Farmers in the Indian state of Bihar recently smashed world records in rice and potato growing.

Sumant Kumar, from the village of Darveshpura, applied improved farming methods in hopes of surpassing his usual 4-5 tons of rice production per hectare. He did. In fact he grew 22.4 tons per hectare, even surpassing the “father of rice”, Chinese agricultural scientist Yuan Long Ping, World Bank-funded scientists and giant Western seed corporations.

What’s more incredible is that Kumar and other farmers in his village (several produced over 17 tons) didn’t use pesticides or genetically modified seeds to achieve their bumper crops. So how did they do it?

Rice paddies, Bihar, pic: Ya Po Guille (Flickr CC)

SRI, or System of Root Intensification, has been introduced to hundreds of villages by an Indian NGO and, later, state governments. SRI is based on the methods of hill farmers in Madagascar as observed by French Jesuit priest and agronomist Henri de Laulanie.

Norman Uphoff, the director of the International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development at Cornell University, is largely responsible for the spread of SRI. Uphoff, funded by an anonymous billionaire, went to Madagascar in the 1980s to see the hill farmers’ methods for himself. In the late ’90s he began promoting the technique in Asia.

Uphoff is quoted on SRI in the Guardian:

It is a set of ideas, the absolute opposite to the first green revolution [of the 60s] which said that you had to change the genes and the soil nutrients to improve yields. That came at a tremendous ecological cost. Agriculture in the 21st century must be practised differently. Land and water resources are becoming scarcer, of poorer quality, or less reliable. Climatic conditions are in many places more adverse. SRI offers millions of disadvantaged households far better opportunities. Nobody is benefiting from this except the farmers; there are no patents, royalties or licensing fees.

I’ve written a bit about the Green Revolution in the past. It is true that it increased crop yields in countries like Mexico, India and the Philippines. However, monocrop farming as promoted by the Green Revolution produces weaker genetics and less biodiversity. This makes the crops more susceptible to disease and pests, meaning they require more pesticides. Though often more profitable, monocrop farming is riskier and relies on transportation and mass production, as opposed to traditional, localized polyculture, which developed to serve the needs of local populations. The Green Revolution has also been blamed for population explosions that are later more at risk of starvation.

In more rice news, India’s University of Agricultural Sciences is developing a strain of high-protein rice, which also requires 60% less water and results in less methane emissions than conventional rice growing. Moreover, HPR is a hybrid and not genetically modified. Read more on that story from DNA India.

Hill farming in Madagascar, pic: alphadesigner (Flickr CC)