Development of the System of
Rice Intensification in
The development of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) 20 years ago in Madagascar by Fr. Henri de Laulanié, S.J. -- based on 20 years of working with farmers to improve their rice production without dependence on external inputs - is a most unusual case. It is unusual partly because SRI is one of the most remarkable agricultural innovations of the last century. It is also unusual because of the resistance, sometimes vehement, that it has encountered from the scientific community despite the evident benefits that it offered particularly for poor farmers and for the environment: doubling yields or even more without requiring the use of fertilizer or other chemical inputs, and using less water.
This case demonstrates a lesson for scientists, extension personnel and farmers -for all to be open to new ideas, no matter what their source. Not every proposed change in agricultural practices warrants much attention; but if a possible innovation would have many benefits, it should be subjected to empirical rather than logical tests, because our scientific knowledge is not (and never will be) perfect or complete. In the SRI case, a paradigm shift was involved, one that is not yet fully understood and certainly not universally accepted. Typical positivist approaches for testing and validating new knowledge were not applicable because larger issues were at stake, issues that are not amenable to either proof or disproof just by hypothesis testing.
The case is instructive as it goes against the now popular view that farmer knowledge, being based on generations of trial-and-error and subsequent validation, is a superior source of information and provides insights about how