The world record yield for paddy rice production is not held by an agricultural research station or by a large-scale farmer from the United States, but by Sumant Kumar who has a farm of just two hectares in Darveshpura village in the state of Bihar in Northern India. His record yield of 22.4 tons per hectare, from a one-acre plot, was achieved with what is known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). To put his achievement in perspective, the average paddy yield worldwide is about 4 tons per hectare. Even with the use of fertilizer, average yields are usually not more than 8 tons.
Sumant Kumar’s success was not a fluke. Four of his neighbors, using SRI methods, and all for the first time, matched or exceeded the previous world record from China, 19 tons per hectare. Moreover, they used only modest amounts of inorganic fertilizer and did not need chemical crop protection.
SRI-GROWN RICE IN CHINA
Using SRI methods, smallholding farmers in many countries are starting to get higher yields and greater productivity from their land, labor, seeds, water and capital, with their crops showing more resilience to the hazards of climate change (Thakur et al 2009; Zhao et al 2009).
These productivity gains have been achieved simply by changing the ways that farmers manage their plants, soil, water and nutrients.
The effect is to get crop plants to grow larger, healthier, longer-lived root systems, accompanied by increases in the abundance, diversity and activity of soil organisms. These organisms constitute a beneficial microbiome for plants that enhances their growth and health in ways similar to how the human microbiome benefits Homo sapiens.
That altered management practices can induce more productive, resilient phenotypes from existing rice plant genotypes has been seen in over 50 countries. The reasons for this improvement are not all known, but there is agrowing literature that helps account for the improvements observed in yield and health for rice crops using SRI.
The ideas and practices that constitute SRI were developed inductively in Madagascar some 30 years ago for rice. They are now being adapted to improve the productivity of a wide variety of other crops, starting with wheat, finger millet and sugarcane. Producing more output with fewer external inputs may sound improbable, but it derives from a shift in emphasis from improving plant genetic potential via plant breeding, to providing optimal environments for crop growth.
The adaptation of SRI experience and principles to other crops is being referred to generically as the System of Crop Intensification (SCI), encompassing variants for wheat (SWI), maize (SMI), finger millet (SFMI), sugarcane (SSI), mustard (rapeseed/canola)(another SMI), teff (STI), legumes such as pigeon peas, lentils and soya beans, and vegetables such as tomatoes, chillies and eggplant.
That similar results are seen across such a range of plants suggests some generic processes may be involved, and these practices are not only good for growing rice. This suggests to Prof. Norman Uphoff and colleagues within the SRI network that more attention should be given to the contributions that are made to agricultural production by the soil biota, both in the plants’ rhizospheres but also as symbiotic endophytes within the plants themselves (Uphoff et al. 2012).
The evidence reported below has drawn heavily, with permission, from a report that Dr. Uphoff prepared on the extension of SRI to other crops (Uphoff 2012). Much more research and evaluation needs to be done on this progression to satisfy both scientists and practitioners. But this gives an idea of what kinds of advances in agricultural knowledge and practice appear to be emerging.
Origins and Principles Deriving from empirical work started in the 1960s in Madagascar by a French priest, Fr. Henri de Laulanié, S.J., the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has shown remarkable capacity to raise smallholders’ rice productivity under a wide variety of conditions around the world: from tropical rainforest regions of Indonesia, to mountainous regions in northeastern Afghanistan, to fertile river basins in India and Pakistan, to arid conditions of Timbuktu on the edge of the Sahara Desert in Mali. SRI methods have proved adaptable to a wide range of agroecological settings.
With SRI management, paddy yields are usually increased by 50-100%, but sometimes by even more, even up to the super-yields of Sumant Kumar and his neighbors. Requirements for seed are greatly reduced (by 80-90%), as are those for irrigation water (by 25-50%). Little or no inorganic fertilizer is required if sufficient organic matter can be provided to the soil, and there is little if any need for agrochemical crop protection against pests and diseases. SRI plants are also generally healthier and better able to resist such stresses as well as drought, extremes of temperature, flooding, and storm damage.
SRI methodology is based on four main principles that interact in synergistic ways:
Establish healthy plants early and carefully, nurturing their root potential.
Reduce plant populations, giving each plant more room to grow above and below ground and room to capture sunlight and obtain nutrients.
Enrich the soil with organic matter, keeping it well-aerated to support better growth of roots and more aerobic soil biota.
Apply water purposefully in ways that favor plant-root and soil-microbial growth, avoiding flooded (anaerobic) soil conditions.
These principles are translated into a number of irrigated rice cultivation practices which under most smallholder farmers’ conditions are the following:
Plant young seedlings carefully and singly, giving them wider spacing usually in a square pattern, so that both roots and canopy have ample room to spread.
Keep the soil moist but not inundated. Provide sufficient water for plant roots and beneficial soil organisms to grow, but not so much as to suffocate or suppress either, e.g., through alternate wetting and drying, or through small but regular applications.
Add as much compost, mulch or other organic matter to the soil as possible, ‘feeding the soil’ so that the soil can, in turn, ‘feed the plant.’
Control weeds with mechanical methods that can incorporate weeds while breaking up the soil’s surface. This actively aerates the root zone as a beneficial by-product of weed control. This practice can promote root growth and the abundance of beneficial soil organisms, adding to yield.
The cumulative result of these practices is to induce the growth of more productive and healthier plants (phenotypes) from any given variety (genotype).
Variants of SRI practices suitable for upland regions have been developed by farmers where there are no irrigation facilities, so SRI is not just for irrigated rice production any more. In both settings, crops can be productive with less irrigation water or rainfall because taking up SRI recommendations enhances the capacity of soil systems to absorb and provide water (‘green water’). SRI practices initially developed to benefit small-scale rice growers are being adapted now for larger-scale production, with methods such as direct-seeding instead of transplanting, and with the mechanization of some labor-intensive operations such as weeding (Sharif 2011).
From the System of Rice Intensification to the System of Crop Intensification Once the principles of SRI became understood by farmers and they had mastered its practices for rice, farmers began extending SRI ideas and methods to other crops. NGOs and some scientists have also become interested in and supportive of this extrapolation, so a novel process of innovation has ensued. Some results of this process are summarized here.
The following information is not a research report. The comparisons below are not experiment station data but rather results that have come from farmers’ fields in Asia and Africa. The measurements of yields reported here probably have some margin of error. But the differences seen are so large and are so often repeated that they are certainly significant agronomically. The results in the following sections are comparisons with farmers’ current practices, showing how much more production farmers in developing countries could be achieving from their presently available resources.
This innovative management of many crops, referred to under the broad heading of System of Crop Intensification (SCI), is also sometimes aptly referred to in India as the ‘System ofRoot Intensification,’ another meaning for the acronym SRI.
The changes introduced with SCI practice are driven by the four SRI principles noted above. The first three principles are usually followed fairly closely. The fourth principle (reduced water application) is relevant for irrigated production such as for wheat, sugarcane and some other crops. It has less relevance under rainfed conditions where farmers have less control over water applications to their crops. Maintaining sufficient but never excessive soil moisture such as with water-harvesting methods and applications corresponds to the fourth SRI principle.
Agriculture in the 21st century must be practiced differently from the previous century; land and water resources are becoming relatively scarcer, of poorer quality, or less reliable. Climatic conditions are in many places becoming more adverse, especially for smallholding farmers. More than ever, they need cropping practices that are more ‘climate-proof.’ By promoting better root growth and more abundant life in the soil, SCI offers millions of insecure, disadvantaged households better opportunities.
Wheat (Triticum) The extension of SRI practices to wheat, the next most important cereal crop after rice, was fairly quickly seized upon by farmers and researchers in India, Ethiopia, Mali and Nepal. SWI was first tested in 2008 by the People’s Science Institute (PSI) which works with farmers in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand states. Yield estimates showed a 91% increase for unirrigated SWI plots over usual methods in rainfed areas, and a 82% increase for irrigated SWI. This has encouraged an expansion of SWI in these two states.
The most rapid growth and most dramatic results have been in Bihar state of India, where 415 farmers, mostly women, tried SWI methods in 2008/09, with yields averaging 3.6 tons/ha, compared with 1.6 tons/ha using usual practices. The next year, 15,808 farmers used SWI with average yields of 4.6 tons/ha. In the past year, 2011/12, the SWI area in Bihar was reported to be 183,063 hectares, with average yields of 5.1 tons/ha. With SWI management, net income per acre from wheat has been calculated by the NGO PRADAN to rise from Rs. 6,984 to Rs. 17,581, with costs reduced while yields increased. This expansion has been done under the auspices of the Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotion Society, supported by the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank.
About the same time, farmers in northern Ethiopia started on-farm trials of SWI, assisted by the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD), supported by a grant from Oxfam America. Seven farmers in 2009 averaged 5.45 tons/ha with SWI methods, the highest reaching 10 tons/ha. There was a larger set of on-farm trials in South Wollo in 2010. SWI yields averaged 4.7 tons/ha with compost and 4.9 tons/ha with inorganic nitrogen (urea) and phosphorus (DAP). The 4% increase in yield was not enough to justify the cost of purchasing and applying fertilizer. The control plots averaged wheat yields of 1.8 tons/ha.
In 2008-09, farmer trials with SWI methods were started in the Timbuktu region of Mali, where it was learned that transplanting young seedlings was not as effective as direct seeding, while SRI spacing of 25cm x 25cm proved to be too great. Still, obtaining a 10% higher yield with a 94% reduction in seed (10 kg/ha vs. 170 kg/ha), a 40% reduction in labor, and a 30% reduction in water requirements encouraged farmers to continue with their experiments.
In 2009/10, the NGO Africare undertook systematic replicated trials in Timbuktu, evaluating a number of different methods of crop establishment, including direct seeding in spacing combinations from 10 to 20 cm, line sowing, transplanting of seedlings, and control plots, all on farmers’ fields. Compared to the control average (2.25 tons/ha), the SWI transplanting method and 15×15 cm direct seeding gave the greatest yield response, 5.4 tons/ha, an increase of 140%.
SWI evaluations were also done in 2010 in the Far Western region of Nepal by the NGO Mercy Corps, under the EU-FAO Food Facility Programme. The control level of yield was 3.4 tons/ ha using local practices with a local variety. Growing a modern variety with local practices added 10% to yield (3.74 tons/ha); however, using SWI practices the same modern variety raised yield by 91%, reaching a yield of 6.5 tons/ha.
Mustard (Rapeseed/Canola) Farmers in Bihar state of India have recently begun adapting SRI methods for growing mustard (aka rapeseed or canola). In 2009-10, 7 women farmers in Gaya district working with PRADAN and the government’s ATMA agency started applying SRI practices to their mustard crop. This gave them an average grain yield of 3 tons/ha, three times their usual 1 t/ha.
The following year, 283 women farmers who used SMI methods averaged 3.25 tons/ha. In 2011-12, 1,636 farmers practiced SMI with an average yield of 3.5 tons/ha. Those who used all of the practices as recommended averaged 4 tons/ha, and one reached a yield of 4.92 tons/ha as measured by government technicians. With SMI, farmers’ costs of production were reduced by half, from Rs. 50 per kg of grain to just Rs. 25 per kilogram.
Sugarcane (Saccarum officinarum) Shortly after they began using SRI methods in 2004, farmers in Andhra Pradesh state of India began also adapting these ideas and practices to their sugarcane production. Some farmers got as much as three times more yield, cutting their planting materials by 80-90%, and introducing much wider spacing of plants, using more compost and mulch to enhance soil organic matter (and control weeds), with sparing use of irrigation water and much reduced use of chemical fertilizers and agrochemical sprays.
By 2009, there had been enough testing, demonstration and modification of these initial practices, e.g., cutting out the buds from cane stalks and planting them in soil or other rooting material to produce health seedlings that could be transplanted with very wide spacing, that the joint Dialogue Project on Food, Water and Environment of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad launched a ‘sustainable sugarcane initiative’ (SSI). The project published a manual that described and explained the suite of methods derived from SRI experience that could raise cane yields by 30% or more, with reduced requirements for both water and chemical fertilizer.
The director of the Dialogue Project, Dr. Biksham Gujja together with other SRI and SSI colleagues established a pro bono company AgSRI in 2010 to disseminate knowledge and practice of these ecologically-friendly innovations among farmers in India and beyond.
The first international activity of AgSRI has been to share information on SSI with sugar growers on the Camilo Cienfuegos production cooperative in Bahia Honda, Cuba. A senior sugar agronomist, Lauro Fanjùl from the Ministry of Sugar, when visiting the cooperative to inspect its SSI crop, was amazed at the size, vigor and color of the canes, noting that they were ‘still growing.’
Finger Millet (Eleusine coracana) Some of the first examples of SCI came from farmers in several states of India who had either applied SRI ideas to finger millet (ragi in local languages), or by their own observations and experimentation devised a more productive cropping system for finger millet that utilized SRI principles.
The NGO Green Foundation in Bangalore in the early ’00s learned that farmers in Haveri district of Karnataka State had devised a system for growing ragi that they call Guli Vidhana (square planting). Young seedlings are planted in a square grid, 2 per hill, spaced 18 inches (45 cm) apart, with organic fertilization. One implement they use stimulates greater tillering and root growth when it is pulled across the field in different directions; and another breaks up the topsoil while weeding between and across rows. In contrast with conventional methods, which yield around 1.25 to 2 tons/ha, with up to 3.25 tons using fertilizer inputs, Guli Vidhana methods yield 4.5 to 5 tons/ha, with a maximum yield so far of 6.25 tons.
In Jharkhand state of India in 2005, farmers working with the NGO PRADAN began experimenting with SRI methods for their rainfed finger millet. Usual yields there were 750 kg to 1 ton/ha with traditional broadcasting practices. Yields with transplanted SFMI have averaged 3-4 tons/ha. Costs of production per kg of grain are reduced by 60% with SFMI management, from Rs. 34.00 to Rs. 13.50. In Ethiopia, one farmer using her own version of SRI practices for finger millet is reported by the Institute for Sustainable Development to have obtained a yield of 7.6 tons/ha.
Maize (Zea mays) Growing maize using SRI concepts and methods has not been experimented with very much yet; but in northern India the People’s Science Institute in Dehradun has worked with smallholders in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh states to improve their maize production with adapted SRI practices.
No transplanting is involved, and no irrigation. Farmers are planting 1-2 seeds per hill with square spacing of 30×30 cm, having added compost and other organic matter to the soil, and then doing three soil-aerating weedings. Some varieties they have found performing best at 30×50 cm spacing. The number of farmers practicing this kind of SCI went from 183 in 2009 on 10.34 hectares of land, to 582 farmers on 63.61 ha in 2010. With these alternative methods, the average yields have been 3.5 tons/hectare. This is 75% more than their yields with conventional management, which have averaged 2 tons/hectare.
Because maize is such an important food crop for many millions of food-insecure households, getting more production from their limited land resources, with their present varieties or with improved ones, should be a priority.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) Farmers in Thambal village, Salem district in Tamil Nadu state of India were the first to establish an SRI Farmers Association in their country, as far as is known. Their appreciation for SRI methods led them to begin experimentation with the extension of these ideas to their off-season production of turmeric, a rhizome crop that gives farmers a good income when sold for use as a spice in Indian cooking.
With this methodology, planting material is reduced by more than 80%, by using much smaller rhizome portions to start seedlings. These are transplanted with wider spacing (30×40 cm instead of 30×30 cm), and organic means of fertilization are used (green manure plus vermicompost, Trichoderma, Pseudomonas, and a biofertilizer mixture known as EM, Effective Microorganisms, developed in Japan by T. Higa). Water requirements are cut by two-thirds. With yields 25% higher and with lower costs of production, farmer’s net income from their turmeric crop can be effectively doubled.
Tef (Eragrostis tef) Adaptations of SRI ideas for the increased production of tef, the most important cereal grain for Ethiopians, started in 2008-09 under the direction of Dr. Tareke Berhe, at the time director of the Sasakawa Africa Association’s regional rice program, based in Addis Ababa. Having grown up in a household which raised tef, and then written theses on tef for his M.Sc. (Washington State University) and Ph.D. (University of Nebraska), Berhe was thoroughly knowledgeable, both practically and theoretically, with this crop.
Typical yields for tef grown with traditional practices, based on broadcasting, are about 1 ton/ha. The seed of tef is tiny — even smaller than mustard seed, about 2500 seeds making only 1 gram — so growing and transplanting tef seedlings seemed far-fetched. But Berhe found that transplanting young seedlings at 20×20 cm spacing with organic and inorganic fertilization gave yields of 3 to 5 tons/ha. With small amendments of micronutrients (Zn, Cu, Mg, Mn), these yields could be almost doubled again. Such potential within the tef genome, responding to good soil conditions and wider spacing, had not been seen before. Berhe is calling these alternative production methods the System of Tef Intensification (STI).
In 2010, with a grant from Oxfam America, Dr. Berhe conducted STI trials and demonstrations at Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center and Mekelle University, major centers for agricultural research in Ethiopia. Their good results gained acceptance for the new practices. He is now serving as an advisor for tef to the Ethiopian government’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
This year, 7,000 farmers are using STI methods in an expanded trial, and another 100,000 farmers are using less ‘intensified’ methods based on the same SRI principles, not transplanting but having wider spacing of plants with row seeding. As with other crops, tef is quite responsive to management practices that do not crowd the plants together and that improve the soil conditions for abundant root growth.
Legumes: Pigeonpeas (Red Gram – Cajanus cajan), Lentils (Black Gram – Vigna mungo), Mung Beans (Green Gram – Vigna radiata), Soya Beans (Glycine max), Kidney Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), Peas (Pisum sativum) That SRI principles and methods could be extended from rice to wheat, finger millet, sugarcane, maize, and even tef was not so surprising, since these are all monocotyledons, the grasses and grass-like plants whose stalks and leaves grow from their base. That mustard would respond very well to SRI management practices was unexpected, because it is a dicotyledon, i.e., a flowering plant with its leaves growing from stems rather than from the base of the plant. It is now being found that a number of leguminous crops, also dicotyledons, can benefit from practices inspired by SRI experience.
The Bihar Rural Livelihoods Support Program, Patna, has reported tripled yield from mung bean (green gram) with SCI methods, raising production on farmers’ fields from 625 kg/ha to 1.875 tons/ha. With adapted SRI practices, the People’s Science Institute in Dehradun reports that small farmers in Uttarakhand state of India are getting:
65% increase for lentils (black gram), up from 850 kg/ha to 1.4 tons/ha;
50% increase for soya bean, going from 2.2 to 3.3 tons/ha;
67% increase for kidney beans, going from 1.8 to 3.0 tons/ha;
42% increase for peas, going from 2.13 to 3.02 tons/ha.
No transplanting is involved, but the seeds are sown, 1-2 per hill, with wide spacing – 20x30cm, 25x30cm, or 30×30 cm for most of these crops, and as much as 15/20×30/45cm for peas. Two or more weedings are done, preferably with soil aeration to enhance root growth.
Fertilization is organic, applying compost augmented by a trio of indigenous organic fertilizers known locally as PAM (panchagavya, amritghol and matkakhad). Panchagavya is a mixture of five products from cattle: ghee (clarified butter), milk, curd (yoghurt), dung and urine, which particular appears to stimulate the growth of beneficial soil organisms. Seeds are treated before planting with cow urine to make them more resistant to pests and disease.
This production strategy can be considered ‘labour intensive’ but households seeking to get maximum yield from the small areas of land available to them find that the additional effort and care give net returns as well as more security. The resulting crops are more robust, resistant both to pest and disease damage and to adverse climatic conditions.
Vegetables The extension of SRI concepts and practices to vegetables has been a farmer-led innovation, and has progressed farthest in Bihar State of India. The Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS), working under the state government, with NGOs such as PRADAN leading the field operations and having financial support from the IDA of the World Bank, has been promoting and evaluating SCI efforts among women’s self-help groups to raise their vegetable production.
Women farmers in Bihar have experimented with planting young seedlings widely and carefully, placing them into dug pits that are back-filled with loose soil and organic soil amendments such as vermicompost. Water is used very precisely and carefully. While this system is labor-intensive, it increases yields greatly and benefits particularly the very poorest households. They have access to very little land and water, and they need to use these resources with maximum productivity and little cash expenditure.
A recent article on using SRI methods with vegetables concluded: “It is found that in SRI, SWI & SCI, the disease & pest infestations are less, use of agro chemicals are lesser, requires less water, can sustain water-stressed condition; with more application of organic matter, yields in terms of grain, fodder & firewood are higher.” (from a background paperprepared for the National Colloquium on System of Crop Intensification (SCI), Patna, India, March 2, 2011).
Conclusion Philosophically, SRI can be understood as an integrated system of plant-centered agriculture. Fr. Laulanié, who developed SRI thinking and practice during his 34 years in Madagascar, in one of his last papers commented that he did this by learning from the rice plant; the rice plant is my teacher (mon maître) he wrote. Each of the component activities of SRI has the goal of maximally providing whatever a plant is likely to need in terms of space, light, air, water, and nutrients. It also creates favorable conditions for the growth and prospering of beneficial soil organisms in, on and around the plant. SRI thus presents us with the question: if one can provide, in every way, the best possible environment for plants to grow, what benefits and synergisms will we see?
Already, approximately 4-5 million farmers around the world are using SRI methods with rice. The success of SRI methods can be attributed to many factors. They are low risk, they don’t require farmers to have access to any unfamiliar technologies, they save money on multiple inputs, while higher yields earn them more. Most important is that farmers can readily see the benefits for themselves.
SCI YIELD INCREASES REPORTED
Consequently, many farmers are gaining confidence in their ability to get ‘more from less’ by modifying their crop management practices. They can provide for their families’ food security, obtain surpluses, and avoid indebtedness. In the process, they are enhancing the quality of their soil resources and are buffering their crops against the temperature and precipitation stresses of climate change.
Where this process will end, nobody knows. Almost invariably SRI results in far greater yields, but some farmers go beyond others’ results to achieve super-yields for reasons that are not fully clear. Although experience increasingly points to the contributions of the plants’ microbiome, it also suggests that the optimization process is still at the beginning.
References Sharif A (2011). Technical adaptations for mechanized SRI production to achieve water saving and increased profitability in Punjab, Pakistan. Paddy and Water Environment 9: 111-119. Thakur AK, Uphoff N and Antony E (2009) an assessment of physiological effects of system of rice intensification (SRI) practices compared with recommended rice cultivation practices in India. Experimental Agric. 46: 77-98. Uphoff N (2012). Raising smallholder food crop yields with climate-smart agricultural practices. Report accompanying presentation on ‘The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and Beyond: Coping with Climate Change,’ made at World Bank, Washington, DC, October 10. Uphoff N, Chi F, Dazzo FB , Rodriguez RJ (2012) Soil fertility as a contingent rather than inherent characteristic: Considering the contributions of crop-symbiotic soil biota. In Principles of Sustainable Soil Systems in Agroecosystems,, eds. R. Lal and B. Stewart. Boca Raton FL: Taylor & Francis, in press. Zhao LM, Wu LH, Li Y, Lu X, Zhu DF and Uphoff, N (2009) Influence of the system of rice intensification on rice yield and nitrogen and water use efficiency with different N application rates. Experimental Agric. 45: 275–286.
KARACHI: The World Forum of Fisher People (WFFP) and Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) while welcoming the report designed by Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, who warned of the threat of ‘ocean-grabbing’ to food security, and urged world governments and international bodies to halt the depletion of fish stocks, and take urgent steps to protect, sustain, and share the benefits of fisheries and marine environments.
Representing the world fisher communities, WFFP and PFF appealed to the Pakistan government to design policy in the light of recommendations designed by the UN Rapporteur on the right to food to avoid food insecurity, as fears of sea intrusion, depletion of mangroves, delta and fresh waters were visible in the country, depriving fishermen of their right to livelihoods. “More than two million people depend on ocean for fishing here. The sea intrusion has taken away more than 2.6 million acres fertile land, which is alarming for the community.”
PFF Chairperson Mohammed Ali Shah, who is also the Secretary General of WFFP, urged the Pakistan government to incorporate the recommendations in its Fisheries Policy to adopt mechanism to safeguard our fish reserves.
“Unchecked over exploitation of resources, like fish stock has put hundreds of people to live a vulnerable life there without availability of fish for their family’s consumption,” Shah said.
“‘Ocean-grabbing’ – in the shape of shady access agreements that harm small-scale fishers, unreported catch, incursions into protected waters, and the diversion of resources away from local populations - can be as serious a threat as ‘land-grabbing,’” De Schutter said as he unveiled a new report on fisheries and the right to food.
“Without rapid action to claw back waters from unsustainable practices, fisheries will no longer be able to play a critical role in securing the right to food of millions,” the expert said, noting that “with agricultural systems under increasing pressure, many people are now looking to rivers, lakes and oceans to provide an increasing share of our dietary protein.”
Estimates on the scale of illegal catch range from 10-28 million tones (mt), while some 7.3mt – 10 per cent of global catch – is discarded every year. “It is clear that as fish are becoming less abundant, fishing vessels are tempted to evade rules and conservation strategies,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Many of the world’s waters are fished by distance fleets, De Schutter noted, calling for the Licence and Access Agreements (LAAs). He called for LAAs to include stronger oversight mechanisms to tackle illegal and unreported catch; take full account of the role of fisheries and small-scale fishers in meeting local food needs; strengthen labour rights on fishing vessels; and be concluded only on the basis of human rights impact assessments, to be prepared with the assistance of flag states.
The UN expert called on governments to rethink the models of fisheries that they support, highlighting that small-scale fishers actually catch more fish per gallon of fuel than industrial fleets, and discard fewer fish. “Industrial fishing in far-flung waters may seem like the economic option, but only because fleets are able to pocket major subsidies while externalizing the costs of over-fishing and resource degradation. Future generations will pay the price when the oceans run dry,” he said.
On 10th October, Miguel Galván was murdered, stabbed to death in the doorway of his own home. Almost one year earlier, Cristian Ferreyra had been shot and killed in his house. Both men were peasant farmers from the northern province of Santiago del Estero and members of the National Peasant Movement of Santiago del Estero – Farmers’ Way (Mocase-VC) an organisation which fights for the land rights of peasants and indigenous people.
Protest at Congreso to call for justice against the assasination of Miguel Galvan (Photo courtesey of Mocase-VC)
The reason for the men’s murders was that they refused to give up their land to multi-national soybean plantation companies. Whilst Galván’s attackers are yet to be identified, in Ferreyra’s case it is widely claimed that a large landowner from the area hired hitmen to remove him from his path.
In the six months after Ferreyra’s tragic death, incidents of conflict between large agribusiness and peasants decreased, but since then, the expansion of soy production has continued and so have the forced evictions of peasants and indigenous people from lands they have occupied for centuries.
Expansion of Soy and Agribusiness in Argentina
In 1996, Carlos Menem’s government approved a law that granted farmers permission to cultivate transgenic soybeans in Argentina. The decision brought about a drastic and rapid change within the country’s agricultural sector. Argentina allowed for the cultivation of genetically modified soybeans without carrying out their own tests, instead using only those provided by the multinational agribusiness Monsanto.
Argentine farmland with monocrops (Photo: Franco Vissani)
The economy was struggling and Menem sought large corporate contracts that could be seen as evidence of potential future recovery. Within a year, 11 million tonnes of soy were harvested from an area spanning 6 million hectares. Fast forward 15 years to today, and the entire country bares an alarming resemblance to a giant field of bioengineered soybeans. Argentina is the third largest producer of soy in the world and is responsible for one third of worldwide soybean sales. A staggering 97% of the soy harvested is exported worldwide.
Today soybean cultivation occupies more than half of Argentina’s productive land. However, long before the arrival of the multinational soybean plantation companies, the land was largely farmed by local and indigenous peasants. In 1988, there were 422,000 small farms based in Argentina’s countryside. By 2002, this number had fallen by almost 25%.
Guillermo Neimann, a sociologist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO) who specialises in the area of rural employment, explains that “Argentina is not a country that has historically experienced large land conflict. It is only in the last few decades that it has appeared, with the arrival of large agribusiness”.
What had previously been a diverse and self-sufficient agricultural system was rapidly replaced with a model of virtual monoculture. As Brewster Kneen, author of Farmageddon, puts it, Argentines were “quite literally forced” to produce soy “in place of milk, meat, vegetables, and lentils which were once produced in abundance on the small farms which have now been overrun by large landowners growing soy.” Nowadays, lentils are imported from Canada whilst exports of Argentina’s famous beef decline annually. “That’s like Mercedes-Benz not exporting cars!” exclaims agriculturalist and member of the Grupo Reflexion Rural, Adolfo Boy.
Traditional small goat farming in Santiago del Estero is becoming more difficult to do (Phone: Andres Lofiego)
Provinces in the northwest of Argentina, such as Santiago del Estero, were hit particularly hard. Soybean cultivation in the area increased by 48% between 1988 and 2002. Violence and Evictions
Henk Hobbelink, agronomist and co-ordinator of small farmers’ rights campaign group GRAIN, gave a speech last year in which he said, “today we are witnessing nothing less than the full frontal assault on the world’s peasantry.” Nowhere does this ring more true than in Argentina.
As big agribusinesses expand their soy plantations throughout the countryside, they encounter resistance from the local farmers who have cultivated the land for centuries. Thus, they employ certain methods to remove those who obstruct their path, the most extreme cases being those of Ferreyra and Galván. The land rights of indigenous communities that have been there for centuries are ignored.
According to Adolfo Boy, the eviction process begins when “groups of lawyers, or property developers, that know the land registry, forge papers, and turn up and tell the peasants that they are the owners of this land”. He points out that beyond this, “there are paramilitary forces, thugs and police, all practically at the service of the expanding soy companies” who help finish the job.
The original land inhabitants and owners are left with two options: move to the slums surrounding the cities or submit themselves to the inhumane working conditions of life as an employee of one of the big agricultural companies. As Kneen puts it “one does not want to wonder how many of the ubiquitous garbage pickers on the streets of Buenos Aires were once small farmers”.
Laws: Present and Future
In a recent interview with Radio Mundo Real, Mocase-VC leader Cariló Olaiz, declared that existing laws that protect peasant farmers are not being enforced. He maintains that in the lead up to Galván’s death, the organisation informed local authorities in Santiago del Estero that the farmer was receiving death threats and that his life was in danger. “As in the case of Cristian (Ferreyra), we filed all the accusations and we even had a meeting with a judge in July. The government of Santiago del Estero was aware of this and did nothing to stop the armed gangs,” said Olaiz.
Mocase-VC blames the governor of the province, Gerardo Zamora, directly for Galván’s murder, given his lack of action in the lead up to it. They point out that on 3rd October, the provincial government of Santiago del Estero issued a report that highlighted the dangers faced by small farm owners trying to protect their land on a daily basis. Despite their awareness of the dangers, no measures were taken to protect peasants and a week later Galván was killed.
A protest in Santiago del Estero organised by Mocase-VC and MNCI Argentina (Photo courtesey of Mocase-VC and MNCI Argentina)
Now the National Peasant Movement (MNCI), along with other peasant and human rights organisations are urging the government and Congress to pass a new law that will bring an end to the evictions. A UN human rights council declared itself in favour of the bill, which was first called for following the death of Ferreyra, but has been consistently delayed by authorities ever since. Edgardo Depetri is one deputy who has pledged to do all he can to pass the law before the end of the year, but campaigners remain doubtful given the government’s history of slow progress when it comes to peasants’ rights. Neimann makes the point that “a law like the one protecting peasants from evictions is very important but it alone is not going to be sufficient. We need to improve the justice system, above all at a local level. Provincial governments need to understand that regulating the expansion of agribusinesses is vital”.
The Power of Monsanto
Monsanto is one of the world’s largest food production companies. It was Monsanto’s genetically modified RoundupReady soy (RR) that was approved by Menem in 1996. The RR technology allowed for soy to grow in arid areas, and in so doing greatly reduced the need for manual labour. Monsanto dominates the current soybean market in Argentina and is the driving force behind the corporate wave that is destroying peasant farming. Kneen offers a scathing verdict: “the clear and present danger is the corporate control of food, which is what Monsanto is clearly after. On this account, and because I despise its ruthless tactics, I do not hesitate to describe it as an evil company”.
The power that is held by the world’s largest food producers cannot be underestimated. Boy describes Monsanto as “a multinational that is capable of all types of corruption” whilst Neimann says that “it acts without any restrictions”.
Despite these traits, the Argentine government relentlessly pursue bigger and longer lasting deals with Monsanto and other big agribusiness companies. As recently as June of this year, president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner announced a new agreement with Monsanto. As part of her Agribusiness Strategic Plan (PEA), the president hopes to increase grain production by 60% to 160 million tonnes by 2020, 20% of which will be soy. Following the accord, president Fernández announced that she was “very happy because Argentina is now at the forefront of biotechnology”.
Whilst the revolutionary scientific developments made by companies such as Monsanto are undeniable, their products are not without faults. The exclusive use of RR has caused biotypes to disappear, weakened the soil, and made it less productive for future farming.
Rural populations have also been affected by the spraying of the herbicide due to its glyphosate content. Local doctors complain of higher cases of miscarriage, birth abnormalities, and respiratory dysfunction. As Kneen sums up “the danger may well turn out be genetic”. Not to mention the deforestation that has to occur in order to make way for the vast soybean plantations. The region of Santiago del Estero has shown one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world with an average of 0.81% of the forest torn away each year, compared with a global rate of 0.23%.
The Crop That Just Keeps on Giving
Though unpopular among human rights organisations, against a backdrop of record-high world prices for soy and other crops, the immediate economic gains of an industrial, concentrated agricultural model have so far dissuaded politicians from taking definitive action against it.
Silos of soy in the fields of Junin (Photo: Nicolas Lope de Barrios)
Given the increase in global commodity prices, Neimann explains that soy production gave the government “the opportunity to enter the market in a way it never had before. Governments all over the world are trying to make the most of any opportunities they have in the commodities market”. According to Boy, this is the reason why politicians sometimes employ a double standard. Officials do acknowledge that working conditions need to improve and that deforestation needs to be monitored, but yet they continue to ally themselves with the big agribusinesses.
Given the way in which international food companies are opting to persecute rather than coexist with small farmers, it would appear that Argentina cannot pursue biotechnology and simultaneously maintain a peasant farming model. Boy paints a bleak picture of the situation: “For the time being, nobody is going to break the soy model. It doesn’t matter what political party they are in, whoever comes in, is going to continue exactly as we are, because they all think the same. Not a single province or municipality is going to plant anything else. Nobody is thinking about local production or local development”.
In an interview with journalist Dario Aranda, Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel interpreted the current situation as evidence of the fact that the government “gives priority to economic interests over people’s lives”.
“It Will Happen Again”
The expansion of soy production in Argentina has equated to the invasion of peasant and indigenous territory by multinational agriculture companies. Government policy is deliberately replacing peasant agriculture with an agro-industrial model driven by the needs of multinational corporations. At both national and provincial levels, they are enabling this to happen; they are either postponing or not enforcing peasant’s rights laws, and meanwhile people continue to be killed. Widespread deforestation is taking place and cultural and biological diversity is being destroyed.
Industry vs Nature (Image courtesy of Grupo de Reflexion Rural)
As Kneen puts it “agribusiness today exists to produce crops as a means to make money. It fosters the exploitation of people, land, and resources to produce crops to export and trade elsewhere”. The international peasant organisation, Via Campesina, says that the expansion of soy is pushing Argentina’s small farmowners and their methods of production to the brink of “irredeemable extinction”.
“The current agricultural model is a way of farming without the farmer” says Boy. “Nowadays, politicians are not motivated by the same things we are; what has happened to us, the violence, the urbanisation, the displacement. Argentina is not a happy place. All this is because of the agricultural model”.
Following the recent murder of Miguel Galván, Mocase-VC released a statement entitled “It could have been avoided, it will happen again”. In light of the government’s recent activity regarding the new deal with Monsanto, and inactivity concerning peasant’s rights, it is hard to disagree.
The biggest players in the food industry—from pesticide pushers to fertilizer makers to food processors and manufacturers—spend billions of dollars every year not selling food, but selling the idea that we need their products to feed the world. But, do we really need industrial agriculture to feed the world? Can sustainably grown food deliver the quantity and quality we need—today and in the future? The Food MythBusters film takes on these questions in under seven minutes.
The following presentation by Nettie Wiebe was published in July 2010. It is as relevant today as it was 2 years ago, and so we publish it again here......
Professor Nettie Wiebe has emerged as one of Canada’s most articulate opponents of a globalization model that serves transnational agri-business corporations at the expense of small farmers.
Nettie Wiebe grew up farming in Saskatchewan. Today she and her husband are still farming. But Nettie’s commitment to learning and to activism, along with her love of farming, have combined to create one of Canada’s most prominent women change makers. Nettie is the past president of the National Farmer’s Union, a Professor of Church and Society at University of Saskatchewan’s St. Andrew’s College, and a federal candidate for the New Democratic Party. She is also a founding member of Via Campesina, Nettie was the first woman to serve on its governing body, the International Coordinating Committee (ICC).
Via a Skype connection, Nettie was able to be a guest presenter at the 2010 Food Connect Foundation ‘Food Sovereignty through Farmer Solidarity’ event that was co-ordinated as part of a visit to Australia by Via Campesina executive members.
This is her presentation……
This is so astonishing, speaking here from Saskatchewan, Canada and to think you are hearing me in Australia. This is amazing. I want to bring my warmest greetings to you and I do wish I was there in person because I’m sure I would learn a lot more from you than I could possibly impart to you over these next few minutes.
But let me just say if the technology is not too problematic, I always like the discussion a lot more than the monologue, so I would really welcome questions and discussion. But I’ll just launch in here and give you a bit of a background on who I am and why we in the Farmers Union in Canada have been so clear about our participation and the strengthening of La Via Campesina from our point of view.
I am an organic farmer in Saskatchewan, what we call a small scale family farm, and it is here as elsewhere in the world, a disappearing kind of farm. Peasant and small scale agriculture is, as you know, under tremendous stress and attack, almost in all parts of the world, and especially so in the so called developed countries, like Canada, US, European countries, Australia and New Zealand. We’ve sort of been at the cutting edge of the industrialization, the corporatization of agriculture, and that’s been tremendously hard on small scale farmers.
So I’m really excited that you’re working on the reconnecting of food to people, and to farming, and thinking about our food system in a more holistic way, and I think in a much healthier way.
We started with La Via Campesina because in the late 1980’s as you recall, we were in negotiations. Your country, our country and most of the nations of the world, were in negotiations on the GATT and for the first time, agriculture was being included in the GATT negotiations. So we were in a particular place here in Canada, because we had signed a few years previously into a trade agreement with the USA. And you must know that the USA is 10 times bigger than we are, in almost every way. We signed an agreement that had included agriculture and the removal of tariffs and the free flow of agricultural goods across our border into the USA.
We, as Canadian farmers already knew from our experience, that these kinds of agreements are tremendously beneficial to the trade, our trade numbers with the USA got a real boost. They are tremendously profitable for the corporate sector and they put a lot of stress on and try to destroy farmer marketing boards, and any kind of farmer power in these kind of arrangements.
So we already knew about this, even though our negotiators and our government were really enthusiastic and our trade numbers were a success, and our agricultural goods were going up even more rapidly than they had predicted. So from the official media and official government line it was a brilliant success.
Meanwhile we small scale farmers, we family farmers, were having a tougher time than ever and we were losing more farm families from the land than ever before. So for us on the farmer level it was anything but a success. It was very threatening. When they arrived with the GATT negotiations, we realized that ‘oops’, they are going to do to the whole world what we’ve just experienced.
We were part of that small group of progressive farm leaders that talked together and said, let’s just look at how this is working for farmers, not for the trade, not for the export numbers, not for the production, but for farmers and farm families, and have a critical look at how this is affecting us all.
And remarkably, it became quite clear quickly that no matter whether you were a half hectare farmer in Indonesia, or a 2,000 acre farmer in Saskatchewan, that trade agreements, that liberalization of agricultural trade, was going to have a very negative affect on all of us. Actually, we, as primary producers, small scale producers, are pretty much all in the same boat.
So that gave us a sense that we needed to be speaking for ourselves in these trade agreements, and we ought to have a voice, a global voice. Until then, we had been organised in Canada on a provincial level, and eventually on a national level, because that was where our agricultural policies were being formulated. Now it became clear that the way in which agriculture was going to be shaped for us, what we were going to be producing, who was producing, who would make any money on it and who would survive it, and in the end, who would eat and what they would eat, was going to be determined elsewhere in the world. It was going to be determined by key trade negotiators, the big countries, and even more importantly, by the corporate sector, the transnational traders who were actually going to be in control of that production and trade.
We realised that we recognized the need to work in solidarity with farmers from around the world, who in many ways are very unlike us but in the key component of what we are defending are very like us.
When we got together – our first big assembly was in 1996 in Tlaxcala, Mexico, we hammered out a series of positions on trade, on care of food, on culturally appropriate food, on protections of our culture, our land and our water. And importantly, and very importantly for me, on the recognition that if we were going to transform agriculture into a healthy and sustainable system, women would have a key role. This was because in many of our households, and many of our farms, the work of women was largely unrecognized but was essential to the life of our families and our communities and to the health of our people.
In La Via Campesina in the beginning, the role of women and the leadership of women was a valuable and a very unique component of this global movement. As you know, and I knew from my own experience in Canada, that the leadership of women in agriculture has been very tentative and often absent at the national and international levels. It’s been the role of women to make sure that there’s eggs in the fridge and that the family food system works well, but beyond that, once you get to the agribusiness corporate room, there are painfully few women making key decisions around food and agriculture.
In Via Campesina we decided early on that the role of women was going to be an important component of this movement because we needed solidarity in a way which farm organisations haven’t achieved or even imagined, before we were catapulted into this global context of defending our ground.
So in Tlaxcala in 1996, we took care that there would be at least one woman, and it turned out to be myself that time, on the international co-ordinating committee, that would work globally to try and solidify and build solidarity among very diverse and autonomous farm organisations. That part is important in Via Campesina because not only do we tolerate diversity, we cherish diversity, culturally and agriculturally.
It’s as important culturally as it is for our biodiversity, that we protect and honour differences and allow for and encourage that we move away from monocultures and one kind of a diet globally, and that’s what corporate agriculture offers us. McDonalds burger in Bangkok that tastes very much like the McDonalds burger in Saskatchewan. That’s where monoculture of food and monoculture of production is very destructive, environmentally and in terms of biodiversity, and it’s very destructive culturally.
So in Via Campesina, we embrace that kind of diversity, knowing that all of our futures depend on that sustainability, on those differences being there, and in the kind of food we produce. We know that we produce in different food environments, in different agronomic environments, in different political environments, and we need to make sure that that continues to be the case.
Question: How do you get on with Monsanto?
Answer: We have a very contentious relationship with Monsanto. Monsanto has, since 1996, had a commercial GMO canola which is now so widespread, and so contaminating, that we organic farmers are unable to grow any canola at all because we can no longer be assured that it’s not contaminated. All of the so called conventional canola in western Canada has GMO strains in it. So we have no more non GMO crop, and for this kind of mass biological contamination, we have no remedy. As a matter of fact, Monsanto takes no responsibility or has any liability for this kind of contamination. They own the technology, they sell it at a very high price to those growing canola, they have a corner on the market, and that’s the position we are in. Monsanto in some ways is the poster boy for what’s wrong with the global situation now.
Question: What were the sorts of challenges the NFU faced over the years in maintaining a focus on international farming issues when you’ve had so many issues locally and nationally, as we do in Australia? Answer: My goodness, I feel like I’m back in my president’s chair because one of the things I faced repeatedly was exactly that question. We would be in a farmers meeting and farmers would say to me, look we have all this trouble here in Canada, what are you doing spending this time working internationally. Why don’t we work nationally. And I would walk everyone through it – we started with provincial, we went to national, and you know what, some of the main decisions that are affecting you, everything from the price of inputs to the export market to who sells what, to what you are being encouraged to grow, and certainly to the price you are getting, is in fact not being decided in our capital city. It’s being decided around the trade tables and the corporate board tables, and if we are going to get any control of this, we are going to have to work globally.
And then I would say, as an encouragement, by the end of my tenure, and I was President for 4 years, by the end of that tenure that question never came again, because it became more and more obvious a lot of what was happening in our food system is in fact controlled elsewhere.
And that’s what Food Sovereignty is all about, it’s taking control back home around food related issues. Water quality, who owns the land, what kind of seed we get to use, who grows food for us, we need to take those decisions back home.
Question: I was doing some research some years ago and couldn’t believe that there was no Via Campesina here in Australia, when it was in Canada, USA and Europe and the developing world. And I thought why haven’t Australian farmers risen up and taken part in this organisation. I’m absolutely thrilled to be here today and I’m just wanting to ask you, what are the steps we should take here in Australia to establish this wonderful organisation here.
Answer: Let me begin there by saying that I don’t feel like I’m in any position to give advice. Here are some ideas: It’s important that farmers have their own voice and that they delineate what’s important to them. Often that farmers voice, and that’s particularly true here in Canada, and probably in Australia, that the farmers voice is really manipulated and diverted by all of the experts and the agribusiness interests that want to ensure that farmers continue to produce what they need for their profits, and are completely unconcerned about the well being of farm families, rural communities, soils, waters etc.
It’s been hard for farmers to divest themselves of those manipulative forces that want to delink them, decouple them, from their own real interests in agriculture. So that’s been part of that struggle. The struggle has been close to home. How confident we feel about what we’re doing and how empowered we are to say what we need to say.
But if you’ve got strong organisations, even local organisations - within Via Campesina we’ve been very conscientious not to be insistent that an organisation has to already have all the farmers in that country as part of its membership, or anything like that. Small organisations can join the regional Via Campesina, and begin to work in solidarity with others in their regions for the international changes that we need to affect.
I know that one of the big areas for us in industrialized countries, is to actually consider ourselves to be peasants, and I know that in USA and Canada when I have addressed farmers, I begin by saying we are peasants, and you can just see them, there’s a sort of unease. In the English language, peasant has begun to be an insult, and then I clarify that peasant actually means, people of the land, and if we the people of the land want to ensure that the land remains productive and healthy and produces food for the all the people of the world, then we the people of the land need to be proud to be people of the land.
That’s why we should claim that culture of looking after our own soils, and being people of the land. That’s what industrial farmers find very hard to do because they have been distanced from their own places. We’ve been manipulated into thinking that somehow the more industrialized we are the further from the actual land we are, the more sophisticated our inputs, the more productive we are, bushels per acre, the better farmers we are.
It’s a crisis for us so it’s time for us to take back our position as those who care for the land, and those on whom the well being of our environment really depends. I always say that environmentalism in urban areas is extremely important, but you know what, the front line, the interface between us human beings and the land that feeds us is farmers. And that’s never been a more important role than now.
So it’s that encouragement for farmers and food activists to take that back, their own voice, to understand the issues and draw the places where we need to take back control of seed, of agriculture production, what kind of production and try to stand in the way of the major land grabbing, divestment of people that is going on in agriculture.