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Sustainable rice farming in the Highlands

Systems of Rice Intensification helps to increase yield and protects the environment.

By: Zora Chan
Communication Manager, Sarawak Conservation Programme, WWF-Malaysia

SRI helps to increase yield and protects the environment

Farmers are urged to adopt the sustainable method called, Systems of Rice Intensification or SRI, that is expected to increase yield by up to threefold and at the same time, preserving the environment. 
SRI, which was introduced in Madagascar in early 1980's has been adopted by farmers in over 70 countries including those in ASEAN region, said Captain (Rtd) Zakaria Kamantasha who runs SRI Lovely Farm in Kedah. He said this during a training session for Long Langai villagers recently.

“However, some farmers in Malaysia only started to practice SRI methods in 2010 as majority were not receptive towards the method back then including some government agencies as they were resistant towards organic farming practices.” 

Zakaria, who is a pioneer of SRI in Malaysia and SRI trainer in ASEAN region, said farmers are important people because they provide food for their families and others.

“It is important to have good and ethical farmers who produce safe and healthy food for the people using sustainable and organic farming methods like SRI as the way forward,” he said. 

He said SRI also helps to conserve the environment as pesticides and commercially-produced fertilisers are not used.

WWF-Malaysia held a two-day training session (11 and 12 June). This activity was done under the project entitled “Protecting Rivers and Improving Livelihood – Ba’ Kelalan and Long Semadoh, Sarawak”, which is supported by CIMB Islamic Bank from 2017 to 2019. The session aimed to introduce the concept of SRI to farmers in Long Langai and to learn how to make organic plant booster. It also provided SRI farmers from neighbouring village to share their experience with the participants, as well as to identify problems currently faced by farmers. 

The interactive training session taught participants how to produce their own plant booster using simple ingredients which are available from their homes and grocery shops, so that they need not rely on commercially-produced fertiliser.

The workshop was also supported by representatives from Langit, Aco and Bulan, three social enterprises that support community initiatives in Ba Kelalan and Long Semadoh. 

WWF-Malaysia promotes sustainable rice farming by local communities as means to reduce impacts of their agricultural practices on the environment. The project adds value to the ecosystem services such as the provision of clean water for irrigation, by minimising upstream land use changes such as unsustainable logging or large scale forest conversion to agriculture. WWF-Malaysia is currently collaborating with CIMB Islamic in a three-year partnership where the bank has provided a fund of RM1.5 million to support conservation projects in Ba’ Kelalan, Ulu Muda, and Long Semadoh.

SRI technical advisor, Zakaria, is the Chairman of Koperasi Agro Belantik Sik Bhd that runs System of Rice Intensification, Lintang Organic Valley, also known as SRI Lovely in Sik, Kedah. Among others, he is a fellow researcher for Disaster Management Institute of Universiti Utara Malaysia, advisor to Eat Shoot and Root as well as technical advisor to Belia Berpadi Brunei.

In 2014, Zakaria won gold medal for paddy and organic farming at International Exhibition Numberg, Germany and received the National Innovation Award from Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Malaysia.  
Zakaria hoped that farmers in Ba’ Kelalan would have the will to change their conventional methods and adopt SRI which could increase yields by three times if done properly. 

“Farmers should stop giving all sorts of excuses for not trying out SRI because there are solutions to the challenges faces,” he said. 

He also urged participants to apply for myOrganic (Malaysia Organic) certification under Department of Agriculture.

“Farmers can claim to be sustainable and organic but without any form of certification like myOrganic, it's just talk. With the certification, it will add value to your rice in terms of market price and image to your produce,” he explained. 

Workshop participant Sem Tagal, 33, said he learned how to farm from his parents since young and never received any formal training on rice planting. 

“I look forward to try out SRI on a small plot as test plot to see the difference between traditional and SRI methods in terms of yields. Among others, this workshop opened my eyes to a better way to prepare nursery seedling site. All this while, we created the nursery in the paddy fields which is time consuming compared to SRI's method where we can germinate seeds in trays. The new method is faster and energy saving,” he said. 

Another farmer, Winnie Sia, 47, said she found the plant booster making session useful.

“With the knowledge, I don't have to rely on commercially-produced fertilisers and truly practice organic farming from now on. I'm glad to know that I can produce rice without using any chemical or artificial plant growth enhancer,” she added. 
Zora Chan, FORMADAT Malaysia, Long Langai, Sarawak, Ba'Kelalan, Heart of Borneo
Workshop participants visiting a SRI test plot belonging to Baru Agung from Long Langai
Zora Chan, Ba'Kelalan, FORMADAT Malaysia, Heart of Borneo, HoB
Villagers having hands-on learning experience in making organic plant booster.
Zora Chan, FORMADAT Malaysia, Heart of Borneo, HoB
Zakaria showing participants how to germinate paddy seedlings on tray.
Zora Chan, Heart of Borneo, FORMADAT Malaysia, HoB
Zakaria sharing his knowledge on SRI during the workshop.
Zora Chan, FORMADAT Malaysia, Heart of Borneo, HoB
Workshop participants and WWF-Malaysia staff posing for a group photo with their trainer, Zakaria (seated fifth left).