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System of Rice Intensification provides environmental and economic gains but at the expense of social sustainability — A multidisciplinary analysis in India

Gathorne-Hardy, Alfred, Reddy, D. Narasimha, Venkatanarayana, M., Harriss-White, Barbara
Agricultural systems 2016 v.143 pp. 159-168
costs and returns, electricity, employment, energy, environmental sustainability, farmers, farms, females, fossil fuels, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, groundwater, issues and policy, labor, models, paddies, prices, production technology, questionnaires, social sustainability, socioeconomics, wages and remuneration, India
The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is claimed to make rice more sustainable by increasing yields while reducing water demand. However, there remains a shortage of high quality data to test these assertions, and a major research gap exists concerning the wider social and economic implications of SRI techniques.Using primary data we developed a model to simultaneously analyse social, economic and environmental sustainability (greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, ground water abstracted, energy use, costs, profit, gender, employment quality and employment quantity) to compare SRI to conventional flooded-rice production systems (control). Data was based on farmer-recall questionnaires in Andhra Pradesh, India. Analysis was per hectare and per kg of paddy.SRI offered substantial environmental and economic benefits: >60% yield gain; GHG emissions, ground-water, fossil energy down by 40%, 60%, and 74% kg−1 respectively. SRI costs reduced significantly ha−1, and returns after costs increased by over 400%ha−1.However, the socio-economic benefits accrued to the farmer at the expense of landless labourers. Employed labour demand (hha−1) reduced to 45% of control, with the greatest decline in female employment — rural India's most vulnerable sector. SRI reduced casual labour remuneration per hectare by 50%. Doubling rates of pay maintain total casual-labour remuneration, and only reduces SRI farm returns by 10%. Yet with no policy support it is unlikely that the private economic benefits of SRI will be shared to landless labourers.Internalising environmental externalities (electricity and GHG) impacted control farms more than SRI farms, including producing negative economic returns when electricity was charged at INR4.7unit−1 for control farms. Increasing the farm gate price for paddy by 10% increased control farm returns by 38%, yet even with this substantial increase control farm returns were only a third of SRI returns without a price increase.Identifying and understanding the trade-offs associated with SRI is essential for policy management — while it is not possible to eliminate all trade-offs, identifying them allows for the mitigation of losers.