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ECO-RICE: Radically Redesigning Rice

The 'Green Revolution' of the 1970s was led by the development of new plant genetic materials that responded favourably to intensive growing conditions with high levels of pesticide and fertilizers inputs. In the short term it led to dramatic increases in productivity. More recently, yield increases have been less than remarkable and the many problems associated with the green revolution approach are now well recognized. In the case of rice farmers in the Philippines, soil fertility declined, agricultural and ecosystem biodiversity was decimated, and many small farmers suffered from serious indebtedness and severe health problems from using large quantities of chemical inputs.

Rice weeders used in the production of organic rice
Rice weeders used in the production of organic rice
New efforts are now underway by REAP-Canada and partner agencies in the Philippines to increase rice productivity by intensifying production using an agro-ecological approach. The approach aims to redesign the system of cultivation using perennial grasses like sugarcane as the model crop for rice development. With rice being the most important food crop in the world, increasing rice yield through the introduction of "ECO-RICE" cultivation systems could be just what is required to create substantial gains in food security, as well as improve health and reduce the indebtedness of small farmers in the Philippines and around the world. The ECO-RICE cultivation approach aims to utilize water and solar radiation more efficiently, as well as develop and strengthen biological processes important for soil fertility maintenance and plant productivity.

The three main system components being integrated to develop ECO-RICE are:
  • System of Rice Intensification (SRI).
    The SRI system evolved in Madagascar in 1983 by a priest, Fr. Henri de Laulianie, who sought to create the best possible growing environment for rice. His research showed an increase in productivity when the rice was grown in well-drained soil during the vegetative growth phase, with individual seedlings transplanted to the field early, and the rice was planted at wider spacings (25-50 cm rows).
  • Lock Lodge Ratooning
    Recent research on the new ratooning technique of lock lodging, where the stems are broken over at the base, has increased yields by 95% compared to conventional ratooning when the crop is mowed and allowed to regrow. Under lock-lodging, yields of promising ratooning varieties are approximately 75% of conventionally grown crops. This practice advances the harvest cycle by about 25-35% compared to a conventionally prepared crop (10 days between crops) or 35-43% when a 30 day period for straw decomposition is practiced. Significant advantages to farmers include reductions in input costs of 50-60%, reduced indebtedness (as harvest cycles are faster and input requirements lower), reduced labour and farm draught animal requirements, greater cropping flexibility and reduced risks for crop losses from heavy typhoons and droughts.
  • BNF and/or Nitrogen Use Efficient Varieties
    The selection of rice for BNF and/or efficient N using varieties can be best achieved if the rice is selected under SRI management and unfertilized conditions. Under SRI, the system produces larger plants and volumes of biomass as well as aerobic soil conditions that support beneficial bacteria. Having a nitrogen limited soil environment enables the plants to better express their differences in adaptability to N restricted growing conditions.
ECO-RICE selections are made under low fertility soil conditions which enable farmer breeders to readily identify rice strains with improved N nutrition
ECO-RICE selections are made under low fertility soil conditions which enable farmer breeders to readily identify rice strains with improved N nutrition
REAP-Canada is collaborating with the PABINHI to develop ECO-RICE systems on small farms in the Western Visayas. PABINHI farmer/plant breeder Leopoldo Guilaran is spearheading the fieldwork with a number of advanced strains of ECO-RICE. These strains have been selected for high tillering capacity, improved N nutrition, productivity, disease and pest resistance. Farmers are now beginning to cultivate and develop ECO-RICE strains, and are gaining experience in incorporating both SRI and lock lodging management production systems. It is evident to small farmers that the new ECO-RICE system can dramatically reduce their production costs, as well as give them more cropping flexibility. If the season is dry the ratoon cycle can be shortened to one cropping and the field planted to more drought tolerant crops such as soybeans or peanuts. In a good rainfall year, ECO-RICE farmers should be able to get three rice crops per year in about the same time period as a conventional high-input rice farmer. However with ECO-RICE, they could do so without the two cycles of crop residue burning, and the production costs for animal draft power, seed, and production inputs.

  Growing Days     Fallowing Days     Ratooning Days  

Conventional High-Yielding Rice Varieties - 285 days ( 3 crops )
95 10 85 10 85

Organic Rice - 255 days ( 2 crops )
115 30 110

ECO-RICE - 275 days ( 3 crops )
115 80 80

With the many advantages of ECO-RICE, including increased productivity, enhanced food security, and reduced poverty, it is hoped that more research will be targeted towards such ecological production methods and eventually ECO-RICE can become a mainstream reality.

To learn more about ECO-RICE, refer to the Philippine documents in our on-line library.

Other Philippine Activities include:

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