Faced with decreasing soil fertility and quality, a group of farmers in the Philippines launched a regenerative organic agriculture project to grow safe, affordable organic rice using the climate and environment-friendly System of Rice Intensification (SRI).
Declining Soil Fertility, Low Prices and Loss of Farm Labor
Across the Iloilo province of the Philippines, small-scale rice farmers face declining soil quality and fertility, low farmgate prices offered by traders, high production costs and a loss of farm labor as people look for other, higher-paying jobs.
To make matters worse, agro-chemical companies promote input-intensive methods of cultivation and the use of input intensive hybrid rice seeds. This leaves the Filipino rice farmers struggling with a vicious cycle of chemical dependency and financial debt just to attain decent yields.
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI)
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is a methodology aimed at increasing rice yields. It was developed in the 1980s by Henri de Laulanié and is a low water, labor-intensive method that uses singly planted, widely spaced seedlings.
This climate and environment-friendly method of rice cultivation requires 90% less seeds. The SRI rice plants also demonstrate a remarkable ability to resist biotic and abiotic stresses brought about by climate-change events.
Because SRI relies on keeping the field soil moist, rather than saturated, it reduced irrigation water use by 50%. This created aerobic conditions in the soil which inhibited populations of methane-producing organisms, reducing the carbon-footprint of the farming.
The carbon footprint was further reduced because SRI farming allows farmers to cultivate rice using only organic inputs, with zero chemical or synthetic fertilizers.
The SRI and organic fertilization allows ZIDOFA to produce nutritious milled organic pigmented rice which are at par with international standards for export.
Organic Fertilizers and Restoring Biodiversity
As well as training on SRI, the farmers learned how to manufacture organic fertilizer. The rice paddies now show an increase in organic matter content. Biodiversity is being restored as native species of fish and edible snail begin to establish healthy populations in SRI rice paddies.
A Collaborative Process
The Zarraga Integrated Diversified Organic Farmers Association (ZIDOFA) shows what is possible when a group of small-scale farmers share passion, commitment and take action together. Despite a lack of funds for the first six months, the farmers managed to still meet every week to draw up plans for the start of the project in the first cropping cycle of 2015.
The farmers were guided and supported by a group of experts who believed in the small-farmers and the positive impact of replacing conventional methods with the climate and environment-friendly SRI method. They were united by the knowledge that SRI could improve the health, the environment and the socio-economic welfare of farming communities.
A Holistic Approach to the Value Chain
ZIDOFA uses a holistic value chain approach in order to produce high quality, safe, affordable and healthy organic SRI rice to Filipino consumers, protect, conserve and restore biodiversity in the farm and marine and coastal ecosystems and bring the benefits and the credit back to the farmers and empowering them through the creation of a closed-loop organic SRI rice value chain.
As the farmers started to plant and cultivate their organic SRI rice plants, ZIDOFA was already seeking market linkages with potential customers for the upcoming harvested paddy rice and the eventual milled organic paddy rice.
Throughout the entire process, ZIDOFA joined exhibitions and trade fairs to promote SRI and increase public awareness on the benefits of organic pigmented rice as part of consumer diet.
Making High Quality, Affordable Organic Rice More Available
So far, ZIDOFA has converted 30 hectares of previously conventional, chemical-based rice paddies into organic SRI rice fields, and has increased yields. This paves the way to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers, and make high quality, affordable and healthy organic pigmented rice more available for all.
Identifying Local Solutions, Promoting them at a Global Level
PANORAMA – Solutions for a Healthy Planet is a partnership initiative to identify the best local and regional solutions, and promote them for learning at a global level. By documenting and promoting examples of inspiring, replicable solutions across a range of conservation and sustainable development topics, PANORAMA enables cross-sectoral learning and inspiration.