SRI was developed in Madagascar in the early 1980s by Father Henri de Laulaníe, a Jesuit priest who spent over 30 years in that country working with farmers. In 1990, Association Tefy Saina (ATS) was formed as a Malagasy NGO to promote SRI. Four years later, the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD), began cooperating with Tefy Saina to introduce SRI around the Ranomafana National Park in eastern Madagascar, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It has since been tested in China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with positive results.
In Madagascar, on some of the poorest soil to be found and where yields of 2 tons/hectare were the norm, farmers using SRI are now averaging over 8 tons/hectare, with some getting 10 to 15 tons/hectare. A few farmers have even gotten over 20 tons/hectare. In other parts of the country, over a five-year period, hundreds of farmers averaged 8 to 9 tons/hectare.
SRI methods have at least doubled the yields of any variety of rice that has been tried. No external inputs are necessary for a farmer to benefit from SRI. The methods should work with any seeds that are now being used. However, you do need to have an open mind about new methods and a willingness to experiment. With SRI, plants are treated as the living organisms that they are, rather than as machines to be manipulated. The potential within plants is drawn out by giving them the best possible conditions for their growth.
At first, the practices that constitute SRI seem somewhat counter intuitive. SRI challenges assumptions and practices that have been in place for hundreds, even thousands of years. Most rice farmers plant fairly mature seedlings (2030 days old), in clumps, fairly close together, with standing water maintained on the field for as much of the season as possible. Why? These practices seem to reduce the risk of crop failure. It seems logical that more mature plants should survive better; that planting in clumps will ensure that some plants will survive transplanting; that planting more seedlings should result in more yield; and that planting in standing water means the plants will never lack water and weeds will have little opportunity to grow.
Despite this reasoning, farmers have not found that using SRI practices puts their crops at any more risk than do traditional methods.