Integrated Farming Systems for small and marginal farmers' prosperity
Sustainable agriculture road map for India
- Part 1 -

UK Behera *

Agriculture in South Asia is at cross-roads in terms of achieving sustainability, mainly for three reasons. The region is finding it difficult to generate adequate income and employment for its vast farming population, failing to achieve environmental and energy security at the farm level, and failing to cope with climate change.

Faced with this situation, agricultural strategies need to be explored that increase productivity and generate adequate income and employment for the small- holder farmers, as well as generate renewable energy on the farm, and stem the erosion of biodiversity and offset carbon emissions. The economic limitation of small-sized land operations is the main challenge to sustainable farming in the 21st century.

This calls for structural and organizational changes in managing the farm sector in South Asia. The important issue is how to develop institutional mechanisms so that farmers get higher incomes by realizing the advantages of beneficial technologies, aggregation of inputs and outputs, and value addition and marketing.

The remarkable growth of Indian agriculture over the last five and half decades, i.e. after the advent of Green Revolution (i.e. cereal production) techno- logies, has ushered in an era of self-reliance in food grain production, improved rural prosperity and has brought in an element of resilience into agriculture.

Food grain production, which was 50.8 million tonne in 1950-51, was raised to 196.8 million tonne by 1997. The impact of the Green Revolution was so impressive that India became a role model for many developing countries.

Concerted efforts made by researchers, farmers and policy makers transformed India from begging-bowl to bread-basket status within a short period of a decade or so. Obviously, this proved a matter of national pride and great satisfaction to the scientists and farmers of the country.

In the backdrop of past glory, unabated growth of the Indian population and its large-scale (60%) dependence on agriculture, continue to pose a serious challenge for planners and agricultural scientists alike. Assuming present trends, the Indian population is estimated at 1.3 billion by 2020, sharing resources with a very large livestock population.

On the basis of present consumption patterns, estimated total requirement for food grain will be around 300 and 350 million tonne by 2020 and 2030, respectively, as against present production of approximately 270 million tonne.

For these two years, the demand for edible oil, milk, vegetables and fruits is expected to rise to 7.9 and 9.5, 93.1 and 119.5, 93.6 and 110.7, and 53.7 and 70.5 million tonne. Similarly, a 30-50% increase in demand is anticipated in respect of marine and livestock products from present levels of 5.4 and 3.6 million tonne, respectively.

In other words, to keep pace with the food requirements of such a large population, there is an urgent need to accelerate all aspects of agricultural food production with due consideration to restoration and conservation of natural resources, which can only be achieved through sustainable resource management and the adoption of farmer-participatory holistic approaches (termed the farming systems approach).

The farming systems approach is considered a resource management strategy to achieve economic and sustained productivity that meets the diverse requirements of the farm household whilst preserving the resource base and maintaining a high level of environmental quality. Farming systems research is considered a powerful tool for natural and human resource management in developing countries including India.

This multi- disciplinary whole-farm approach is very effective in solving the problems of small and marginal farmers. The approach aims at increasing income and employment from small-holdings by integrating various farm enterprises and recycling crop residues and by-products within the farm itself.

The structure of India agriculture is undergoing transformation. A notable feature of changing farm structure is the dominance of smallholders whose number has increased over time and will continue to do so in future. The traditional monoculture and disciplinary approach is unable to meet the growing and changing food demand and improve the livelihood of these smallholders on a sustainable basis.

Therefore, an integrated approach to farming is critical to sustain agricultural production, maintain farm incomes, safeguard the environment and respond to consumer concern about food quality issues. However, the potential contribution of IFS to the development of a more sustainable agriculture has largely been ignored.

Moreover, decline in per capita availability of land from 0.5 ha in 1950-51 to 0.15 ha in 2009 and a projected further drop to less than 0.1 ha by 2020 point to the urgent need of developing strategies and agricultural technologies that enable adequate employment and income generation, with small and marginal farmers at the fore front.

The problems encountered by these 2 groups of farmers are different than those having large holdings. These farms need multi-enterprise farming activities that are complementary and technically compromising in the interest of the productivity of the whole farming systems. The crop and cropping system based perspective of research needs to make way for farming systems based research particularly with regard to small farmers.

In IFS research, integration of land-based enterprises such as aquaculture, poultry, duckery, apiary, field and horticultural crops within the biophysical and socio-economic environment of the famers is important to make farming more profitable and dependable.

Adoption of an individual farm enterprise in isolation cannot sustain the farm family, but the IFS approach holds the promise of addressing the issues of sustainable economic growth of Indian farming communities. |Integrated farming systems benefit from synergisms among different enterprises, diversity of produce, and environmental soundness. For this reason the IFS model has been suggested by several workers for developing small and marginal farms across the country.

Approach to research: holism and reductionism

The four revolutions in the agriculture sector [viz. the Green (cereal production}, White (milk), Yellow (oilseed) and Blue (fish) Revolutions) made India self-reliant in various agricultural commodities and also made it possible to export large quantities of some agricultural produce (Borthakur and Singh, 2013).

With commodity-based research underpinning these revolutions, the main emphasis has been on the evolution of high yielding varieties and increased use of fertilizers and other chemicals combined with greater use of irrigation water, with the research mostly being conducted in isolation and at the institute level (Jha, 2003; Jain, 2008).

This commodity-based research has proven largely inadequate in addressing the multifarious problems of small farmers (Rhoades and Booth, 1982; Jha, 2003). Also, several ills have appeared in Indian farming, such as decreasing factor of productivity and resource use efficiency, and declining farm profitability and productivity (Singh, 2015).

The systems view is a useful conceptual device for all concerned with agriculture as it helps researchers understand the context of their research and in defining its content, thus contri- buting to its relevance. It helps them see their specialization in perspective and in relation to other forces and creates a better climate for cross disciplinary work.

It has been demonstrated that research programmes based on the traditional approach (i.e. commodity based) are not wholly sustainable, equitableand stable over a long period (Singh et al., 1998).

No doubt, such research has made India self-sufficient in agricultural production; however, many associated problems have emerged in intensive farming areas which will adversely affect the nation's agricultural production (Jain, 2008).

Certain problems, such as recurrent pest and disease outbreaks, soil erosion, declining soil quality, pollution and increasing inequality, can be more or less directly attributed to the Green Revolution itself; while others such as desertification, salination and widespread malnutrition and famine have persisted because the revolutions so far have offered few solutions.

The issue of planning research programmes, therefore, by diverting attention towards holistic conditions on the farm is being realized, and research programmes are being formulated on the basis offarming system as a whole.

To be continued....

* UK Behera wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is with College of Agriculture, CAU , Meghalaya
This article was webcasted on April 30 2024.

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