Apsara Bharati and her neighbors are spread across a small bit of land in Kavre, about 20 miles outside Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. The women bend to plant rice seedlings in mud up to their calves in Bharati’s field.
“One by one,” Bharati instructs the women, who are used to placing several plants at once. Bharati is practicing SRI, or the system of rice intensification. The technique, which was developed in Madagascar in the 1980s by French Jesuit priest Henri de Laulanié, involves several practices that seem counterintuitive to increasing production, such as planting fewer seedlings, planting them younger and using less water. But small farmers across the world have reported massive gains in yield that they attribute to the process.