Press Release

    Game-Changing Rice Production Methodology Awarded Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security

    Press release

    Cornell University’s work on the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) praised for proven sustainable, ‘paradigm shifting’ methodologies impacting more than 55 rice producing countries

    • 3.5 billion people depend on rice as a daily food staple for 20% of their calories1
    • Demand is projected to grow by 50% by 20501
    • The livelihoods of over 1 billion people depend upon rice production, many in emerging markets1
    • SRI rice production methodology increases yields by 20-50% whilst reducing farmers’ costs

    Olam International, a leading global agri-business operating across the value chain in 65 countries, is pleased to announce that the Olam International Prize for Innovation in Food Security has been awarded by an international jury panel to Professor Norman Uphoff and the SRI International Network and Resources Center (SRI-Rice) at the 3rd Global Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture in Montpellier, France.

    Launched in partnership with leading scientific organisation Agropolis Fondation to celebrate Olam’s 25th anniversary year2, the Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security recognises an outstanding innovation for its impact on the availability, affordability, accessibility or adequacy of food.

    SRI-Rice, which is housed at Cornell University (New York), has been promoting research and facilitating knowledge-sharing on the System of Rice Intensification3, a climate-smart methodology with outstanding results for rice production that is surprisingly counter-intuitive.

    Capitalising on biological processes, on the genetic potential of the crop, and on plant-soil-microbial interactions, the system requires 80-90% fewer rice seeds, up to 50% less water and in many instances no fertiliser.  Yields are then boosted by 20-50% (and often by much more), with farmers’ costs subsequently reduced by 10-20%.

    SRI methods include alternately drying and wetting the rice field rather than the usual practice of continuous flooding, adding organic matter to soil for their improvement, and instead of planting  the standard of approximately 130 plants per m2,  about 16 single, very young seedlings are planted with much wider spacing. These carefully designed planting and growing practices produce deep-rooted rice plants with a greater amount and diversity of soil organisms. The healthier, more robust plants are better able to withstand the stresses of drought, flooding, storm damage, and pests and diseases.

    Such has been its success that SRI today is now being promoted by governments in China, India, Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam, where two thirds of the world’s rice is produced. Use of SRI practices is increasing the yields of over 10 million smallholder farmers by an average of 1.67 tons per hectare, while simultaneously reducing their costs and lowering water requirements.

    Sunny Verghese, Co-Founder, Group Managing Director and CEO at Olam, said:

    “The innovation behind SRI is fascinating because it disrupts common notions of rice farming, and such disruption is essential if we are to feed nine billion people by 2050. Grown by 200 million small-scale farmers, rice is the world’s staple diet, so I am delighted that Olam is helping to scale up practices so clearly proven to increase yields, thereby reducing the pressure on precious arable land and water. On top of this, there are no costs to the farmer which provides three benefits: firstly, communities have increased access to vital calories without paying more; secondly they can improve their livelihoods by selling the surplus and lastly, through that surplus they are supporting global food security needs.

    Mr Verghese concluded, “As we celebrate our 25 years in the agricultural sector, I am proud that this anniversary prize should be awarded to SRI-RICE, a team that has ‘transcended boundaries’ – the meaning of Olam. And with our own 10,000 hectare rice farm and smallholder programme in Nigeria we will certainly be exploring this research further.”

    In addition to the promotion of the new methodologies, SRI-Rice provides technical assistance to development and research programmes, advancing knowledge on SRI and acting as a global hub for the international SRI community.

    Pascal Kosuth, Director of Agropolis Fondation and jury member for the Olam Prize, commented:

    “The SRI-Rice team stood out for the demonstrable impact their research and outreach on paradigm-shifting methodologies is having in over 55 rice-growing countries globally. Professor Uphoff and the SRI-Rice team at Cornell University are working with a vast global network to build a body of scientific evidence demonstrating that significant yields can be achieved from the same land by simply better understanding the natural synergies between plants, soils, water, nutrients, soil organisms and climate.”

    Accepting the award, Prof. Norman Uphoff, Senior Advisor for SRI-Rice, said:

    “Along with the rest of the SRI-Rice team and the hundreds of colleagues all around the world who have made SRI a reality on the ground, I am honoured to receive this award from Olam, one of the world’s largest agribusinesses and a team that knows very well the importance of agricultural science to ensuring food security. However, this award must be dedicated to the memory of Père Henri Laulanie, whose ideas and observations working with impoverished farmers in Madagascar some 30 years ago provided the basis for all SRI research.

    “Scaling up SRI and its derived System of Crop Intensification (SCI) is a matter of changing mindsets, habits and practices, and the recognition Olam has bestowed on us with this award marks a milestone in terms of support from the private sector. The Olam Prize money will be used to support further research, particularly around how SRI management methods can reduce methane gas emissions – essential in the fight against climate change – as well as on the role of soil microbes in the uptake of nutrients.”

    With a prize value of US$50,000, the Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security was judged by an international panel of experts4 in conjunction with the Louis Malassis International Scientific Prizes, the 2015 winners of which were also announced last night in Montpellier, France. The winners are:

    • Young Promising Scientist: Kazuki Saito, Africa Rice Center
    • Distinguished Scientist: Claire Lanaud, CIRAD
    • Outstanding Career in Agricultural Development: Zyaur Khan, ICIPE

    To read more about the SRI system and to hear farmers talking about their success go to: Farming First: the story behind SRI

    Notes to editors

    1Facts supplied by the Sustainable Rice Platform

    2To mark its 25th anniversary, Olam has launched four global initiatives aimed at helping address some of the global challenges facing the next generation. 

    • The Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security
    • The Olam Scholarship Programme
    • The Olam Foundation
    • Building Sustainable Futures Forum

    These look beyond the commercial framework of Olam’s business, recognising the role the private sector has to play in helping to address global challenges including food, water and energy security, the impact of climate change, sustainable and inclusive growth, and good governance.   

    3 The method of System of Rice Intensification derives from the work of French priest-agronomist, Fr. Henri de Laulanié, SJ, active in Madagascar between1961-1995. Faculty and staff at Cornell University in New York began work on scientifically evaluating and verifying the results of the methodologies now known as SRI, and making knowledge of their results widely known. Since 2010, their research on SRI and the application of its methodologies to other food crops (SCI) has been conducted under the formal auspices of the SRI-Rice Center at Cornell. 

    4Jury members are appointed by the Chairman of the Board of Agropolis Fondation. The independent jury is composed of internationally recognized individuals acclaimed for their contribution to agriculture and food and knowledge of issues confronting the sector. The jury for the 2015 edition of the Louis Malassis and Olam Prizes were: 

    • Guido GRYSEELS (Chair, 2015 Prize Jury), Director-General, Royal Museum for Central Africa (Belgium);
    • Michel GRIFFON, Independent expert and member of Agropolis Fondation Science Council (France);
    • Nighisty GHEZAE, Head of Programme, International Foundation for Science, IFS (Sweden);
    • Segenet KELEMU, Director-General, ICIPE (Kenya) and 2014 UNESCO-L’Oreal Women in Science Laureate for Africa;
    • Wayne POWELL, Chief Scientific Officer, Consortium of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (France);
    • Ariadna BARDOLET, Director for International Cooperation, La Caixa Banking Foundation (Spain);
    • André CHARRIER, Retired professor, Montpellier SupAgro (France);
    • Koma Saing YANG, Executive Director, NGO CEDAC (Cambodia) and 2013 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee;
    • Supramaniam RAMASAMY, Head of Plantations, Olam International (Malaysia);
    • Pascal KOSUTH, Director, Agropolis Fondation (France)


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      Game changing rice production methodology awarded Olam Prize for Innovation in Food Security

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