Integrated Farming Systems for small and marginal farmers' prosperity
Sustainable agriculture road map for India
- Part 2 -

UK Behera *

Integrated farming systems

An IFS may be defined as linking together two or more normally separate components or enterprise which then become subsystems of a whole farming system. Two major features of an IFS are: (i) waste or by-product utilization in which the wastes or by-products of one subsystem; and (ii) improved space utilization in which the two subsystems essentially occupy part or all of the space required for an individual subsystem.

Integrated farming has also defined as the biologically IFS which: (i) integrates natural resources and regulation mechanisms into farming activities to achieve maximum replacement of off-farm inputs; (ii) secures sustainable production of high quality food and other products through ecologically preferable technologies; (iii) sustains farm income; (iv) eliminates or reduces sources of present environment pollution generated by agriculture; and (v) sustains the multiple function of agriculture (IOBC, 1983)

Thus an IFS represents multiple crops (e.g. cereals, legumes, tree crops, vegetables) and multiple enterprises (e.g. livestock, apiary, aquaculture) on a single farm in an integrated manner. The IFS approach is holistic, multidisciplinary, problem solving, location specific and farmer oriented (Singh et al., 1998).

The basic aim of IFS is to derive a set of resource development and utilization practices, which leads to a substantial and sustained increase in agricultural production. However, there exists a web of interactions among the components within farming systems and it becomes difficult to deal with such inter-linking complex systems. This is a likely reason for the slow and limited progress achieved in the field of farming systems.

Research in Asian countries

For the small and marginal farmers of India, IFS can play a vital role in enhancing their economic situation and livelihood. Unlike specialized farming systems, IFS activity is focused around selected, interdependent, interrelated and often interlinking production systems based on several crops, animals and related subsidiary professions.

An IFS involves the utilization of primary and secondary produce of one system as basic inputs to the other systems, thus making them mutually integrated as one whole unit. There is need or effective linkage and complementarities of various components to develop effective holistic farming systems (Singh et al., 2007).

Benefits of IFS

The advantages of IFS include pooling and sharing of resources/inputs, efficient use of family labour, conservation, preservation and utilization of farm biomass including non-conventional feed and fodder resources, effective use of manure/animal waste, regulation of soil fertility and health, income and employment generation for many people and increase economic resources.

It improves space utilization and provides diversified products. IFS is a part of the strategy to ensure sustainable use of the natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

o Productivity: IFS provides an opportunity to increase economic yield per unit area per unit time by virtue of intensification of crop and allied enterprises.
o Profitability: Improved profitability by reducing production cost through recycling wastes/by-products of one enterprise as input of other enterprises.
o Sustainability: Organic supplementation through effective utilization of by-products of linked component is done, thus providing an opportunity to sustain the potentiality of production base for much longer periods. It gives emphasis on achieving agro-ecological equilibrium through the reduction in build-up of pests and diseases.

o Balanced food: Components of varied nature are linked to produce different variety of products/produces, which serve as balanced diet for the farm families.
o Environmental safety: In IFS waste materials are effectively recycled by linking appropriate enterprises/components, thus minimized environment pollution.
o Resource recycling: Effective recycling of waste materials/by-products (crop residues and livestock wastes) in IFS. Therefore, there is less reliance to outside inputs-fertilizers, agrochemicals, feeds, energy, etc. This leads to stable production system.

o Income rounds the year: IFS provides flow of money to the farmers round the year by way of sale of farm produces (milk, egg, mushroom, vegetables, fruits, food grains etc.).
o Risk minimization: IFS provides a stable and sustainable production systems through diversified crops and enterprises. This helps in risk minimization and resilience to climate change.

IFS for enhancing sustainable agriculture

Monoculture and continuous cropping or rice-wheat and rice-rice systems has resulted in various disadvantages, e.g. degradation of natural resources, build-up of diseases and pests, and decline in factor of productivity (Ayyappan and Arunachalam, 2014; Singh 2015). All these have endangered the basis fabric of sustainability in some of the most productive zones of India.

Crop-animal systems in Asian agriculture display a wide diversity in cropping patterns, livestock species and use of the resource base. There is evidence of positive and economic benefits from crop-animal inter-actions that promote sustainable agriculture and environmental protection.

Under the stress of intensive agriculture, environmental degradation has been reported in many economically developed countries from excessive use of high energy inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Use and recycling of locally available inputs and integrating them with the minimum needed quantities of external inputs would enhance the sustainability of the farming process.

Use of locally available inputs besides being environmentally friendly can keep production costs within the affordable reach of the peasant farmers. Indigenous technological knowledge has a substantial stake in this process. IFS are useful owing to increased diversification, intensification, improved natural resource efficiency and increased productivity, as well as increased sustainability (Lightfoot et al., 1993).

IFS for enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem services

There has been an ever increasing dominance of economically-driven highly intensive farming systems over ecologically-oriented traditional agricultural systems all over the globe. (Enrlich and Pingle, 2008).

Such a shift is rapidly reducing the diversity of cropping systems and diminishing the quality of available habitats for various organisms associated with agricultural landscapes, and hence adversely affecting the existing biodiversity (Reidsma et al., 2006).

The Indian scenario provides an excellent example. Market-oriented intensive agricultural production systems are replacing ecologically-oriented extensive traditional farming systems, and hence leading to rapid changes in the agricultural landscape.

It is widely accepted that the major practices of the intensive systems that adversely affect farm level biodiversity are application of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, cultivation of but a few high yielding varieties, continued mechanization of agriculture and the removal of semi-natural habitats in farm areas (Amjath-Babu and Kaechele, 2015).

Dhyani et al. (2009) argued that conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity contributes significantly to sustainable development and mitigation, and adaptation to climate change.

IFS promotes a rich culture of biodiversity through maintaining a multi-enterprise systems of flora and fauna. It is reported that there are 21 species of cropped plants in an IFS under eastern Indian conditions, comprising root crops, leafy vegetables and green, flowers, fruits seeds and nuts, agro-forestry plants, trees, and medicinal plants besides the usual business of growing field crops such as rice, wheat, and green gram for grain purpose and mustard and toria for oilseeds.

Such a mosaic of plant and crop species contributes for a better quality of life for the farmers by providing various items of food, fodder and fuel for the farm family. Rearing of cows, goats, etc. along with fish in farm ponds helps balance the diet of the farm family.

Such multi-enterprise farming plays a vital role in making the farming system sustainable through different cropping, biodiversity and ecosystem services. Intensification of farming has a clear impact on biodiversity (Amjath-Babu and Kaechele, 2015). The process of intensification includes the combined effects of ploughing frequency, fertilizer and pesticides applications, and specialization of production.

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 May 02 2024.

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