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ICSCI22 Field Visits Day 1

Farmers are the main actors

The International Conference on the System of Crop Intensification (ICSCI22) held at ICAR-IIRR in Hyderabad on 12th-14th December 2022 strongly promoted the interaction among farmers from different Indian states and between farmers and scientists, as presented in the blog post on Day 3 of the Conference.

Some virtuous farmers around Hyderabad made their farms available for field visits so that those who traveled all through India for joining the conference could also benefit from an in-person experience of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and the System of Crop Intensification (SCI) implementation.

On 15th December 2022, a field visit was organised for the delegates and farmers to the SRI fields of Mr. Nagaratnam Naidu, a progressive farmer, followed by a visit to the System of Millet Intensification fields at Shamirpet.

The effect of long-term implementation of sustainable practices

The first farm visited was property of Mr. Nagaratnam Naidu and it was located in the outskirt of Hyderabad but, given the dimension and the traffic of the city, it took more than an hour and half to reach it. Mr. Nagaratnam Naidu is a man in his 50s with a great story to tell. Once we were protected from the aggressive sun by the tall and lush trees that provide the shadow in the area dedicated to training and presentations, Mr. Nagaratnam Naidu introduced his experience with SRI/SCI to the farmers. Of particular interest was the presentation of the machinery utilized.

Mr. Nagaratnam Naidu presenting a simple tool for marking the soil before SRIi-rice transplantation

After a very tasty vegan lunch prepared with the products of the farm, Mr. Nagaratnam shared his story. When he bought the land, over 20 years before, there was just sand and dried grass during the dry season. The price of the land was low and the city was much more far than today. Through the plantation of multiple local trees, shrubs, flowers, perennials and annual crops, the soil increased in organic matter, soil biodiversity and structure were restored and the annual rainwater and humidity was retained by the soil. Thanks to these processes triggered by floral biodiversity the area was lushing and productive also during the dry season, the period of our visit.

The lushing environment of the farm

It really seemed like a different climate-zone compared to the farms in the surroundings, but the only difference was in the agricultural management of the past 20 years or so. The adoption of SRI/SCI practices allowed Mr. Nagaratnam to reduce his need for water and inputs while enhancing his production. Also, by adopting SRI methods the rice crop cycle was fastened and he had more option for crop rotation and to diversify his income, a key aspect of his success.

An harvest SRI field in the farm

Before leaving Mr. Nagaratnam invited the international participants to meet his mother who he said was around 100 years old.

International participants and Mr Nagaratnam's mother

Designing new sustainable farms

During late afternoon farmers and international participants went together to the second farm in Shamirpet, a location more distant from the city. There we visited a new farm managed by young professionals who finished their agricultural studies not long ago and now wanted to put their learning into practice. We were offered a delicious tea and showed around the farm, which was not very big, but included a millet field, a vegetable garden and an area for tree plantation. The management was fully organic and, for the cultivation of millet it was following the principles of the System of Millet Intensification which recall those of SRI but with a water management that fits the requirements of millet crop.

Vaious moments of the field visits

The entire farm was designed according to principles of permaculture utilizing the peculiarities of the land to conserve energy and resources. In fact sustainable farming needs holistic approaches to take advantage of the natural regenerative tendencies of ecosystems for restoring the balance between agricultural and wild landscapes while ensuring stable yields and higher returns.

Final Thoughts

While returning to the city, stuck in Hyderabad's traffic, I found myself thinking that it is great to see examples like the ones I saw that day and it is especially good meeting young farmers excited to work and disseminate sustainable agricultural practices. However, it is important to understand the reasons why, if those farms are so successful both from an environmental and economic points of views, are still the exception and not the norm. Probably unsupportive policies and the lack of knowledge are two major aspect of the problem, but economic interests behind the industrial type of agriculture are also playing a role. There is a lot of work to innovate the way we produce food, but these examples give some hope. From our side, SRI-2030 works constantly to raise awareness on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) methods at policy level and with international institutions so that those who can act at scale will contribute to disseminate this valuable component for the needed shift of the entire food production sector to achieve sustainability and food security.

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