PR4: System of Rice Intensification

The System of Rice Intensification – known as SRI – is a set of agricultural methods for optimising resources developed in the 1980’s in Madagascar. SRI aims to increase the rice farming yields while reducing inputs such as water, seeds and fertilisers, so that rice farming becomes more profitable to the farmers. Unlike the techniques inherited from the Green Revolution, SRI does not depend on genetics engineering and chemicals. Depending on the countries and conditions, SRI can improve the yields from 20% to 100% compared to conventional farming.

SRI involves significantly reducing the number of rice seeds planted, transplanting them to the fields when they are much younger than usual, using different amounts of water at critical times of their growth cycle, and improving soil conditions with organic manure. […]

In Tamil Nadu, farmers are experiencing similar increases and are paying less. “Our chief minister’s aim is to get double the yield and triple the income of farmers using SRI. Traditional farmers use 30kg of seeds [compared with] 3kg by the SRI method” The Guardian

SRI Characteristics

Transplantation: In SRI, young seedlings are planted individually, instead of transplanting several mature seedlings. Thus, the seed requirements are 90% lower than in traditional rice farming. The seedlings are planted in a matrix pattern (25x25cm) with a wide spacing between the rows to allow for an increased exposure to the sun and wind, as well as better access to soil nutrients. The roots have to be intact and the seedling is planted shallowly (1-2cm instead of 3-4cm).

 With SRI, optimum spacing can be up to 50 x 50 cm (4 plants per sq.m) for very fertile soils. Best spacing is a function of soil fertility. Source: SRI Issue 6, 2009

Water management: In SRI, the fields are not permanently flooded, reducing the water consumption of the fields by up to 50% and decreasing methane emissions by oxygenating the soil. The cracks in the soil occurring when the fields dry allow for better oxygenation of the soil promoting root growth. When the fields are not permanently flooded, the plants also grow stronger stalks, which makes them more productive and resilient to bad weather conditions.

Weeding: SRI calls for regular weeding with rotary tools, which also aerates the soil.

Fertilisers: In SRI, the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides is reduced or banished while promoting the use of organic fertilisers such as green manure and compost. The nutrients are obtained by micro-organisms.

Sources SRI India / TNAU / various


SRI is not a standardised technological method, it is adapted from country to country and adapted to local conditions. It has lead to larger yields with lower inputs in many farms, although in other places it has been abandoned as not more efficient than traditional methods.

Adoption: As with any new technology and radically different approach to farming, farmers have to change their habitual way of farming for SRI, which makes it difficult to adopt.

Labour: In the beginning, SRI might require more labour for transplanting and weeding. Once the farmers are experienced in SRI patterns it does not require more labour, some farmers report requiring less labour.

Automation: The existing machines for rice transplanting are made for transplanting several seedlings at once, in a narrow matrix.
If a machine adapted to SRI can be built, the adoption would be easier as it will decrease labour requirements.

Success stories in Bihar (2013)

SRI history in Tamil Nadu

The Department of Agriculture of the Government has included SRI in all existing and new schemes funded by Governement of India that focus on increasing food production. […]
Further trials conducted at Aduthurai and Thanjavur showed that adopting all SRI components resulted in 48.8 per cent higher yield at Aduthurai and 35.8 per cent higher yield at Thanjavur when compared with conventional cultivation. A systematic study also showed that among the SRI components, the major effect was by weeder-use followed by single seedling per hill. SRI India


SRI has been introduced in Tamil Nadu in the early 2000s. However, a similar practise has been developed by local farmers over a century ago. Single-seedling methods and the Gaja methods have been known by farmers for a long time. The main difference between Gaja practises and SRI is that the seedlings are transplanted when mature in Gaja compared to young seedlings in SRI.

Today SRI is known to many rice farmers of Tamil Nadu as ‘Ottrai Natru Nadavu’ (single seedling planting). This recognition has come through SRI. But, to our surprise,
we find that single seedling planting was known100 years ago in Tamil Nadu. […] Single-seedling cultivation appears to have been developed by Mr. Aparanam Pillai (location not known) during 1905-06 season, and the  Gaja planting method,
which  also  included  single-seedling planting, was apparently developed by Mr. T.S. Narayanasamy Iyer of Thirukkaruhavur in 1911. Source: SRI Issue 6, 2009

Sexual Harassment

A photo posted by Chloe Dickson (@chloer.dickson) on

Someone touched my bottom today. At Amma’s birthday, a joyous celebration with 50,000 people attending. The worse about it, is that I expected and feared this event. Countdown: 11 days in India before being subjected to sexual harassment.

For sure, I was an easy prey. In everyday life at the ashram, there are many white people so the Indian don’t really pay attention to us. But here, with dozens of thousands of Indian attendees, we did get noticed. So the white blond girl, she will get her backside poked. Yeah, she is definitely provoking with this tunic that only covers her bottom and not her entire thighs. And she a westerner, they’re open about sex right?
The guys were “lucky”, I yelled behind me as soon as it happened, but it might have been the young jerks rushing in front of us. I was ready to swing my water bottle in the face of my harasser, but I could distinguish him in the crowd.

Every day, I have to be careful about my outfit: I have to cover my legs, my shoulders, my backside with a long tunic and my breasts shape with a shawl. Because showing some skin might be exciting and provoking for men. Dammit, I have to hide all of my body for my own safety, while MEN are not dealt with if they have unappropriate behaviour. And they get to wear “miniskirts”. They don’t have to hide their body that much.

I somehow knew it was going to happen at some point, and I am extremely angry and upset it happened. How come they can feel that it is normal to touch a women’s bottom? If you say that this is the way it is in India and I should just get over it, then you’re part of the problem.

(here I am assuming that it is a man given the context and the people surrounding me at the time it happened, but I would be as angry if it were a female aggressor)

Background picture: gender segregation for dishes. I shouldn’t judge but this feels like a pretty messed-up culture. I eat most of the time with a male friend, I think it is an inappropriate behaviour.

PR3: Traditional Processes of Rice Planting

In order to develop a rice-transplanting machine, I will have to understand how it is traditionally done. There are many methods to increase the yields of rice crops, however, if we come up with a disruptive technology, the farmers won’t adopt it.

A local student from Amrita University is also working on the rice-planting machine project, and has been in the village to understand how the woman plant rice in this particular village.


Rice production Cycle, from IRRI
Rice production Cycle, from IRRI

Traditional Process

Land Preparation

The rice field is irrigated for several days, then the field is ploughed either by tractor or animal power. This will kill weeds and mix the soil. The field is then flooded for 10-14 days then puddled, that is, the soil is mixed with the water into mud. The surface is then smoothed by harrowing several times. Two days before planting, the field is levelled by dragging a wooden plank behind an animal or a tractor.

On average, it takes 1,432 liters of water to produce 1 kg of rice in an irrigated lowland production system. Irrigated rice receives an estimated 34−43% of the total world’s irrigation water, or about 24−30% of the entire world’s developed fresh water resources. Source IRRI


Seeds are grown in seedbeds, also called nurseries, very close to each other, before being transplanted. The nurseries take up 5-10% of the rice fields. Transplanting requires around 30-50kg of seeds per hectare.

Wet-bed: Pre-germinated seeds are sown in a strip of flooded land, then covered in manure and fertiliser. The seedlings are transplanted after 15 to 21 days. Requires 40kg of seeds for 1ha.
This is the traditional method used in the village we are working on.

Dry-bed: Seeds are grown on raised strips of land, kept humid by irrigation. The seedlings are transplanted after 15 to 21 days. Requires 60-80kg of seeds for 1ha.

Dapog or Mat method: Nurseries are prepared on a flat firm surface, covered with banana leaves of plastic film. The seedbed is covered in burnt paddy husk or compost, and pre-germinated seeds are sown with a thickness of around 6 seeds, then the seeds are flattened. The seedlings are transplanted after 9 to 14 days. Requires 1% of the fields and 40-50kg of seeds for 1ha.
This a method used for mechanised transplanting. Modified methods exist to lessen the water and seed use.

Rice Transplanting

After around 20 days, the seedlings are transplanted into the flooded paddies. The seedlings are harvested into bunches, then a few seedlings are planted in an approximate square pattern every 10-20cm. Manual transplantation requires around 30 person days to plant one hectare of rice field, while mechanical transplantation requires 1 person day for a field of one hectare. However, mechanical transplantation requires a specific type of nursery.

Plant spacing is an important factor in transplanting rice. Proper spacing can increase the yield by 25−40% over improper spacing. You will also save money on inputs, labor, and materials. Source IRRI


When the crop is mature, the fields are drained and the rice is harvested by hand (mechanised in larger fields and industrialised countries)

Grain Preparation

The rice is dried then milled to remove the outer layers of the grain and obtain brown rice. To obtain white rice, bran layers are rubbed off in a huller machine.

Sources IRRI / MadeHow

PR5: Existing Machines for Rice Transplanting

I will be working on a machine that does already exist in certain forms on the market, as well as prototypes. Here are some machines found online.

The advantages of mechanised transplanting according to Kubota manufacturer.
The advantages of mechanised transplanting according to Kubota manufacturer.


Hand Cranked Rice Transplanter

Manual rice transplanter from Rajkumar Agro Machines
Manual rice transplanter from Rajkumar Agro Machines
  • Operation type: Manual
  • # Rows: 2
  • Rice nursery type: ?
  • Row distance: 250 mm
  • Planting distance: Adjustable.
  • Weight: 20 kg.
  • Turning radius: 210mm
  • Max. planting depth: 65mm
  • Max. planting frequency: 120/ minute
  • Resistance of crank: 1.5—2kg
  • Resistance of moving: 1—2kg
  • Planting speed: about 530 square meters/hour

Walk-behind Motorised Transplanter

Wallk-behind motorised transplanting machine.
Walk-behind motorised transplanting machine from Kubota. Picture from IRRI.
  • Operation type: Gasoline engine walk-behind
  • Rice nursery type: mat
  • # Rows: 4
  • Row distance: 300 mm
  • Planting distance: *12,14,16,18,21cm
  • Weight: 160kg
  • Turning radius: ?
  • Max. planting depth: 3.7 (adjustable)
  • Max planting speed: 0.77m/s eq. 385/minute frequency
  • Planting speed: 0.22 – 0.52 acre/hour

High Performance Paddy Transplanter

High Performance Paddy Transplanter from Amisy Farming Machine
High Performance Paddy Transplanter from Amisy Farming Machine
  • Operation type: Diesel engine
  • Rice nursery type: mat
  • # Rows: 6-8
  • Row distance: 238 mm / 300 mm
  • Planting distance: 120-140mm
  • Weight: 300 kg / 360 kg  / 410 kg
  • Turning radius: ?
  • Max. planting depth: ?
  • Max planting frequency: ?
  • Planting speed: 0.2hectare/h // 0.27hectare/h // 0.24-0.34hectare/h

PR2: Context

In order to develop a rice-transplanting machine, I will have to understand how it is traditionally done. There are many methods to increase the yields of rice crops, however, if we come up with a disruptive technology, the farmers won’t adopt it.

A local student from Amrita University is also working on the rice-planting machine project, and has been in the village to understand how the woman plant rice in this particular village.

Challenges in rice planting include food security, poverty alleviation, climate change and gender equality.

Importance of rice cultivation in India

50% of India’s population work in agriculture. However, this industry only accounts for 16% of the country’s GDP. Rice is the staple food in the country, where the population growth makes the demand for rice on the rise. At the same time, people are moving out of agricultural work and into urban lifestyle, meaning the available labour is decreasing. Additionally, when there is migration, it is often the male who will move to the cities, leaving most of the farming tasks to the female family members. Most available agricultural machines are too expensive for small farmers, which rely on exhausting manual work for rice cultivation.

India has the largest rice area in the world with 43 million hectares (more than a quarter of the global rice area) and contributes a little less than a quarter of global production.

Despite some impressive production growth in the past five decades and the growing status as one of the largest rice-exporting regions in the world, South Asia was still home to 295 million undernourished and hungry people in 2011-13—nearly 35% of the 842 million hungry people in the world. In 2011-13, 16.8% of the people in South Asia were hungry. This is the highest percentage among other Asian regions and is second highest behind Africa, but this is much lower than the 25% hungry people South Asia had in 1990-92.

Source IRRI (2014)

India’s Food Subsidy Program

In 2013, India launched a food subsidiary program to provide cheap food grains to a large number of undernourished inhabitants. By stockpiling rice and wheat, the government is able to provide subsidised grains to two thirds of its population according to the the Food Security Act.

According to the Act, beneficiaries are able to purchase 5 kilograms per eligible person per month of cereals i.e, rice at Rs 3 per kg while wheat at Rs 2 per kg. Source OneIndia 2014

India is a good example where the government has rolled out an elaborate food subsidy program to provide highly subsidized food grains (rice and wheat) for 65 million below-poverty-line households, including nearly free food grains to 20 million Antyodaya Anna Yojana households, the poorest of the poor households. Each of the 65 million households receives 35 kilograms of grain every month at 74–86% below the procurement cost.

Source IRRI (2014)

About two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank. The country is a major rice and wheat producer, but it is also home to one-fourth of the world’s hungry poor, according to the World Food Program. An independent survey in 2011 found that four out of 10 Indian children were severely malnourished.

India’s Green Revolution

The “Green Revolution” in India is the name given to a period between 1967 and 1978. With the goal of become self-sufficient in food grains, the agricultural practises were transformed by using high yield seeds, double-cropping (2 cropping seasons a year instead of 1), improved irrigation and the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. From a starving country, India became a major exporter.

Difference in energy input-to-output with the change in agricultural systems. Source: based on data from Pimentel 2009
Difference in energy input-to-output with the change in agricultural systems. Source: based on data from Pimentel 2009

However, the use of synthetic fertilisers has depleted the soil of its nutritients. Because of the new agricultural methods relying on machines and synthetics compounds, the energy input per crop has increased, making the industry more reliant on fossil fuels as a consequence. The extended use and consumption of chemicals also increased cancer incidences. As the Green Revolution promoted the farming of rice and wheat over pules, there has been a shift it dietary habits among the farmers bringing them to a more unbalanced diet. The farmers also had to buy their seeds instead of producing them themselves, which made them dependant on seed industries and credit institutions.

Sources: India One Stop / Wikipedia / Wikipedia 

Gender and Equity

AMMACHI Labs, which hosts my project, focuses on empowering women in rural communities. In India, 60-80% of the rice production is made by women. Thus, it is important to understand how they work and what is better for them while developing a rice-transplanting machine.

Moreover, if the women can repair and maintain (ev. build) the machines themselves and not be reliant on external people, they will be empowered by being independent and holding the technical knowledge about their tools.

Thelma Paris on  gender considerations in rice farming

The participation of women in crop and natural resource management increases with poverty and environmental stresses.

Despite women’s important contributions in farming and livelihoods, women have less access than men to knowledge and skills, productive assets, including agricultural inputs, improved seeds, land, credit, agricultural extension services, and small equipment/light machinery. Similarly, in the world of national and international agricultural research, women continue to be underrepresented and their contributions are not fully tapped.

Because women play large and crucial but often unrecognized roles across the rice sector, extra efforts are needed to ensure they have the same opportunity as men to access new technologies. The challenge is to ensure that gender issues are identified through rigorous gender analysis […], as well as in capacity enhancement programs, with a view to enhancing productivity and incomes, and empowering women farmers to remove gender inequities.

Economic development and technological response options affect women in different ways, depending on whether they are paid or unpaid laborers. Migration of men to work in urban areas often means that women are left behind to do the drudgery of working in the rice fields. […] If they are unpaid laborers, the shift will remove the drudgery and back-breaking burden of transplanting. But if they are paid laborers, it will deprive them of a source of income.

Sources Ricepedia / IRRI

Success story: women-led technology delivery

Women empowerment and farm mechanisation

rural women with new rice transplanting machine
In addition to increasing agricultural productivity, the transplanter can empower women more by offering them an opportunity to earn higher income. It also significantly improves the wellbeing of the women by reducing drudgery and health hazards associated with 9 to 10 hours of doing backbreaking manual transplanting.


Preliminary Research

As I am about to begin my internship in Humanitarian Robotics at Amrita University, I thought about doing some preliminary research about what already exists, and how people define these kind of technologies. I haven’t had much information about my project, which allows me to define a broad framework for what I would like to work on, while learning from already existing projects and organisations.

The program

I had met the director of the AMMACHI labs, Rao R. Bhavani, when she came to present Amrita university and Live-in-Labs programs at EPFL in October 2015. I was very interested in the programs, but couldn’t see how robotics would fit in. That is when she told me about the haptic (with force feedback) robots used for professional training of women. Robots, education and women empowerment? I’m in.
Less than a year later, here I am, in Amrita University, doing my first research about the project. Below quotations that should guide my work and links I found useful about appropriate technologies, engineering for development and agriculture.

Appropriate Technologies

Appropriate technology is an ideological movement (and its manifestations) encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale, decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally autonomous. It was originally articulated as intermediate technology by the economist Dr. Ernst Friedrich “Fritz” Schumacher in his work Small is Beautiful. Both Schumacher and many modern-day proponents of appropriate technology also emphasize the technology as people-centered. (Wikipedia)

Appropriate Technology on Appropedia

Appropriate Technology projects should use local materials and people-power to fill needs identified by locals themselves. The process must be transparent and open-source to ensure it is replicable.

Technological Choice’s definition:

Indigenous people have a very specific way of deciding whether to integrate a new technology into their lives or not, which would likely qualify that technology as appropriate.

On the other hand, the developed world tends to assume that all technology is progress. This often leaves out important externalities and side effects of the new technology and its development, such as environmental and social impacts. Thus, we need to take a step back and better analyze whether new technologies are appropriate or not. Pachamama Website

One of the best-known early proponents and popularisers of appropriate technology was the British economist E. F. Schumacher, who talked about ‘intermediate technology’ in his book Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. He was principally concerned with development in low-income countries, and recommended a technology that was aimed at helping the poor in these countries to do what they were already doing in a better way. Schumacher’s intermediate technology had the following characteristics:

  • methods and machines cheap enough to be accessible to anyone;

  • small-scale application ; individual smallness allows nature to recover, is more sensible because human knowledge is patchy, and is an appropriate scale for self-help;

  • room for human creativity, as opposed to alienation and dehumanisation.

Technological Choice

Wicklein’s evaluation criteria:
  • Ability of technology to stand alone without additional support systems
  • Individual versus collective technology, with regard to which one the culture values
  • Cost of technology which takes into account full costs to social, economic, and environmental impacts
  • The risk factor including internal risks, that relate to the fit in local production systems and external risks, which relate to the needed support systems
  • Evolutionary capacity of technology, with regard to its capability of being reconfigured to grow with the society it benefits, whereby solving different problems that the community encounters
  • Single-purpose versus multi-purpose technology, where the latter refers to technology that has the ability to complete different tasks at the same time.

Reclaiming Sustainability Conference

Agricultural Tools

There are a number of appropriate technology principles that specifically concern agricultural tools. Such tools should be produced within the country, in part simply because of the large numbers involved. They must be repairable at the local level. With much of agriculture characterized by short intense periods of activity, farmers cannot afford delays caused by equipment failures.

FAO General principles for appropriate agricultural tools:

  • adapted to allow efficient and speedy work with the minimum of fatigue;
  • not injurious to man or animal;
  • of simple design, so that they can be made locally;
  • light in weight, for easy transportation (there are also considerable advantages when threshers, winnowers, and machines such as coffee hullers can be easily moved to where they are needed;
  • ready for immediate use without loss of time for preparatory adjustments;
  • made of easily available materials.

Appropriate agricultural tools and equipment should contribute to the broad objective of increasing the viability of the small farm. Where small farmers are currently employing traditional technologies that are inefficient, they often cannot improve this technology because of the leap in scale and capital cost to commercially available equipment. It is therefore the goal of intermediate technology proponents to help fill this gap with good quality tools and equipment that are affordable and suited to the scale of operations of the small farmers.

Sourcebook (many machine references listed)

Agricultural tools references
LifeTrac Open Source Tractor design
Open Source machinery could provide some valuable designs that I could study and maybe even adapt to my project!

Rice planting machines

Agricultural Machinery Database (FAO)

Direct Seeding techniques

Crops and cropping systems

POC21 Open-Source Bicitractor

Open Source Ecology : Machines Index

LifeTrac open source tractor

Open-Source Appropriate Technology

Much of the widespread poverty, environmental desecration, and waste of human life seen around the globe could be prevented by known (to humanity as a whole) technologies, many of which are simply not available to those that need it. This lack of access to critical information for sustainable development is directly responsible for a morally and ethically unacceptable level of human suffering and death. A solution to this general problem is the concept of open source appropriate technology or OSAT, which refers to technologies that provide for sustainable development while being designed in the same fashion as free and open source software. OSAT is made up of technologies that are easily and economically utilized from readily available resources by local communities to meet their needs and must meet the boundary conditions set by environmental, cultural, economic, and educational resource constraints of the local community

Appropriate Technology References

Appropriate Technology Sourcebook: access chapters by clicking on links on the right side of the webpage

Small is Beautiful (extract)

Engineering For Change Solutions Library

Practical Action empowering the poor through technology

No Tech Magazine

Permaculture References

Permaculture Voices Podcasts

Permaculture Research Institute

LLOOF e-learning platform

Other references

System of Rice Intensification

Agriculture for Impact: research done in Africa about ecological intensification and precision agriculture.

Planting seeds at the correct spacing allows for land to be used most efficiently as crops are given the necessary access to nutrients. This in turn, increases the overall yield with a minimum seed input requirement.

Results: Seed usage decreased from 50kg per hectare to 6kg per hectare. The average SRI yield for the 53 farmers who used the practices as recommended was 9.1 tonnes per hectare, 66% higher than the average for the control plots at 5.5 tonnes per hectare. The average yield on neighbouring rice fields where non-participating farmers used their own methods was 4.86 tonnes per hectare.

Limitations: labour increased from 161 to 251 person days and input costs were higher, increasing from $714 US in the control group to $820 US for SRI. On the other hand, the net revenue from SRI more than doubled: $1765 US per hectare for those that adopted SRI compared to $846 US per hectare for the control plots


Azolla Green Manure

Banana-Rice Intercroppping

Fish-Rice Intercropping


Guide Book for Rural Cottage and Small & Medium Scale Industries, Paddy Rice Cultivation

One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world? &reading recommendations

All links visited on 21.09.2016