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Comparing rice production systems: A challenge for agronomic research and for the dissemination of knowledge-intensive farming practices

Stoop, Willem A., Adam, Abdoulaye, Kassam, Amir
Agricultural water management 2009 v.96 no.11 pp. 1491-1501
cultivars, rice, irrigation water, soil water content, Oryza sativa, innovation adoption, water use efficiency, extension education, cropping systems, flood irrigation, technology transfer
This article is a commentary on several research studies conducted on the prospects for aerobic rice production systems that aim at reducing the demand for irrigation water which in certain major rice producing areas of the world is becoming increasingly scarce. The research studies considered, as reported in published articles mainly under the aegis of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), have a narrow scope in that they test only 3 or 4 rice varieties under different soil moisture treatments obtained with controlled irrigation, but with other agronomic factors of production held as constant. Consequently, these studies do not permit an assessment of the interactions among agronomic factors that will be of critical significance to the performance of any production system. Varying the production factor of “water” will seriously affect also the levels of the other factors required to optimise the performance of a production system. The major weakness in the studies analysed in this article originates from not taking account of the interactions between experimental and non-experimental factors involved in the comparisons between different production systems. This applies to the experimental field design used for the research studies as well as to the subsequent statistical analyses of the results. The existence of such interactions is a serious complicating element that makes meaningful comparisons between different crop production systems difficult. Consequently, the data and conclusions drawn from such research readily become biased towards proposing standardised solutions for possible introduction to farmers through a linear technology transfer process. Yet, the variability and diversity encountered in the real-world farming environment demand more flexible solutions and approaches in the dissemination of knowledge-intensive production practices through “experiential learning” types of processes, such as those employed by farmer field schools. This article illustrates, based on expertise of the 'system of rice intensification' (SRI), that several cost-effective and environment-friendly agronomic solutions to reduce the demand for irrigation water, other than the asserted need for the introduction of new cultivars, are feasible. Further, these agronomic solutions can offer immediate benefits of reduced water requirements and increased net returns that would be readily accessible to a wide range of rice producers, particularly the resource poor smallholders.