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Another argument against GMO's


"What happened in Darveshpura has divided scientists and is exciting governments and development experts. 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 of Root Intensification (SRI). It has dramatically increased yields with wheat, potatoes, sugar cane, yams, tomatoes, garlic, aubergine and many other crops and is being hailed as one of the most significant developments of the past 50 years for the world's 500 million small-scale farmers and the two billion people who depend on them."

Hear that Monsanto? Cargill? ADM?

"In a village in India's poorest state, Bihar, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM, and no herbicide. Is this one solution to world food shortages?"

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reslez's picture
Submitted by reslez on

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...

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair

SRI is a nonstarter for top-down NGOs and other hierarchical, elite-driven systems.

Submitted by Lex on

I dug around a bit more and there's a broader category called System of Crop Intensification that goes far beyond the rice exemplified in the article, though it appears the greatest benefit has been seen in grass/grain crops. Interestingly, mustard (rape/canola) also showed very large increases using SCI methods.

This is good, horticultural practice and it's heartening to know that farmers (usually small holders) using the method are getting yield increases far bigger than they get from GMO seeds. More importantly, they're doing so with fewer inputs all around and thereby more than balancing the slight increase in labor input.

This here link seems like a nice, readable compendium of the system applied to multiple crops in multiple locations.

Submitted by lambert on

It's not clear to me that it can be applied cookie-cutter fashion, a la the Green Revolution, where all the inputs in essence come from far away in bags or trucks. The soil matters, and I read (somewhere in my travels) that these farmers had a tradition of manuring their soil.

Whether SCI would work starting with the powdery soil that results after decades of industrial farming is an open question. Still, soil is pretty smart. Smarter than we are, so remediation/regeneration might be possible...

Submitted by Lex on

Yes, my minor amount of research this morning all suggests that it's not just plant spacing and better control/different methods of irrigation. The farmers appear to soak their seeds in a mixture of beneficial fungi, cow urine, etc. Basically every example i read also discusses manure/mulch additions, though it was unclear to me whether this addition was spread evenly or concentrated in the planting areas.

No agriculture will be zero input, but it sounds like their inputs are of the hyper-local waste variety which is obviously the best input set for closing the ecological loop and from a business perspective. There were some trials i found where farmers used chemical fertilizer. I'm not a good enough ideologue on that matter; small amounts with focused use can have very beneficial results ... but it's a tool not THE tool.

It almost certainly would. Most of the farmers make it sound like it's a good deal extra work initially but becomes less work as time goes on which is standard for most horticultural practices. It's also clear that these farmers are inoculating soil with microbial life. Composting and inoculation would work on any soil, though the start quality will determine how long the plot requires heavy additions. It's that building time where small additions of chemical fertilizers can be very beneficial. It also sounds like the farmers often use mineral amendments. For the Indians, there are reports of them adding dairy products (ghee, yoghurt, etc.) which seems odd but some of that will contain cultures and other facets of it probably work as feed for other cultures.

Small holders almost certainly manure their soil because they generally have some type of livestock on hand for personal production or as a part of the diversified operation.

You're right that it may not be cookie cutter, but the yield increases are astounding and if readily repeatable (as the literature suggests) would make it worth it for even big American farms to begin transitioning some portions of their land to it even if it's not immediately practical to convert the whole thing. I have not, however, compared crop yields from SCI to American crop yields.

Submitted by lambert on

... and I would be surprises if there were fungi in there too.

* * *

That's what I had in mind when I was thinking about remediation, but I hadn't though of it precisely enough ("smart soil" would be a useful moniker).

Thing is, as you point out, it does have to be local. Not sure that any comparisons are really useful, if you're a collapsophile/phobe. The point is, is it the best you can do with what comes to hand? The answer there seems to be yes.

I'd love to hear from SCI geeks, way more geeky than the Guardian reporter :-)

Submitted by Lex on

The Cornell website seems to be the geekiest i found, thought the link i posted has some geekness to it as well as references to what i would assume would be even deeper geektitude.

What i read suggests that there's less geekiness and more art to the practice. There are a few rules based on over-arching concepts and the rest appears to be developed based on local circumstances. The few mentions i found of it on permaculture sites or prepper sites were very basic. My guess is that the concept doesn't appeal to this kind of geekiness because it doesn't apply to what the people involved are generally trying to do. The direct application of the concept is mostly to cereal grains, which are uncommon garden fare. The spacing idea (the big part of SCI) doesn't really apply to gardening or small farms, which are usually very large gardens.

I will, however, see if i can promote some geekiness related to this. The MSU experimental station near here is using a friend heavily and moving from researching wheat fungus to becoming an experimental station for small, diversified farms. This seems like a perfect method to test at an experimental station given that the reported yields are enough to produce large quantities on small plots with extremely low input percentages.

Submitted by lambert on

Permaculure is all about using what comes to hand and if SCI is soil dependent then it is, also (because soil is a heck of a lot more than rock in bags coming from far away).

I have all these keen mapping tools... I would love to make maps of "agriculture as horticulture" sites....

Submitted by Lex on

And while you're technically correct, for the most part the talking point is that the only way we'll feed ourselves is with GMO. The consistently reported yield increases of SCI are significantly higher than any GMO study/claim i've ever seen. More importantly, it's done with fewer seeds and far fewer inputs. To date, most GMO yield increases are not directly related to the genetic modification but to a modification that allows for more input or to replace an input.

Of course, that's not to say that a well conceptualized GMO seed cultivated using these practices wouldn't show an even greater yield increase. But so long as GMO seeds are patent protected, any yield increase over SCI without GMO seeds would have to be so great as to outweigh the farmer being forced to buy new seed every year for the rest of his life. (as that's the end result of planting patent-protected GMO seeds)