The harvest season has just ended in Thai Nguyen Province, and the vast terraces are filled with rows of freshly harvested rice stalks in countless small paddy fields. It was a good harvest, says 41-year-old Chu Thi Thanh Khuong, as she shows visitors bags of rice stacked up to two meters high.
Khuong farms on two small plots of rice paddies, a total of 10 sao (nearly an acre) in Dong Dat commune of Thai Nguyen’s Phu Luong district. She attributes the good harvest to the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a package of good agricultural practices for hand-planted rice that increases yields while using less seeds, water and fertilizers.
Oxfam America, a Global Impact charity partner, has been helping to promote SRI in Vietnam for nearly six years, and has made it possible for farmers to receive ongoing training in these methods. Oxfam works with local partner organizations, as well as Vietnam’s Ministry of Rural Development, to promote SRI to small-scale farmers. Today more than 1.3 million farmers in Vietnam have embraced this innovative farming method, a five-fold increase from 2009.
SRI practices involve five simple steps including soil preparation, plant and water management. Farmers transplant seedlings earlier and space them individually and in square patterns farther apart to reduce competition for light, water and nutrients.
Robust root systems and bigger and healthier plants grow more grains of rice. Khuong now produces 2.7 metric tons of rice from her two paddy fields, as compared to just 1.8 tons grown with conventional methods, a 50 percent increase. On average, SRI farmers increase their yield by 500 kilograms (1,110 pounds), and earn extra income of $130 per hectare in just one cropping season (a hectare is just under 2.5 acres). This is a significant sum in a country where the average annual income is around $1,200.
According to a report by Africare, Oxfam and World Wildlife Fund, SRI practices have also contributed to the reduction of greenhouse gases. By improving nutrient use efficiency, farmers reduce the use of water, fertilizers, herbicide and pesticide, resulting in reduced emissions of methane, one of the most prevalent and dangerous greenhouse gases.
Farmers also reported positive change in community relations as a result of using these techniques. SRI farmers—most of whom are women—learn together and help each other in the fields. This practice has created a culture of mutual support in rural communities.