Despite Vietnam’s remarkable success in reducing poverty from almost 60 percent of the population in 1993 to 14 percent in 2008, 18 million Vietnamese still live on less than US$1.25 a day. Vietnam supplies a fifth of the rice consumed worldwide, and yet millions of rice farmers grow barely enough for subsistence. Over 9 million farmers in Vietnam own less than half a hectare of paddy land, generally fragmented into 6–10 smaller plots. Some 90 percent of these farmers live in the country’s northern region. They are highly vulnerable to external shocks, especially climate change and the high and volatile price of food and agricultural inputs. Meanwhile, extension services often overlook their needs and rely on prescriptive, top-down approaches that have failed to invest in their ongoing adaptive capacity.
Oxfam America (Oxfam) has been working with civil society partners and the government of Vietnam to make the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) available to smallholder rice producers across Northern Vietnam at a scale hitherto unreached. Unlike many conventional rice-farming practices, SRI encourages farmers to optimize the performance of the individual rice plant rather than maximize inputs. It is a principles-based system and relies on a menu of husbandry practices, each of which delivers increased yields, often with fewer input requirements than established practices.
Oxfam encouraged farmers to experiment with transplanting seedlings younger than one month; transplanting individual seedlings rather than clumps of three or more; spacing plants widely and regularly rather than densely and irregularly; and keeping soils moist rather than inundated. The introduction of SRI is flexible. Farmers may adopt it at any scale and with any combination of the husbandry practices that SRI comprises, using the same seeds and fertilizers already available to them.
This brief is one of series on scaling up in agriculture, rural development, and nutrition.