotion amongst peasants is evident even now. In Balingkarang, peasants set up rice beds with the same calculation they used for conventional planting methods. This means that they used seeds in excess of actual SRI requirements (more than half of rice plants). In Babo, peasants demanded compensation for increases in costs associated with longer growing time than conventional method. Such issues are minor, yet they reflect genuine fear: of harvest failure, of loss (less rice produced and higher costs required) and other type of fears.

Theoretically, peasants’ fears of change is understandable because they worked with limited resources.  As Tawney made clear in 1931 on peasant life in China peasants lived with their body submerged in water up to the neck, so any little ripple of wave threatened to sink them.  Fear of losses as a result of changes is also well documented by James C. Scott in his book Peasant Economic Morality; Struggle and Subsistence in Southeast Asia (LP3ES 1981) which he described as “Subsistent Ethics”.

The lesson is that it is not easy to introduce new technology amongst peasants. SRI is not just about new planting method, but about behavior change in production. This is complicated and therefore requires time and persistence. (Husaini)

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