Growing more rice with less water - WWF report

A new method of growing rice that could save hundreds of billions of cubic metres of water and increase food security, was released in a report by WWF today.

Published 03 October 2007
A new method of growing rice that could save hundreds of billions of
cubic metres of water and increase food security, was released in a
report by WWF today.

Focusing on India - a country which faces a major water crisis, yet has
the world's largest area under rice cultivation - the More
Rice with Less Water report found that the 'rice intensification' method
(SRI) has helped increase yields by over 30 per cent - four to five
tonnes per hectare instead of three tonnes per hectare - whilst using 40 per cent less water than conventional methods.

In addition, this method will reduce significant amounts of methane
emissions, since SRI fields do not emit methane as is the case with
conventional methods.

The method is based on eight principles which are different to
conventional rice cultivation. They include developing nutrient-rich and
un-flooded nurseries instead of flooded ones; ensuring wider spacing between the seedlings; preferring composts or farmyard manure to synthetic fertilizers; and managing water carefully to avoid saturating the plants' roots.

The method was initially developed in the 1980s in Madagascar and has been demonstrated to be effective in 28 countries.

"Although the system of rice intensification has shown its
advantages, it is not widely practised" said Dr Biksham Gujja, Senior
Policy Adviser at WWF International. "It is time to start large-scale
programmes to support a method that could make a lasting global impact with far-reaching benefits to people and nature."

However, caution was urged as SRI is not the answer to the agriculture-water crisis, as in each case the appropriateness and suitability of SRI will depend on the particular biophysical conditions of the site, as well as the objectives of individual farmers.

SRI produces more rice for less water, but requires more work from the individual farmer to do more weeding and more coordination amongst neighbouring farmers for water management.

Demand for water-intensive crops such as rice is expected to increase (globally) by 38 per cent by 2040, deepening the water crisis during the same time.

However, less than 6 per cent of rice is traded internationally and savings in water have potential for mitigating domestic water conflicts, especially in poor, rural areas where water is scarce. This is especially the case where water saved is returned to rivers or aquifers for conservation benefits.

The report suggests that major rice-producing countries such as India, China and Indonesia should convert at least 25 per cent of their current rice cultivation to the new system by 2025. This would not only
massively reduce the use of water but also help ensure food security.

For example, if the SRI method was applied in 20 million hectares of
land under rice cultivation in India, the country could meet its food
grain objectives of 220 million tonnes of grain by 2012 instead of 2050.

Authorities in the Indian state of Tripura, in North East India, have
already committed to move in that direction.

"Our farmers proved that the system of rice intensification improves
productivity and we will convert at least 40 per cent of our rice
cultivation using this method over the next five years," said Manik
Sarkar, Chief Minister of Tripura State. "We urge this as a model for
rice cultivation elsewhere as it represents one hope for the water
crisis affecting so many billions of people."

Already 1.2 billion people have no access to adequate water for
drinking and hygiene. WWF is focusing on sustainable agriculture efforts for cotton, sugar and rice, some of the most water-consuming crops for which alternative techniques can result in a strong yield and water savings.

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