October 19, 2006

C.U. Sustainability Finalist

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The Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development (CIIFAD) has recently been announced as one of 10 finalists worldwide for the Alcan Prize for sustainability.

The Alcan Company, a multinational aluminum and packaging corporation, awards the prize annually to organizations dedicated to sustainable development and environmental conservation. Cornell has been commended for its involvement with a specific method of agricultural management called the System of Rice Intensification. The process, developed by Henri de Laulanie in 1961, is groundbreaking because it involves changing the organization of plants, soil, water and nutrients to maximize their productivity without increasing expenses or resources needed.

CIIFAD has been working with the SRI since 1994, when it took part in a USAID-funded endeavor to protect rainforests in Ranomafana National Park in southeastern Madagascar. According to Norman Uphoff, coordinator of the Sustainable Rice Systems program at the institute, “CIIFAD was to help farmers living around the park to adopt different and more productive agricultural practices so that they would not longer need to practice shifting cultivation and thus continue encroaching upon the forest.”

While CIIFAD was initially skeptical of the method’s validity, successful testing of the program in Madagascar led the institute to partner with international research institutions, universities and non-governmental organizations to promote further investigation and experimentation with the technique.

The SRI initially took root in Cambodia through the joint efforts of CIIFAD and the non-governmental Center for Study and Development of Cambodian Agriculture. In 2000, CEDAC’s director, Dr. Koma Yang Saing, convinced twenty-eight Cambodian farmers to test the system; as of 2006, this number has swelled to 55,000 farmers thanks to the overwhelming increases in efficiency. The system, which usually doubles farmers’ productivity and income, has since been implemented in thirty-six countries on five continents in a similarly profitable fashion.

The Alcan Company is recognizing Cornell for its continuing endeavors to expand the SRI through extensive research as well as its efforts to distribute the method worldwide, which it has successfully done via the Internet since 2000. The winner of the prize will be announced in November.