Integrated Farming Systems for small and marginal farmers' prosperity
Sustainable agriculture road map for India
- Part 3 -

UK Behera *

The traditional farming systems of India are relatively stable and in equilibrium. The species complexes in traditional systems exemplify the co-existence of plants, humans, draught animals, friendly birds, beneficial insects, pollinators, earth-worms, soil micro-organisms and bio-control agents. Agricultural biodiversity and associated traditional knowledge are essential to the climate change resilience of these landscapes but their roles are largely overlooked by researches and policy makers.

Modern farming systems, which evolved in response to the growing needs of society to ensure food and nutritional security, have progressively replaced traditional farming. More intensification of crops and cropping systems in modern farming has led to a decline in the genetic pool and an erosion of biodiversity, and the links among the components and enterprises are broken causing unsustainability (Dent, 1990).

It is important that diversity is assured while attaining high production levels and profitability. Humans, particularly women, have a long tradition of preserving plant species and the agro-ecosystem. There is a need to preserve traditional practices and learn from available local wisdom.

The genetic future of livestock populations is closely linked to crop integration in mixed farming systems (de Haan et al., 1997). IFS are the reservoir for many valuable indigenous breeds of ruminants and non-ruminants that have been incompletely characterized and inadequately exploited in Asia.

The intensification and industrialization of livestock production has led increasingly to the demand for uniform genotypes causing the extinction of some and genetic erosion of other breeds. In South Asia, the crossbreeding of local breeds with a few introduced dairy breeds is proceeding on a very large scale, to the detriment of the indigenous stock.

Integrated farming systems: The Road Map

(i) The systems and interdisciplinary approach

A significant weakness in the research and development process and programmes in most national systems concerned with crop and livestock production in Asia is the near absence of the systems approach. Much of the research continues along strongly disciplinary lines without reference to the needs of small farms (Devendra, 2007).

Despite the dominant emphasis on mixed farming in Asia, research on crop-animal systems is seldom integrated. As a result, the complex and interrelated system-based problems in crop-animals systems are not addressed in holistic terms.

The systems approach requires multi-interdisciplinary interpretation of different components of the systems and the biophysical environment, identified through detailed analyses of the constraints, needs and opportunities. System perspective are therefore of great importance in improving, understanding and developing the contribution for the farmers.

(ii) Targeting research and development in rain-fed areas

The rationale and justification for targeting the rain-fed areas of Asia are related to three important reasons: inadequate availability of arable lands, the need to increase productivity from animals to match projected human needs and the alleviation of poverty (Devendra, 2000).

The rain-fed areas have been constrained by many factors, such as road and market access and hence have been relatively underutilized and also by-passed by research and development. Water is another constraint, and without adequate irrigation systems, rain-fed areas have been unable to increase productivity and capacity.

However, these constraints can be overcome by increased research and development attention, technology delivery and market-oriented production systems. The strategy for the development of small farms must therefore give priority to rain-fed areas, especially to the potentially more important locations.

(iii) Markets and marketing

Small farmers have major problems coping with a range of issues in the face of the complexity and general inefficiency of prevailing marketing chains. At present, inadequate access to market outlets and weak marketing arrangements represent major constraints in the production to consumption cycle.

Market chains involve rural, peri-urban, urban and international markets, and the major challenge lies in ways to link small farmers with these markets and marketing systems. In order to provide good links between rural and urban markets, appropriate infrastructure and communication facilities must be in place, in addition to centres for collection and processing.

(iv) Extension strategy for 21st century agriculture

In the national agriculture systems, we visit farmers' field and provide number of recommendations and advice to the farmers related to varieties, breeds and technologies in isolation. There is need to advice in holistic ways by projecting the whole farm income, expenditure, outcome and activities round the year. This is lacking in national agricultural research and extension system.

Enterprise/activities combination in farming systems and optimization of scarce resources at the command of farmers must revolve round optimization ľoptimization enterprise combination and optimization scare resource use at farm level fitting to the enterprise combination. These two aspects are weak in national agriculture systems in India and other Asian countries also.

This is very important for doubling the farmers income in our country. No agency in National agricultural system is equipped to do so. There is need to modify our education/training programme to develop scientific and skilled manpower in this area.

(v) The developmental farm model (DFM)

To help bring agricultural growth to the rural areas of South Asia and in keeping with the millennium goal of reducing world poverty by 50% by 2020, we advocate another model namely the DFM (Behera et al, 2013; Behera and France, 2014).

This is a holistic farm model that assures adequate income generation and family employment opportunities for the farmer, particularly resource-poor, small-holder farmers, thereby helping to reduce poverty and improve livelihood. It is based on a bottom-up approach and is applicable to all classes of farmer to meet their multi-objective needs.

Whether they are subsistence or corporate farmers, this model can help them achieve their desired objectives. The use of optimization methodology (e.g., linear programming and its variants) helps enhance the application of DFM in an efficient way.

The vision behind the DFM concept is to provide the farmers of South Asia and other developing regions with the opportunity to have their own model of development. This takes full account of the fact that all farms are not alike. Hence, with the DFM approach, we visualize providing each and every farmer with a model of their farm for their development.

The question arises as to how and what forms of renewable modern energy generating capacity can be added to the exiting resource recycling capabilities of an IFS so that the whole system becomes self-sufficient or even surplus in energy.

In the E-IFS concept, the objective is to integrate all direct and indirect sources of energy (which so far have not been fully explored), and to utilize resource recycling and resource conservation to reduce the energy embodied in inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation water. This would lead towards a reduction in carbon emissions (i.e. towards carbon neutrality) and cleaner and greener farming.

An E-IFS would be one that uses little or no fossil fuel energy and even produces more energy than is required, so that it becomes energy than is required, so that it becomes another product off the farm.

However, such an energy surplus needs to be achieved without competing with food crops for land and resources. Finally, the very nature of farming within an E-IFS, with its diversity of enterprise, can act as a risk reduction mechanism in the wake of climatic changes that may possibly lead to crop failure.

The incorporation of modern energy sources within an IFS can provide an ideal farming system if some of the limitations mentioned previously are overcome. Next we briefly address some policy measures that could make such a system attractive to farmers under current Indian circumstances.

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 06 2024.

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