Sumant Kumar who live in Darveshpura, Bihar was overjoyed when he managed to produce over 20 tonnes of rice. He set a new record beating the then existing record of 19.4 tonnes by a Chinese scientist and so called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Father of Hybrid Rice.Ã¢â‚¬Â
In 2012, when Sumant harvest his rice crop, there had been good rain in the village and he knew that he could improve on 4-5 tonnes per hectare that he usually managed. But every stalk he cut on his paddy field near the bank of the Sakri river seemed to weigh heavier than usual, every grain of rice was bigger and when his crop was weighed on the old village scales, Kumar was shocked to see that this was not 5-6 or even 10 tonnes but it was astonishing 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land. This was a new world record with rice, the staple food of more than half the world’s population of seven billion, which was big news.
But Kumar was not alone in attaining agricultural glory. Nitish Kumar, a friend of the rice king, broke the worldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s record for potatoes by harvesting 72.9 tons per hectare last March. His mark, however, was surpassed a few months later when Rakesh Kumar, from another Nalanda village, grew 108.8 tons. Ravindra Kumar, from a nearby field, took IndiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s record for wheat.
Sumant became a local hero, mentioned in the Indian parliament and asked to attend conferences. The state’s chief minister came to Darveshpura to congratulate him, and the village was rewarded with electric power, a bank and a new concrete bridge. Darveshpura became known as India’s “miracle village”. The villagers, who used to go without food in bad years due to erratic weather, celebrated. But the Bihar state agricultural universities didn’t believe them at first. The Nalanda farmers were accused of cheating. Only when the state’s head of agriculture, a rice farmer himself, came to the village with his own men and personally verified Sumant’s crop, was the record confirmed.
Teams of scientists, development groups, farmers, civil servants and politicians all descended to discover its secret. Tests on the soil show it is particularly rich in silicon but the reason for the “super yields” is entirely down to a method of growing crops called System ofÃ‚Â RiceÃ‚Â (or root) Intensification (SRI).
SRI is a methodology aimed at increasing the yield of rice produced in farming. It is a low water, Labour intensive, organic method that uses younger seedling singly spaced and typically hand weeded with tools. With the SRI system farmers can produce more from less.
Instead of planting three-week-old rice seedlings in clumps of three or four in waterlogged fields, as rice farmers around the world traditionally do, the Darveshpura farmers carefully nurture only half as many seeds, and then transplant the young plants into fields, one by one, when much younger. Additionally, they space them at 25cm intervals in a grid pattern, keep the soil much drier and carefully weed around the plants to allow air to their roots. What all have to keep in mind is that SRI is not a fixed set of rules but as a general method that farmers have to adapt Ã¢â‚¬â€œ rather than adopt Ã¢â‚¬â€œ to their local realities. SRI offers millions of disadvantaged households far better opportunities. Nobody is benefiting from this except the farmers; there are no patents, royalties or licensing fees.”
Sumant, Nitish and as many as 100,000 other SRI farmers in Bihar are now preparing their further rice crop. It’s back-breaking work transplanting the young rice shoots from the nursery beds to the paddy fields but buoyed by recognition and results, their confidence and optimism in the future is sky high.
Bihar, from being India’s poorest state, is now at the centre of what is being called a “new green grassroots revolution” with farming villages, research groups and NGOs all beginning to experiment with different crops using SRI. The state will invest $50m in SRI next year but western governments and foundations are holding back, preferring to invest in hi-tech research. The agronomist Anil Verma does not understand why: “The farmers know SRI works, but help is needed to train them. We know it works differently in different soils but the principles are solid,” he says. “The biggest problem we have is that people want to do it but we do not have enough facilities & trainers.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We only want that all those people who give us our daily fodder, gets there also.”