Rice Cropping Systems:My M.P.S Project Paper

Rice Cropping Systems and SRI (System of Rice Intensification) in Kaffrine, Senegal:
My MPS Project Paper Data Collection Activities

Full text of the Project Paper can be found here
As a volunteer in the Masters International program I am required to complete a problem-solving project paper to fulfill my degree requirements. The topic of this paper is to be shaped by my experience and work as a volunteer, and not the other way around. My paper will document my development and execution of field based research appropriate to a problem of development I have identified in my community. The problem I have identified is that local farmers desire to grow rice but are often lacking in technical knowledge of rice cropping systems. Also, in order to meet rice intake requirements for their household, it may be in the best interest of some farmers to intensify production. I am overseeing field testing by local farmers to determine whether or not the SRI method can increase yields in this region, as well as determine the performance of current cropping systems in order to make a comparison. This project will also serve to demonstrate to all farmers exposed to it that rice production is possible and spread the knowledge of some improved practices and techniques.

Due to environmental factors I do not expect farmers in this region to ever produce rice commercially. Despite this, it is a staple eaten every day and the purpose of ‘intensifying’ production would be to cut the costs of rice purchased. The possibility of this may be determined in the long run, but my project will begin the process by ascertaining labor requirements and yields.

The first data collection set is a series of surveys to assess various socio-economic indicators and current rice cropping systems in the 4 villages I will be working in. Through this process I have determined that there is desire int he community to increase rice production and I have identified farmers to work with on a pilot plot aspect of my project. Outlined niext is the step-by-step process of implemented 10 side-by-side demonstrations of the SRI method as compared to traditional practices.

Step 1: Training 
May 28th, 2013:
I arranged an intial training which aimed to teach the10 demo farmers the practices and importance of demo creation as well as introduce the SRI principles in some depth. The the local extensions agent, Abiboulaye Seck, explained how an SRI demo, is created and how to use them to test the technique and educate other farmers. Farmers from the 4 test villages (Taiba, Keur Demba, Mouille, Ndiaycounda) were present to hear the discussion. They were taught how they can support the demo farmers and be involved in community education action. After the discussion I met with the 10 demo farmers to create a schedule for surveying fields and created a planting schedule for the season.
Peace Corps Staff Member Teaches Local Farmers About SRI Principles

July 1st, 2013:
At the Katakel MasterFarm site  I hosted a hands SRI training event for all the demo farmers plus 35 other area rice farmers. Here they were able to practice the execution of SRI principles before we began demo creation the following week. With the help pf Peace Corps staff they were also trained in more depth as to the reasoning behind the SR technique.

Step 2: Direct Seeding and Nursery Creation
July 6- 18, 2013
Following the training I visited each demo farmer and we prepared the soil in the demonstration area using animal traction machines and adding manure to the soils. This is the type of machine used to prep the soils:

5 demos are of nursery seeded and then transplanted rice seedlings:
Seeding a Nursery in Ndiaycounda

Ndiaycound Nursery, 9 Days Old ,Ready to Transplant

 3 of thedemos are trying out an adaptation of the SRI technique where two rice seeds and sown by hand at 25cmx25cm spacing. The plants in these plots will be the same age as those sown in nurseries and transplanted.
Direct Seeding by Hand in Mouille

Direct Seeding by Hand in Mouille with Planting String

Direct Seeding by Hand in Keur Demba-First Day of Ramadan!

2 of the demos are an adaptation where the plots are seeded by machine and will be thinned to one plant per hill at a wide spacing when the plants are at a two leaf stage:
Seeding by Machine in Mouille

Seeding by Machine in Mouille

Machine Seeding in Mouille

Step 3: Transplantation and Thinning

July 16-August 7 2013

The nurseries were then outplanted at one seedling per hill on the 5 demo spaces of this adapation:
Removing Seedlings from the Nursery

Transplanting at One Seedling Per Hill with SRI Planing String

Transplanting One Seedling Per Hill With SRI Planting String

Transplanting With SRI String

Step 4: Weeding and Maintenance 
July-November 2013

The system calls for a weeding method which chops up the weeds and mixes them, along with oxygen, into the soil to be available for rice plant roots. Most demo farmers are weeding their control plots (and some their SRI plots) by animal drawn tractor, which achieves this goal. Those with very heavy soils, or with spacing too tight for the machines, are weeding their SRI plots by hand. Here are some of the hand tools they are using:
Hand Tool Used for Weeding 

Hand Tool Used for Weeding-Primarily Male Farmers

Hand Hoe Used for Weeding-Primarily Female Famers

The weeding process is important because it allows the single rice seedlings we transplanted, or thinned to, to have adequate nutrients and light to develop many tillers, and in turn a lot of grain. Tillering is a physiological process where a single plant develops many 'stems' from one. By having only one rice seedling in an area, and giving it room to breathe by thoroughly weeding, rice under SRI can have high tillering capacity. Some of the SRI demos are showing tillering before their corresponding control plots. In the control plots the rice was seeded very closely within rows and not thinned.
These rice plants were one single seedling when transplanted and now after just a few weeks you can see each has 5 or more tillers.

The right foreground is the SRI plot which was transplanted at one seedling and many have more then one tiller. On the left and in the background the machine seeded control area is much less developed and no tillering has begun. 

In the foreground is SRI, hand seeded and thinned and the background is machine seeded. The rows are wider in the machine seeded area but within those rows there are up to 10 plants per 25 cm and have not begun tillering like the rice in the wider spaced SRI plot.

Quick and early tillering of rice under SRI. This rice was transplanted as a single, tiny, 10 day old seedlings only 2 and half weeks before this picture was taken, and now the plants have several tillers each.
Step 4.1: Counting Those Tillers!
August 10-Harvest (October-November)

During the vegetative growth phase of the rice plants I have been taking note of how many tillers the plants in the SRI vs.control plots have developed. My visits to the demonstration sites are marked by counting and determining the mean number of tillers on a representative group of plants in the plots. Here are some pictures of my tillering plants a couple of weeks after the last group of pics was taken. If you look closely you can see the plants in the SRI plots now have up to 25 stems but were transplanted as one single plant. These stems are the tillers.
SRI Plot on left and Control on right-Notice the plants in the SRI are more evenly spaced and are filling up that space with rapidly multiplying tillers. The control was machine seeded and have a lot of space between rows but the plants are cluttered within the row with no space to develop as many tillers as the SRI plot.

This rice plants was transplanted as 1 single seedling but has already developed 14 tillers.

Int he foreground is the hand seeded SRI plot (2 seeds per pocket) and in the background you can see the rows of the machine seeded control plot. The plants in the control plot are healthy but developing considerably slower then in the SRI plot. If you look back at the third picture under step 4 (above) you an see this same field view just 2.5 weeks earlier and it is clear the SRI plants are developing much more quickly then the control. 

Step 4.2: Watching the Rain Fall: The Flooding
Early September-Mid September

As the rainy season continued the seasonal flooding pattern (a tributary of the river Bao Balon) where the demos are located filled up with water. Several large rain events caused massive flooding around the 1st week of September. All of the demos flooded but some for only a day at a time and others for up to 2 weeks. During the vegetative stage of the plants' growth the SRI method calls for alternate wetting and drying of the soil. If you can control your water source this is possible. In my case it is not, but the rain patterns generally cause temporary flooding which approximates this affect in the demo fields. This flooding was longer, deeper, and later in the plants' development then would be ideal. It will be hard to determine what negative affects this has on the yield but most of the fields survived it well including the control plots, SRI plots, and surrounding subsistence rice fields.  : )
SRI Field Flooded After Heavy Rains

Machine Seeded SRI Field Flooded After Heavy Rains

Step 5: The Reproductive Phase of the Rice Plants
September 10th-Harvest

On September 10th I noticed that 1 individual plant in one of the earliest seeded SRI fields had begun the development of panicles. These are the flowering structures of the rice plant which appear at the top part of the stalks that make up many of the tillers. The more tillers there are, the more chance of having many panicles. The panicles contain the disjointed rows of rice seed. During my visits I will now be keeping track of how many panicles plants have as well as how many tillers. It is important to keep track of when flowering began and it's estimated percentage to be sure to harvest at the optimal time. The fields will be harvested throughout the month of October.

Rice Pest and Panicle

The droopy structures on top of these SRI rice plants are panicles, the reproductive organ of the plant where the rice grain will form.

Step 5.1: Local Innovations in Pest Management
First week of October

With the appearance of the part of the plant we actually want to eat it is time to look out for pests. Below I feature a few methods I've found my demo farmers using to control pests in their fields.

Blister Beetles (pictured above)
During my initial survey of rice farmers in the area most listed beetles as having done the most damage to their yields. These beetles suck the liquid from inside the developing panicles which, without this deleterious intervention, would eventually harden and become the rice grain. Below are pictures of the beetles on one of the SRI fields and some of the panicle development. Peace Corps had recommended burning a tire in the field to control these beetles. An alternate method I explained to a farmer involved blue colored buckets full of soapy water to trap the beetles. When I arrived at my next visit to his field he had burned chaff from the recently harvested millet grain panicles in different places throughout the field (pictured below). He said this smoke repels the beetles and I was proud of his unique organic approach.
Millet chaff piled in rice field. It will be burned in order to smoke out beetle pests.

Burned millet chaff in the rice field. The smoke is used to detract from insect pests particularly blister beetles.

As the grain on the rice plants become dry birds become a serious threat so some of my farmers have put up 'scarecrows'. This one is just a t-shirt wrapped around a small scrubby tree in the field. Simple and effective!
Scarecrow in one of the control plots

Another serious pest reported by the farmers was termites. During the stage when the panicles are ripening the leaves of the rice plants start to become dry. This usually corresponds with the season when rainfall is reducing. This attracts termites who can destroy the entire crop. The SRI system calls for a weeding technique which mixes the weeds into the soil between the rows of plants instead of removing them from the field entirely. This helps retain organic matter levels in the soil as well as brings needed oxygen to the roots of the rice plants. Upon noticing some termite tracks in one of the SRI demo plots I realized this method of leaving the weeds behind had an added benefit. The old, dried out, decomposing weeds were food for the termites who were then leaving the rice plants alone, sparing them yield reducing damage. 

Termites feasting on weeds left behind in the demo plot under SRI weeding principles. Since these weeds were here the termites have been leaving the rice plants just out of view alone.
Termites feasting on weeds left behind in the demo plot under SRI weeding principles. Since these weeds were here the termites have been leaving the rice plants just out of view alone.
Migratory herders often come through the flooded area to feed and water their cows. Two of the demo fields have suffered damage from cows chewing on the leaves. One demo farmer has built, and rebuilt, a short fence of thorny branches to keep these giant pests out.
Thorny fence in foreground surrounds entire SRI sub-plot to protect from thirsty cows coming through the flooded pattern.

Rice Panicles ... so pretty!
Step 6: Harvest, Calculation and Follow-Up with Demo Farmers
October 15th-November 13th

When the rice panicles were fully ripe and drying we began to harvest the plots using a methodology to measure yield. The method also included numeration of tillers, panicles, and seeds per panicle to create more basis for comparison. We collected data from SRI plots and control plots to determine which methods work best in this area for maximum rice production. My first impressions of what the data shows is that direct seeding the rice, as opposed to transplanting, creates better results. This can be achieved by individual hand seeding or machine with similarly positive results. The machine seeding method, if altered to meet SRI spacing, seems to create the best results in terms of yield. This may be due to drought pressure put on the young seedlings as the rains are infrequent early in the season.
I am also interviewing each demo farmer one last time to (1) assess what they've learned, (2) determine what parts of the method they liked and disliked, and (3) get an idea of their intentions for the future of using these methods and disseminating the knowledge to other farmers. At each of the interviews I will give them tailored recommendations for next year's crop based on the results in their fields. This will include mechanization adaptations, pest control, and soil nutrient management techniques.
Cutting the rice panicles

Counting the seeds in my hut

My lovely host mom helping me thresh and winnow the bags of rice from each sub-plot as I weighed and organized it.

A bibliography of some of the resources I have used to inform these plans can be found here.


  1. Amazing, awesome excellent work!! -Corinne

  2. Its been years since i've been manufacturing these tools for Senegal, but i didnt knew all this till i landed on this, you have done a really great job,