The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is an evolving set of practices, principles, and philosophies aimed at increasing the productivity of irrigated rice by improving the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients, for example by increasing the space between rice plants. With SRI, the soil is kept alternately dry and wet, allowing the plants’ roots to take oxygen from the ground surface. Seedlings are transplanted very young, in square patterns to allow enough spacing between the rice plants. These measures enhance the roots’ growth and increase yields. The Better U Foundation and Africare set up a project to assess the performance of SRI during the 2008-2009 growing season in 12 villages in the Dire and Goundam administrative circles of north central Mali.
At the time, 19,000ha of land were under rice cultivation across the 12 villages managed by 17,200 households. Africare supplied each village with 2 rotary weeders and 1 field agent for every 15 farmers for technical support. SRI seedlings were transplanted 10-12 days after germination. In the control plots, seedlings were transplanted on average 29 days after germination with 2 to 5 seedlings in each pocket.
Across all 12 villages, the results showed a yield improvement and cost benefit for adopting SRI. Seed usage decreased from 50kg per hectare to 6kg per hectare. Performance varied according to soil types, rice varieties, fertiliser regimes and weeding practices, but the average SRI yield for the 53 farmers who used the practices as recommended was 9.1 tonnes per hectare, 66% higher than the average for the control plots at 5.5 tonnes per hectare. The average yield on neighbouring rice fields where non-participating farmers used their own methods was 4.86 tonnes per hectare.
SRI also has limitations. For the participating farmers, labour increased from 161 to 251 person days and input costs were higher, increasing from CFA414,650 ($714 US) in the control group to CFA476,580 ($820 US) for SRI. On the other hand, the net revenue from SRI more than doubled: CFA1,024,920 ($1765 US) per hectare for those that adopted SRI compared to CFA491,200 ($846 US) per hectare for the control plots.