Can 'rice intensification' feed the world?
Rice feeds more than half the people in the world; but not well and not for much longer. As the population rises, so does the demand for rice, yet yields of the crop are levelling out, despite efforts on a variety of fronts, including genetic engineering of rice strains for improved nutrition and growth.
So it is no surprise that a simple method that claims to boost yields at lower cost to farmers is being hailed by many as a solution. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), developed in the late 1980s in Madagascar works on three tenets: that seedlings should be transplanted quickly when young; that plants should be spaced widely apart; and that fields should be kept moist but not flooded.
But, as Christopher Surridge reports, although advocates of SRI routinely report yields of up to twice those achieved by conventional agriculture, many eminent agronomists dismiss such achievements as the result of poor record keeping and unscientific thinking.