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India: A New Way of Cultivating Rice

India: A New Way of Cultivating Rice

Some farmers in Tamil Nadu, southern state of India, are using less water and fewer seeds to grow more rice. It is a new way of cultivating rice, and it is raising hopes that the rice yield could increase, without draining the country of scarce water and resources.
World Food Prices: Impact on South Asia
- Agriculture for Development
- South Asia can manage with right actions
- South Asia's Poor at Risk

Second Green Revolution

June 10, 2008 - India made enormous strides during and after the Green Revolution that enabled the country to become self sufficient in food grains. The revolution allowed India to lift millions of people out of poverty. Agricultural growth during this period reduced poverty by raising farm incomes, increasing the demand for rural labor, and reducing food prices.

However, from the early 1990s, India’s agricultural growth has been stagnant at less than 2 percent, well below the growth rates of other sectors. In 2006, while India’s agriculture sector contributed only 16 percent to national GDP, about 70 percent of India’s poor, who mostly live in rural areas, depended on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Revival of Agriculture in South Asia: Essential to Combat High Food Prices

Food Price Inflation

The continuing increase in world food prices has brought agriculture productivity in focus. From March 2007 to March 2008 the overall food price inflation in India was around 6 percent. However, in the past two years domestic prices of wheat and rice have increased by 30 percent and 35 percent respectively (in US dollar terms).

In the short run, India has managed to partially insulate consumers from high world food prices with combined effects of a comfortable supply situation, an appreciating exchange rate and restrictions on grain trade. However, a number of signs suggest that new challenges lie ahead.

Agricultural Revival

The recent 2008 World Development Report shows that the India’s agriculture sector faces major constraints due to low investment and dilapidated irrigation infrastructure. Coupled with India’s recent high economic growth that is likely to increase demand for water from industry, less water will be available for agriculture.

In order to face this challenge, India needs to make significant and sustained investments in agricultural research, agricultural and general infrastructure in rural areas such as irrigation, roads, transport, and power. In addition, investments in rural finance and access to markets and technology are also critical to revive and sustain agriculture productivity.

In fact, the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, addressing Global Agro Industries Forum in New Delhi on April 10, 2008 said, “We need a Second Green Revolution. We need new technologies, new organizational structures, new institutional responses and, above all, a new compact between farmers, technologists, scientists, administrators, businessmen, bankers and consumers. The global community and global agencies must fashion a collective response that leads to a quantum leap in agricultural productivity and output so that the spectre of food shortages is banished from the horizon once again.”

Water Stress

Any significant growth in agriculture depends on increasing the efficiency and productive use of water. India is a water stressed country, 45 percent of all available water is utilized for agriculture with ground water accounting for about 70 percent. A World Bank study estimates that by 2020, India’s demand for water will exceed all sources of supply. It is imperative that India strengthens its irrigation structure and improved agriculture practices.

Revival of Agriculture in South Asia: Essential to Combat High Food Prices

World Bank Role

The World Bank is assisting the southern state of Tamil Nadu in its undertaking to improve irrigation service delivery and productivity of irrigated agriculture with effective integrated water resources management. TN-IAMWARM (Tamil Nadu - Irrigated Agriculture Modernization and Water-Bodies Restoration and Management), is a multi-disciplinary project consisting of Irrigated Agriculture Modernization and Water Resource Management.

Tamil Nadu is one of the driest states in India, with only 925 millimeters of rainfall a year. The per capita availability of water resources is 900 cubic meters a year, as compared to India’s average of 2,200 cubic meters.

Agriculture consumes 75 percent of the state’s water. So, in order for Tamil Nadu to increase agriculture growth in a sustainable manner, it is necessary to adopt alternative and eco-friendly methods of cultivation.

System of Rice Intensification

One of the successful components of this project is the System of Rice Intensification or SRI. It is an emerging alternative to the conventional way of flooded rice cultivation and is already addressing the problems of water scarcity, high energy usage, and environmental degradation.

V.K. Ravichandran, Professor of Agronomy, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University said, “We are using younger seedlings of 14 days old as compared to 25-30 days old as in the case of conventional plantings. So the young vigor of the seedlings can be exploited in this SRI technique.”

SRI is a combination of five important management techniques. “It encompasses transplanting of 14-day young seedlings at wider spacing with only one seedling per hill, water management that keeps the soil moist but not continuously flooded — alternate wetting and drying, mechanical weeding through a rotary weeder, and higher use of organic compost as fertilizer,” added Professor Ravichandran.

SRI produces higher yields (40-80 per cent) with less seed (85 per cent) and water use (32 per cent saving)

Singadavardan, a farmer in Villupuram district, said the SRI system requires far fewer seeds, which saves him money. “In the normal way of planting, I would use about 30 kg of seeds per acre, but with this method, I’ve used only 3 kg per acre and on top of that, the labor is also cheaper,” said Singadavardan.

During 2006-07, the first year of introduction, only 4600 hectares were cultivated with this method. Now, almost 450,000 hectares or about 20 percent of Tamil Nadu rice cultivation area are under SRI.

India's Agricultural Spending


In the long term increased rice yields will boost nutrition, improve health, and drive the local economy. If Indian farmers use SRI on just 25 percent of the conventionally-farmed area, estimates are they could grow additional 5 million tons of rice—enough to feed about four million families a year.

Additional Resources

- World Food Prices: South Asia's poor at risk
Expanding existing social assistance programs that directly targets poor households is necessary to protect South Asia’s poor. (Read More »)

- Agriculture for Development
The 2008 World Development Report calls for a revival of agriculture in South Asia. Agricultural development is key to eradicating poverty and creating conditions for sustainable and equitable growth. (Read More »)

- South Asia: Development Data
A wide range of social and economic measures on South Asia, including links to the World Bank's most important online development databases. (Read More »)

- South Asia: Analysis and Research
Compilation of all the World Bank's publications on South Asia, with 'search' options and links to analysis and research on other South Asian countries. (Read More »)

- World Bank Program in South Asia
Launching pad to all information on World Bank activities in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.(Read More »)

Data Source: Directorate of Economics and Statistics (DES), Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India

For more information, please visit the Projects website.

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