Category Archives: rice

Rice Provides 19 Percent of Daily Calories for People, on Average

This graphic reveals the daily average caloric intake of each person on the planet for rice, wheat, and corn. Forty-two percent of the human population’s daily caloric intake comes from the three cereal crops of rice, wheat, and corn.


The vast majority of rice consumption and production is in Asia. The commodity is thinly traded and California’s drought this year reduced the U.S.’s production. Overall, the world is rice secure, as most regions of the globe produce more than they consume.

To see more great graphics from “Nature” which tell the global rice story and its trade, go to:

3 Picks: Food Index, EPA’s RFS Volumes, Drought Rice

Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.

1) Continued Falling Food Prices: “Global food prices could decline further in coming months after hitting their lowest level in more than a year in July, the United Nations’ food agency said on Thursday, pointing to prospects of abundant grain supplies. Food prices surged during the summer of 2012 due to a historic drought in the United States but improving prospects for cereal supplies in 2013/14 are fueling the opposite trend this year.”

2) EPA finalizes 2013 RFS volumes, extends compliance deadline: “The U.S. EPA has finalized the 2013 volume requirements for the renewable fuel standard (RFS). The final 2013 overall volumes and standards require 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply. At this blend level, biofuels will make up 9.74 percent of U.S. transportation fuel. … According to the EPA, it received many stakeholder comments concerning the E10 blend wall, which is projected to occur in 2014. In the rule setting the final 2013 requirements, the EPA said it is announcing that it will propose to use flexibilities in the RFS statute to reduce both the advanced biofuel and total renewable volumes in the forthcoming 2014 RFS volume requirement proposal.” (Once again the cellulosic requirement was reduced drastically from 1 billion gallons to 6 million gallons.)

3) Rice Gene Digs Deep To Triple Yields In Drought: “A gene that gives rice plants deeper roots can triple yields during droughts, according to Japanese researchers writing in Nature Genetics. The new study shows that by pointing roots down instead of sideways, the Deeper Rooting 1 (DRO1) gene results in roots that are nearly twice as deep as those of standard rice varieties.”

This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.

An Interview with Cornell’s Dr. Erika Styger about the System of Crop Intensification (SRI-Rice)

Mechanical weeding in a rice field using SRI in Punjab, India. Photo credit: Cornell SRI-Rice.

K.M.: The following is a rare, up-to-date, and exceptional interview of the very busy Dr. Erika Styger, Director of the SRI International Network and Resources Center (SRI-Rice) of Cornell University, about the System of Rice (or Crop) Intensification.

Q: Let’s start out by explaining what SRI is, because many people still have never heard of it, even though the techniques have been known for many years.

The System of Rice Intensification, known as SRI is an agro-ecological methodology for increasing the productivity of irrigated rice by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients. SRI originated in Madagascar in the 1980s and is based on the cropping principles of significantly reducing plant population, improving soil conditions and irrigation methods for root and plant development, and improving plant establishment methods.

The benefits of SRI have been demonstrated in over 50 countries and include: 20%-100% or more increased yields, up to a 90% reduction in required seed, and up to 50% water savings. SRI principles and practices have been adapted for rainfed rice as well as for other crops (such as wheat, sugarcane and teff, among others), with yield increases and associated economic benefits.

SRI, or the System of Rice Intensification has made a big difference in the lives of 4-5 million smallholder farmers world wide. It is a system which offers a good way to develop more productive agriculture while using ecological methods. SRI is an “open-source” method with no ownership and no patents.

There is no money to be made by large industry and companies, just the farmers. Farmers can tell you how well it has worked for them; they are the experts with this system. With a bottom-up solution like this, it is evident that it takes more time to be known. There is also still little funding going towards spreading the knowledge about SRI, supporting farmers and collecting and learning from the success stories from the field. It’s the best innovation you never heard about.

Q: The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), which is also called the System of Crop Intensification (SCI), or the System of Root Intensification (SRI), has had great success among small shareholder farmers in many countries around the world. Please describe the various directions being taken with the knowledge of SRI.

SRI was developed through a multi-year observation process and through tests by Father de Laulanie, a French Jesuit missionary in Madagascar in the early 1980s. He synthesized the combination of practices that he called, in French, “le Système de Riziculture Intensive” or SRI. Since the late 1990s, SRI has been validated outside of Madagascar and spread quickly to many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. An essential result was that the applied SRI methodology resulted in improved yields with less inputs in all of the different climates where rice is grown. Since 2005, SRI farmers and technicians, intrigued by the concept of SRI, started to apply the SRI principles to other crops, and thus the System of Crop Intensification (or SCI) emerged through innovation processes directly from the field.

SCI has created very good results with other cereal crops such as finger millet, wheat, the Ethiopian teff, but also with sugar cane, legumes, and vegetable crops. We use ‘SCI’ as a generic term for all other crops besides rice. For a specific crop the term is adapted, for example for wheat, System of Wheat Intensification or SWI is used. The term System of Root Intensification was coined in India, indicating the importance of the root system growth in developing a healthy and productive agriculture. As SRI is a non-proprietary, open-source methodology, new terms are created especially in local languages that often reflect how people relate to the SRI method.

This is fine and we don’t like to comment or insist how people should use the terminology. At SRI-Rice, we decided to keep with the traditional term SRI (System of Rice Intensification) and apply SCI (System of Crop Intensification) as a collective term for all other crops. We also use the acronyms for specific crops, such as SWI for wheat.

Afghanistan rice field – marking planting grid. Photo credit: Cornell SRI-Rice.

Q: While use of the system increases production for farmers, it is still labor intensive. Please comment on the tools, small machinery advancements, and labor involved in using the System of Rice Intensification.

SRI was developed in smallholder farming conditions, which are based until today on manual labor. The optimal use of the recommended SRI practices involves changes in labor allocation and labor use for the different crop management steps, starting from soil preparation, to nursery establishment and management, transplanting, weeding, and fertilization, as well as water management. Being efficient in labor use is always of concern.

If SRI is more labor demanding or not depends on the type of rice cropping system we start out with. There is of course a learning curve for changing the cultivation practices, which takes time and can make SRI in the beginning more time consuming. Once farmers get used to the SRI system, labor requirements are often reduced, and even cited as one of the reasons why farmers adopt SRI – for instance in India. In areas with very small plot sizes and where rural labor is available, farmers have little problems to switch to SRI. Where labor is expensive and rural workers find better paying jobs outside of agriculture, the development and use of tools and machines becomes an important factor. Also, in areas with a lot of land, e.g. some places in Africa, farmers are restricted to the available family labor in how much land they cultivate.

With simple tools or machines, farmers would be able to plant larger areas. In areas that are already highly mechanized, such as Latin America, it is a question of developing the right machines, or SRI will not have a chance to be adopted. Another case is Northern Haiti, where rice farming is in the hands of old men. Labor is available but it is not economical to pay for it as the margins of rice production are very small. With higher benefits from the SRI system, rice production can suddenly interest the younger generation to reconsider agriculture. Thus each region and country has its specificity. Labor is part of the equation but more important is the economic return and what needs to happen (including mechanization and other innovations) so that the agricultural systems can benefit from the SRI principles “to produce more with less”.

There are a number of tools and equipment that can facilitate the tasks, such as transplanting or direct seeding, and importantly weeding with manually pushed or motorized weeders. Developing and making appropriate equipment accessible for different farm-sizes, mechanization levels, and climate and soil conditions remains a challenge in many countries. That is why SRI-Rice wants to support an SRI equipment innovators exchange network, which allows innovators to exchange on designing, testing and using new equipment. The goal is to recommend equipment that is appropriate for specific farming situations, and providing information where the equipment can be accessed or acquired.

In Afghanistan field. Photo credit: Cornell SRI-Rice.

Q: Please tell us about studies using this system on wheat. Does it hold promise for wheat production?

SRI principles were applied to wheat first in India in 2005, but then also in Ethiopia and Mali since 2008, and more recently in Nepal. The idea to apply SRI principles to wheat came from SRI-rice farmers and technicians. In these countries, wheat is usually broadcast. Farmers changed the practices by direct seeding one or two seeds per hill planted in line, with about 15-20 centimeter spacing between the hills. Applying organic matter to soil and using a simple hand pushed weeder were the other practices adapted from SRI. The results were and are remarkable, with most often doubling of yields. Where traditionally, farmers would harvest 1.5-2.5 tons per hectare of wheat, with SWI farmers can reach 4-5 tons per hectare.

As wheat is often irrigated in the dry season, it is also possible to reduce the number of irrigations to the crop, as the organic matter improved soils retain the water longer. I have been personally associated with the introduction of SWI to Mali in the Timbuktu region, where I worked for 3 years between 2007-2010. The most impressive difference between SWI and traditionally grown wheat was the elongation of the panicles under SWI, which was almost doubled in size, and by producing fuller and larger grains.

In Northern India, Mali, Ethiopia, and Nepal wheat is a staple crop, mostly planted on small plots. Farmers bake their own chapatti or bread. With doubling yields with SWI, women farmers in Bihar were able to produce a 7-8 month of flour supply for their family, compared to 3-4 months previously. It also seems that SWI is easier to manage than SRI, so for instance in Northern India, the adoption rate is very high.

SWI-grown wheat at harvesting. Lalbojhi, Kailali, Nepal. 2011. Photo credit: Cornell SRI-Rice.

Q: If there are trials going on here in the U.S., can you briefly describe them to us?

SRI trials in the US have only recently started. They are not undertaken by the commercial large-scale rice growers, but by small organic farmers who are looking for ecological and productive innovations. We are aware of a number of tests in South Carolina in this 2013 growing season. We also know of a few organic vegetable farmers in New Jersey and New York who are growing rice for the first time in their environment this year.

Interest in the SRI methodology lies in being able to grow rice in non-flooded and aerobic soil conditions, which is also expected to reduce arsenic uptake for rice. Of course good productivity and producing a healthy crop are other incentives for these farmers to work with the SRI method. It will be interesting to evaluate this year’s trials.

Q: As your research has shown, where do you think the most promising areas are in using this system of crop growing including futuristic applications? Should home gardeners be adding it to their methods?

The SRI system and methodology can be applied to any crop and any system. The combination and application of the principles strives to optimize the resources available to the plant, to minimize stress for the plants, and to give each individual plant its room and environment where it can thrive best in. We are used to such an approach for high value crops but not for grain crops and other field crops. We also are aware today, with climate change and water scarcity in many locations, that the conventional paradigm of intensification that is based on ‘putting more to produce more’ is just not working
for us anymore.

SRI systems teaches us that we can “produce more by using less”. We should learn anew how to work WITH the plants and the environment for allowing them to express their best inherent potential! This has allowed farmers to return to heirloom and old varieties, as they become more productive under SRI and thus can become economically interesting again. SRI is about observation and paying attention to your crop, and it is one of many agro-ecological approaches, concentrating on crop production.

Others, to name a few, are: the integration of livestock with agriculture, conservation agriculture, and agroforestry. SRI is a knowledge-based approach, and once farmers have learned about the new principles, they can become more independent in improving their agriculture. It is fascinating to see the transformation of farmers, for instance in Mali, who have started working with SRI, becoming so much more confident and entrepreneurial in developing their own innovations. We need new approaches and we will not find them in single-bullets, but by working with the agro-ecological system and by putting plants and animals in their best environment.

Q: How much time is involved in training farmers to use this system? Are there any efficient training programs going on which may become a standard?

Ideally farmers are trained practically. This can be done in 3-4 days, where demonstration plots are put in place by the trainees and important practices exercised and discussed directly in the field. Ideally, training of trainer approach is pursued, where the trained farmer teaches other farmers in his or her community, therefore multiplying the outreach. It is advantageous, if the farming community or village community gets organized around how to spread the knowledge best among their fellow farmers.

To obtain the best impact is when a technician can follow up periodically with farmers for 1-2 cropping seasons, in order to adapt the SRI practices to the local farming conditions. Thus, training on SRI practices is knowledge intensive at first to have the best impact. Nevertheless, there are a lot of self-starters out there – who read about SRI and get it implemented. We have a large collection of technical guidelines and manuals on our website for many countries and many languages.

At SRI-Rice we are in the development of an approach for training and data collection that can be widely shared and accessed by anybody who is interested.

Q: Tell us about the research program on SRI-Rice at Cornell. What are your goals? How large is your staff?

The SRI International Network and Resources Center (or SRI-Rice) was established three years ago with support from Jim Carrey’s Better U Foundation (BUF), in response to the increasing importance of SRI practices – an environment-friendly, yield-increasing methodology — around the world. To date, significant productivity improvements have been achieved in over 50 countries.

Our mission is to advance and share knowledge about the System of Rice Intensification and to support networking among interested organizations and individuals around the globe. We would like to see any farmer worldwide being able to access information and obtain knowledge about the SRI system, allowing them to apply the gained knowledge to improve their cropping systems. We focus on improving food security and reducing poverty, therefore concentrate to work with smallholder farmers in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

We built and maintain the largest website on the System of Rice Intensification, which is updated daily. We report on the progress of 50 different countries, we maintain the most complete research database on SRI, we link to extension manuals in many languages, and we publish reports for partners who don’t have a web presence. We also have a large photo and video library.

Additionally, we contribute to analysis, identify trends and write about innovations that emerge from the field. We also support the networking at the global level by linking people and institutions with each other on a daily basis. Beyond that, we are currently developing larger initiatives that respond to identified priorities. These include developing a training and data monitoring approach that can easily be shared with and accessed by interested parties; and, developing and supporting regional initiatives in Latin America, West Africa and Asia.

We like to create regional communities of practice where people can exchange with each other, train and learn from each other, and work on location specific innovations with each other. We are currently in the launching process of the West Africa SRI Initiative, where SRI-Rice will provide technical support to 13 countries. For Latin America, we are currently building up communication in the Spanish language and identifying a community of interested partners. For Asia, it is a matter of linking the already strong national networks with each other for an improved multi-country exchange.

Two other priorities are the development of an international research network and the development of an international mechanization exchange network. We are currently two staff members with part-time support by a senior advisor. We work with students and leverage a lot of work through partners around the world. Our collaborations rely on demand-driven relationships with dedicated people. People, as well as students find us and we identify ways to collaborate, so that they can pursue their projects, research, or other activities.

Nevertheless, we are not enough staff given the high demand and considering what needs to be done. Also, we are not strictly a research program, but rather an outreach and extension program with research components, as indicated in our mission and activities.

Q: Anything you would like to add?

If anybody likes to start or has started working with the SRI methodology for rice or other crops anywhere in the world, or if anybody is interested in supporting SRI-Rice or other SRI activities, we would be happy to hear from you and be connected.

Contact me at eds8@

Thanks for the opportunity to share our work.

Kay McDonald: Thankyou very, very much for your time, Dr. Styger.


Erika Styger is the Director of Programs for SRI-Rice at Cornell. She has a PhD in Crop and Soil Sciences from Cornell University and has over 20 years experience in designing, executing and evaluating research and development programs in Africa. She introduced SRI into four regions of Mali, adapting SRI principals to rainfed and lowland rice and wheat.

This video shows Dr. Styger speaking about SRI-Rice and also about how heirloom and indigenous varieties become more productive when planted with SRI methods.

Here is the home page at Cornell where you may learn more about SRI.

Also, there are many SRI-rice method informational videos available here.

Additional reading: “India’s Rice Revolution”.

November 2012 Update on Global Food Stocks-to-Use Ratios

The above chart has been updated using the latest released stocks-to-use estimated percentages from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

In good news from the FAO, lower international prices and freight rates, together with lower cereal purchases, have pushed down the world food import bill in 2012 to an estimated $ 1.14 trillion for 2012, 10 percent lower than last year’s record level of $ 1.27 trillion.

Maize, wheat, and soybean supplies are tight, while rice and cassava production is strong.

All eyes are on wheat, since production fell by 5.5 percent from last year’s record due to droughts in eastern Europe and central Asia. The biggest production declines happened in the large wheat producers of Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. While the largest wheat exporting nations have lower stocks, some of the largest importing nations now have higher supplies. If the wheat stocks-to-use ratio does reach 24.0 percent this marketing year, it would compare to the 22.0 percent low experienced in the 2007/08 food crisis year which had low wheat and rice supplies. Because of higher prices, however, the FAO expects wheat production to rebound in 2013.

A separate report from the USDA last week gave the projected corn and soybean ending stock numbers for the 2012/13 marketing year. It reported a U.S. stocks-to-use ratio of 5.8 percent for corn which amounts to only a 21-day supply, and a U.S. soybean stocks-to-use ratio of 4.6 percent which is a 17-day supply. The global corn stocks-to-use ratio is projected at 13.8 percent, the lowest level in nearly 15 years. This low resulted from the Midwestern drought combined with the U.S. ethanol policy’s mandated use of corn. The global soybean stocks-to-use ratio is projected at 23 percent, also a very low level. On the demand side, increased global production of rapeseed, sunflower seed, and palm oil are helping to offset the current low soybean supplies.

Note that the stocks-to-use ratio reflects the excess of supply against demand. It is calculated by dividing the ending stocks of a commodity by the total demand of that commodity and is one of the most useful statistics that we have for measuring supply and demand of food commodities. Comfortable levels vary by commodity type.

In my stocks-to-use report six months ago, I included the subject of grain storage capacity and changes for any interested readers.

Hot 5: Crop Inputs. Global Food Prices. Dry Bulk Shipping Declines. Rice Stocks. “Farm Kings” Show.

1. Crop and Pesticide Inputs.

Pesticide Inputs
Of the five crops, 53 percent of the pesticide total was applied to corn in 1982, followed by soybeans (28 percent), cotton (9.6 percent), fall potatoes (4.8 percent), and wheat (4.5 percent). Corn’s share declined to 43 percent in 2010, while fall potatoes’ share increased to 20 percent (because of large increases in the application of other chemicals, particularly vine killers such as sulfuric acid).

Herbicides accounted for the largest share of pesticides applied throughout 1982-2010, while the other-chemicals category increased most in share. Corn accounted for the majority of herbicide and insecticide use until the early 1990s, after which cotton accounted for the majority of insecticide use due to boll-weevil eradication efforts. The majority of fungicides and other chemicals were applied to fall potatoes.

Total pesticide use on corn, cotton, fall potatoes, soybeans, and wheat was stable during 1982-2010, increasing in some years and declining in others, with an average annual increase of 0.2 percent. Herbicide and insecticide quantities applied declined 0.2 percent and 3.9 percent per year, while fungicide and other-chemical quantities increased 3.3 and 6.0 percent. Changes in the use of pesticides during this period are due to several factors, including the widespread adoption of genetically engineered crops, the expiration of the glyphosate patent in 2000, the availability of new compounds with lower application rates, boll-weevil eradication, and changes in pesticide prices, which increased slowly compared to the prices of other inputs such as fertilizer. (source: usda)

Also, see my recent post on a review of the Benbrook pesticide study.

2. The September FAO Food Price Index Went up 1.4 Percent.

  • The 1.4 percent rise reflected strengthening dairy and meat prices and more contained increases for cereals. Prices of sugar and oils fell.
  • Gains in wheat and rice prices offset a decline in maize. While shrinking maize export availabilities and high maize prices have been leading cereal markets in recent months, tightening wheat supplies have also become a concern.
  • Dairy, poultry, and pork helped push the Index up slightly. The FAO meat price index was up 2.1 percent. The grain-intensive pig and poultry sectors recorded particularly strong gains, increasing by 6 percent and 2 percent respectively.
  • The FAO dairy price index was up 7 percent. All the five dairy products monitored saw prices rise, in particular skim milk powder and casein, which both surged by 12 percent.
  • The FAO’s latest forecasts confirm a decline in global cereal production this year from the record registered in 2011. But record harvests are expected in Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries (LIFDCs). Its forecast for the LIFDCs’ 2012 aggregate cereal production points to a record level of 534 million tonnes, up 1.7 percent from the good harvest of 2011. Excluding India, the largest country in this group which is expected to see a stagnant total cereal harvest this year, the aggregate cereal output of the remaining 65 LIFDCs is estimated to expand by 2.9 percent. At the currently forecast level, world cereal production in 2012 would be 2.6 percent down from the previous year’s record crop but close to the second largest in 2008. The overall decrease comprises a 5.2 percent reduction in wheat production and a 2.3 percent reduction for coarse grains. In Afghanistan, a bumper wheat harvest has been gathered.

3. Dry Bulk Shipping Sinks Some More.

Photo: Handymax. Wikipedia.

The over-capacity in the dry bulk shipping sector has hurt the industry for the past four years and will be impacted further this year because of the droughts in the U.S., Australia, and Russia. Cereal accounts for about 10 percent of the dry bulk commodity shipping business and this year it is expected that less grain will be transported. This will hurt the panamaxes, the supramaxes and the handysizes, and may contribute to the selling of some vessels, as well as rock-bottom shipping rates.

Average earnings have slid to around $4,000 and $8,000 a day for panamaxes and supramaxes, respectively, versus operating cost levels estimated at $5,600 and $5,100 a day.

Read the rest at Reuters Africa…..

4. The Rice Supply.

The above are the most recent rice supply numbers from the International Grain Council.

A positive story throughout this drought year has been that the global rice supply is strong. Rice is the crop which feeds half the world, and much of that goes to the world’s most vulnerable populations. During the 2007 food crisis, rice was in short supply. Rice is thinly traded.

The rice market remains subdued relative to wheat and coarse grains, with production and consumption broadly balanced and stocks expected to rise marginally y/y. Thai export values have weakened, narrowing the differential with other Asian suppliers to an extent, but the state intervention programme remains the key element in price determination.

5. A Farming Reality Show: “Farm Kings”.

“Farm Kings” is a reality television show about the King family and Freedom Farms in Valencia, Pennsylvania. It began airing on GAC-TV Sept. 27.