SEATTLE, Washington — Environmental health is the area of public health dedicated to disease prevention, harm and disability caused by interactions between the environment and people. In a single year, 23 percent of deaths worldwide are the result of preventable environmental factors such as exposure to hazardous substances in food, soil, water and air. The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) benefits for environmental health can be found in rice farming; however, other crops are applicable to the principles and methodology as well.
What is SRI?
SRI farming originated in Madagascar in the 1980s. Initially rejected, SRI is now a commended alternative to traditional rice farming. The central SRI principles are as follows:
- Establish healthy plants early and quickly
- Reduce the density of plants
- Enrich the soil with organic matter to improve it
- Reduce and control farmers’ use of water
Henri de Lalanie, a Jesuit priest, noticed a 20 to 200 percent increase in crop yield while using 50 percent less water. He achieved this by reducing the number of seeds planted and using fertilizer composed of organic matter. Instead of flooding the rice plants, he alternated between keeping them wet and dry. Farmers in Africa, Cambodia, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Vietnam also reported large increases in their yield.
The benefits of SRI have been shown in multiple countries. These countries have seen an increase of 20 to100 percent rice production, up to 90 percent less required seed reduction and up to 50 percent less water usage. Having been described as a “scale-neutral” process, SRI holds the potential to capitalize on the basic biological processes varying by crop.
Other systems are System for Wheat Intensification (SWI) in India, Mali and Ethiopia; Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) in India; System of Ragi Intensification in India and System of Teff Intensification (STI) in Ethiopia. In general, the basic principles of SRI can be applied to any crop, which can be then called System of Crop Intensification (SCI).
Relating SRI to Environmental Health
Considering agriculture is one of the biggest global industries, the potential for a positive impact by partly implementing smart, eco-driven methods could be game-changing. Sustainable management of agriculture can contribute to “preserve and restore critical habitats, help protect watersheds and improve soil health and water quality.” SRI increases sustainable farming.
Every day, there is constant interaction between humans and the environment. Consequently, these interactions ultimately impact a person’s quality of life and health. SRI benefits environmental health through improvements made on the quality of surface and groundwater, a vital element of public health for consumers and farmers. By improving soil conditions, SRI hits one of the many themes of environmental health. SRI partially achieves this by reducing using agrochemicals.
Reducing methane emissions can also help achieve better air quality. Classically, rice paddles release methane into the air, ultimately contributing to poor air quality. Smart eco-agriculture methods like SRI prevent these emissions from entering the air. Farmers are at an increased risk of methane exposure, especially rice farmers. A few negative yet mild effects of methane on human health are eye and skin burns. Farmers, especially, experience the detrimental effects of methane from animal waste and digestion. More specifically, rice farmers experience negative effects because of the methane released from rice paddies.
SRI Potential in Environmental Health
The benefits of SRI on environmental health present a viable potential for solving daily and global environmental health issues because of the potential for a positive global impact. Rice farmers benefit from the decrease in methane emissions. They, as well as other farmers, directly benefit from improvements in soil quality and less water usage. The most promising aspect of SRI is that growers can mold the system to operate with different crops and farmers, leading to a healthier environment for farmers and consumers.
– Karina Bhakta