May 8, 2013

Hybridizing Technology: The Case of Rice Farming in Nepal

By Rajendra Uprety, Irrigation Specialist, Asia Youth Exchange Programme

One of the important, underlying principles of an integrated landscape approach is using participatory processes. Through his experience working with the Nepalese District Agriculture Development Office (DADO), today’s guest author Rajendra Uprety discovered the value of local input and joint learning to reach more sustainable and productive solutions. This was the case with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in Nepal, but these lessons are applicable to the introduction of new methods or technology into other contexts and communities.

Ramji Karki, a farmer of Indrapur village in the Morang district of Nepal, had purchased land for rice cultivation in 2005. However, the land was not fertile and the level of organic matter was very low. A change in farm management practices, after he and his daughter Mina participated in training on System of Rice Intensification (SRI), turned things around. They started to manure that land by use more farm yard manure (FYM) and organic manures rather than relying solely on chemical fertilizers, and started incorporating SRI principles into their rice farming. Within the three years of changed management practices they converted his barren land to very fertile, and started to harvest three crops per year. In 2009 spring season his rice yield was more than 8 tons/ha. But instead of following the SRI method in totality, after some years of experiences Ramji adjusted these practices to fit his personal farming situation. This is not uncommon; most farmers who have changed their rice farming system are following neither SRI nor traditional but rather a hybrid of methods.

Hybridization of technology
Rice farmers use diversified field management strategies to incorporate SRI into their farming systems. Some farmers used all six of the SRI practices introduced during the training: young seedlings, single seedlings, wider spacing, alternate wetting and drying irrigation, mechanical weeding and use of compost. But the majority of them modified their methods to be appropriate for their farming situation. Land type and water availability greatly influenced farmers’ management decisions. For example, farmers used younger seedlings in areas where irrigation and drainage facility was better. Transplanting young seedlings in water-scarce areas is more risky, because water availability determines the timing of land preparation and transplanting.

Use of mechanical weeding was very effective for higher yield, but it appeared challenging to adopt. Most of the farmers complained about the inefficiency of locally-made weeders. It was heavy and not suitable for the predominantly female workers in the area. Similarly many farmers did not follow the advice to use compost (alone or with fertilizer), mainly because of its use as fuel in some communities who live far from the forest. Further transportation of compost to distant fields, uncertain land ownership, and the concern about crop yields also negatively impacted the use of compost on rice fields. Another notable observation was that the poorly producing farmers in the study area used more fertilizers than required. By contrast, the farmers who had attended the SRI training had reduced their fertilizer use. Average yield of those farmers who used modified SRI method is 5.7 tons/hectare, whereas the country’s average hovers at 3 tons/hectare. In short, introduction of SRI method influenced traditional rice farming system and develops a hybridizing system more feasible and productive in Nepal.

Integration of farmers’ experiences and joint learning
As a curious learner of SRI method, I started its trails and dissemination in Morang district of Nepal in 2003. After observing its highly encouraging results, I worked for several years as a SRI activist. At that time, I thought that any good technology would be beneficial or attractive for every farmer. But as a researcher, when I studied the effect of SRI interventions in Morang, I learned many things regarding technology, its dissemination process and adoption, encouraging me to rethink the effectiveness of our existing technology dissemination system.

The introduction of SRI method in Morang district of Nepal by the District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) helped both farmers and extension workers to learn from the rice fields and from each other. During SRI promotion when extension workers saw that their own recommendations were not followed by the farmers, they then started reviewing the recommended practices with the farmers. This process broke the traditional one-way deliverer-recipient system and made it participatory. These interactions helped re-shape the general recommendations on SRI method. When DADO started to adjust recommendations based on farmers’ suggestions, most of the farmers became more active in testing and disseminating the new approaches. Farmers tried to adapt SRI to their agro-ecological and socio-economic system, choosing some of the practices best suited to them and their particular fields. This taught us, as an extension agency, to rethink our technology dissemination process for different type farmers, and to begin providing them with a set of options that are flexible enough to allow farmers to choose appropriate for their particular situation.

If the government and other organizations want to increase the benefits from SRI techniques to the farmers, they need to address the issues that influence farmers’ decisions. Improving water distribution systems and their reliability can benefit farmers who have suitable lands for SRI and its modification. Improvement of mechanical weeder efficiency and accessibility will be also support SRI promotion. Better nutrient management strategy, improving availability and knowledge around compost and efficient fertilizer application, is very important for most of the farmers. We should constantly try to keep in mind that some training package will not be useful to all and it should be designed according to local needs.

Read More:
Learning from Farmers – Agri Cultures Network

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