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Norman Uphoff

1. In September 2002, following the International Rice Congress held in Beijing, I traveled to Dhaka, being met at the airport by Masud Khan from CARE/Bangladesh. CARE had arranged a national workshop to be held in Mymensingh upcountry the following day, so we drove their straight from the airport in the rain. Mymensingh is where the national agricultural university is located, about 3 hours' drive from Dhaka. CARE has had SRI activities in that area since 1999/2000 so there are a good number of SRI farmers nearby.

2. The workshop on September 27 was well attended despite the inclement weather: about 140 participants, including more than 40 farmers. Other SRI partners were also represented: the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE), the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), and Syngenta (its director of research drove 3 hours both ways to attend the meeting). The Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) sent its chief scientific officer as BINA is also working with SRI methods now.

3. The vice-chancellor of the National Agricultural University opened the session in the morning and stayed for my presentation. After tea break, the dean of the Faculty of Agriculture chaired the rest of the meeting. There were presentations by BRRI, DAE, BINA and CARE. The three CARE papers presented very detailed results, including one paper on "farmer perceptions." These included the often-heard comments about how terrible an SRI field looks for the first 5 to 6 weeks, but how it then "explodes" with growth, and neighboring farmers do not ridicule SRI farmers any more.

4. From my point of view, the highlight of the workshop was the "cultural event," that was not explained to me beforehand. A musical ensemble provided background music, playing tabla (drums), harmonium, flute and percussion instruments, while singing along with the two actors on stage. The performance was very vigorous and held one's attention, with dialogue, jokes, singing, dancing, etc. in the traditional Bangladesh village style of entertainment. It was all in Bangla language so I could not understand what was said or sung, except I kept hearing "SRI" every 30-60 seconds. I wondered why the musicians were singing the songs about SRI so clearly and enthusiastically until it was explained to me that these were all SRI farmers, who had written and produced this performance all by themselves.

5. The two actors played a young farmer (pro-SRI) and his elderly grandfather (skeptical about SRI and critical of "new ways"). The latter had a snow-white beard and a cane, and acted very cantankerously. He sometimes chased the young man around the stage, waving his cane and chastizing the grandson for his insolence. The only part of the dialogue that was translated for me (it was very fast-moving) was when the young man noted, to justify SRI, that since he was young and could run fast, and the grandfather was old and could not move very fast, it stood to reason the "young seedlings" could grow much faster and produce much better than "old seedlings." This elicited an angry outburst from the grandfather to the merriment of all.

6. This kind of combination of dialogue, music and dance is a staple for village entertainment. The farmers prepared this musical skit as a way of attracting other villagers' interest and then educating them about the benefits of SRI and about its basic principles and practices. The farmers who performed were so excellent I had thought they were professionals at first. But few professionals would project such enthusiasm and fervor. CARE said it would provide a video of the performance to put on the SRI home page on the web. Even if one cannot understand the Bangla, the music is enjoyable, and farmers in many countries would enjoy seeing counterparts perform so well, hearing "SRI" interjected continuously into the Bangla dialogue.

7. After the workshop ended, I spent an hour with several Mymensingh agronomy faculty, meeting in the dean's office. I could tell they were skeptical about SRI from my conversation with them during the tea break. But with this additional time I was able to go more into some of the scientific issues and explanations that had to be skipped over in the workshop presentation. I had the full presentation in powerpoint and could go through it using my computer's battery. After an hour, it appeard they could see that there are some very plausable, if not always yet fully proven, explanations for the results that farmers and NGOs have been reporting. (BRRI, like IRRI, has not had as good results from its on-station trials as farmers report from their fields.)

8. The next day, the 26th, a national SRI steering committee meeting was held, hosted by BRAC at its headquarters in Dhaka. About 20 people were present, not just representatives of the five steering committee members: BRRI, DAE, CARE, BRAC and Syngenta. We were glad to have IRRI's representative in Bangladesh, Noel Magor, and its research management officer, Dr. Abdul Ghani, attending. They announced that on the previous day, the technical committee for PETRRA, a DFID-funded project for poverty alleviation through rice research that IRRI manages in Bangladesh, had approved three grants for SRI evaluation and extension work. While these are not very large grants, they should support some valuable activity on SRI.

9. There was a lot of support expressed at the meeting for collaborative work on SRI in Bangladesh. The group agreed to meet six times a year, before and after each of the three seasons (rather than meet every other month). The next meeting, before the boro season begins, will focus on establishing an agreed set of information to be collected by all partners for sharing and comparing results, standardizing for things like grain moisture content. Any organization can gather and analyze more information that this, but researchers wanted to have at least some basic data that will make evaluation of results more satisfactory.

10. BRAC's director of research and evaluation, Dr. Muazzam Husain, is serving as chair of the steering committee. He was previously a professor of agricultural economics at the national agricultural university at Mymensingh, so since most leadership in the agricultural sector have gone through Mymensingh, he extensive contacts that should be helpful for the SRI enterprise. SC members agreed to rotate the hosting of the meetings, which was another sign of common purpose.

11. It was gratifying to be part of a social process that engages such important institutions and such capable people in Bangladesh, but even more gratifying to see that this network is operating quite independently on its own. As with other SRI networks, CIIFAD will be pleased to work partners in the various countries, but on a collegial basis, with control and decision-making in national and local hands. There are networks also in Indonesia and the Philippines already, and more will surely follow.

12. The Department of Agricultural Extension has decided, based on the results obtained this past year, to extend SRI evaluation and demonstration to all rice-growing areas in the country. It has found that SRI methods can usually add 1-2 t/ha under a range of Bangladesh conditions. The department will set up SRI demonstrations in 64 districts in the coming boro (dry) season. Mr. Wasiuzzaman Akonda, a deputy director-general of DAE, who pioneered SRI trials in 1999-2000 in Kishorganj district and who attended the Sanya conference, has been officially given responsibility for overseeing SRI activities on behalf of the Department. This is the first national department of extension to take such an official step to promote SRI evaluation and use.

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