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Integrated Farming: An approach to boost up family farming

Sustainable Integrated Farming Systems (SIFS) is a system which focuses on increasing farm productivity by increasing diversification, resource integration and creating market linkages. Welthungerhilfe is helping 8000 small and marginal farm families in resource poor regions in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, in adopting this sustainable farming system.

Nurturing biodiversity on the farm.

Nurturing biodiversity on the farm.

Back in the 60s, world was going through severe food crises. As we could no longer expand our production areas, the challenge was to increase the productivity to feed the fast growing population. The traditional agricultural systems were failing us.We needed to modernize our agriculture and we needed new technologies – as we were told. Green Revolution ushered in with the promise of giving us more food with promises of hiking up the productivity. It did so. World’s food stores swelled over the next few decades. Whether that food reached our starved and half starved countrymen, is a different story.

Now, the modern technologies too seem to be failing us. Our rich agricultural crop diversity is wiped off, thanks to the handful of high yielding and improved crop varieties that now sway in our farmlands. Those who are left are threatened by GM crops. Rampant use of chemical fertilizers has led to the death of soil. Thanks to the indiscriminate and erratic use of chemical pesticides – our food and ecosystem is poisoned. The small and marginal farmers, the majority of the third world’s population, who are ploughing their ancestral land, often own less than an hectare of land. This includes the field and the homestead.

Owning a few livestock and a pond they neither have the capacity to earn nor borrow, to invest on land. Market dictates them what to grow and sell. Under such conditions, some farmers are painstakingly trying to make a livelihood out of their small pieces of land. However, unable to produce sufficiently, some have sold off or leased out their land to big commercial farmers. Such farmers have become a daily labour or shared cropper in their own land, or even migrated to cities in search of livelihood.

But where do we stand if both traditional as well as our modern methods, do not come to our rescue?

Perhaps we seldom tried to understand how nature works. We enjoyed the beauty of an evergreen forest, but never learned from her, how she recycles waste materials, how the living and nonliving components complement each other to make it ever productive.

A peep into IFS

Pravat Pal lives with his wife and son in Gopta, a village in the dry district of Birbhum, West Bengal, India. He owns an ancestral farm of size 0.81 acre. His son is physically challenged, and Pal fell into debt because they had to pay various costs relating to their son’s treatment. The only way they could afford this was to take out loans and sell most of the produce from the farm, which was only rainfed paddy, along with his assets from time to time. This created a severe food and cash shortage for the family.In the middle of this crisis, he decided to make a switch over to IFS influenced by an orientation session by DRCSC. Slowly he developed nutrition garden in his fallow land to cultivate 8 to 10 vegetables in every season, mostly used for consumption. He also keeps seeds of all the vegetables. His 0.81 acre of land is cultivated 3 times now with paddy and black gram in rainy season, 0.37 acre for vegetables, pulses like lentils & field pea and oil seeds like mustard and 0.44 acre of land for winter paddy. He also grows vegetables, sesame, black gram and green gram in summer in his 0.3 acre of land. With his 3 cows, 1 bullock, 1 calf, 3 goats and 2 hens – he is now independent of external inputs. He also set up a biogas unit – slurry is used as manure and gas is used as fuel. The livestock feed is now managed with straw, mustard cake, pulses and other agri-waste, the hens are fed with the food waste. He does not have any pond, but has share in 10 ponds in the village from where he earns a portion of his annual income.

Now, Pal’s situation has been transformed, His farm has 5 subsystems, which interact with each other positively, waste products are consumed entirely within the system. Around 70% of his farm inputs, 100% of fodder and 100% of the fuel needs are met from his farm, which amounts to Rs. 28000 per year. They have managed to pay off part of their debts. Their income has increased as surplus production, seeds and seedlings are sold in the market after meeting all their family needs. The Pals hardly have to buy food now – they can rely on a steady supply of rice, oil, pulses, fish, milk, egg and vegetables throughout the year.

Integrated Farming System (IFS) tries to look deeper into this crisis, particularly of the small family farms falling in between the modern and primitive production systems.

Integrated farming is a system which tries to imitate the nature’s principle, where not only crops but, varied types of plants, animals, birds, fish and other aquatic flora and fauna are utilized for production. These are combined in such a way and proportion that each element helps the other; the waste of one is recycled as resource for the other through LEISA techniques.

The basic principle is to enhance the ecological diversity – by choosing the appropriate cropping methodology with mixed cropping, crop rotation, crop combination and inter cropping so that there is less competition for water, nutrition and space and adopting eco-friendly practices; by following Multistorey arrangement so that the total available area is effectively used and there is a high level of interaction among biotic and abiotic components; by integrating subsystems by which the various components interact positively, so that the whole farm productivity is increased.

IFS is a labour intensive system, thereby engaging the farmer family productively on their own farms, throughout the year. IFS will lead to collective efforts among the farmers like collective purchase of inputs and collective marketing of produce, thus reducing their costs of production.

It takes 3-4 years to establish a good integrated farm with market linkages to ensure nutrition and livelihood of a family. When we have many such farms in the village, there will be enormous scope for employment and business opportunities, especially for the youth for selling seeds, seedlings, manures etc.

Successful pilot initiative

The pilot model development initiative of IFS was a part of All India Coordinated Programme on BIOFARM implemented by DRCSC during 2003-08 with support from Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

The pilots were developed in 300 farms from 15 states to evolve resource integrated farm designs, appropriate for various agro-ecological regions of the country, through on farm participatory action research. It tried to develop models in hot humid ecoregion with alluvium – derived soils in Bengal plains, Eastern Ghats with red loamy soils, Chhota Nagpur plateau, North Eastern hilly region, Deccan plateau with shallow and medium black soil, Western plain in hot arid ecoregion with desert and saline soil, Eastern coastal plain, Western Ghats, Central highlands, Northern plain and Western Himalayas with podozolic and skeletal soil. Later, more fine tuned studies were conducted under the initiative from Project Directorate of Farming System Research supported by ICAR of Government of India.

The pilot initiative produced encouraging results. Evidences from the field indicate that there has been increase in crop diversity. In comparison to the baseline, 33% of the farms recorded 50 – 100% increase in species diversity. Significant increase in uncultivated macro-fauna was observed in some of the sample locations as compared to the conventional farm.

Analysis of 300 farms showed an increase in net returns compared to baseline – more than 100% on 44% farms, 75-100% on 4% farms and 50-75% on 5% farms. However, on 36% of the farms, net profit declined. This was owing to initial investment in terms of land shaping and livestock integration. More diversification of income was seen in the sub humid region followed by semi-arid. Labour productivity also increased in most of the cases.

It was heartening to note that the number of linkages improved significantly for most project locations. It was as high as 26 linkages in some cases. Also, the number of work days increased significantly from 4-6 months in the baseline to 9-12 months in the third year, reducing the period of stress.

Fig.1: Integration of several components on the farm – a schematic representation.
Fig.1: Integration of several components on the farm – a schematic representation.

Scaling up with improvements

Based on the impressive results that emerged from the pilot programme, Welthungerhilfe and its partners in 2012, initiated extension of these learnings to 8000 small and marginal farm families as Sustainable Integrated Farming Systems (SIFS). These farm families are located in resource poor regions like dry areas of Jharkhand and West Bengal, terrain and hilly areas of Chitwan in Central Nepal and Chittagong hill tracts in Bangladesh.

The focus of the pilot programme was on developing the principles and tentative models, giving attention to technology development on individual farms. On the other hand, this phase of upscaling is trying to increase productivity by increasing diversification, resource integration and creating market linkages.

While the pilot programme focused on developing models on individual farms, the scaling up phase focuses on mobilizing farmers into groups and extending benefits to not only farm production, but also marketing as a collective initiative. Farmers who are willing to do some experimentation and train others and also those who have the capacity to pay back initial investment, are formed into a group.

Farmers are taken through a process of capacity building based on FFS principles. This is done through sessions on crop/tree management, soil/water management, soil nutrient management, pest and disease management, livestock management and multilayer designing. The sessions are organised in one of the farmer’s field from the group on a rotational basis.

Farm analysis and designing has taken a priority in this phase. Each farm is analysed with the individual farmer in the presence of other farmers of the group to understand the existing production cycles, the available resources and the periods of scarcity of food, fodder, firewood, drinking and irrigation water.

Farm designs are made for each farm based on the farm analysis, which is different from each other. Generally, to begin with, the focus is on improving crop diversity. The diversity of the farm land is increased as much as possible by introducing at least 5-6 types of cereals and pulses/oilseeds, 10-12 varieties of vegetables, 5-6 varieties of trees of fruit, fuel wood and fodder, 5-6 types of spices or medicinal plans.

Fast growing trees and shrubs like Gliricidia, Ipil Ipil, Sesbania, Bauhinia, Pigeon Pea are planted as they add high nutrient content to the soil. They can also be used as fodder for livestock as well as fuel. Once the crop diversity is enhanced and integration between existing components is ensured, 2-3 types of livestock, 3-4 types of birds and fish are added, depending on the carrying capacity of the farm judged during farm analysis.

Integration is designed based on the existing subsystems. The process is facilitated by NGO by using the resource flow diagram (See figure 1 on p.10). Farmers are helped to design various components in a way that they integrate into each other – the output of one component becoming the input to the other. For eg., the agro/livestock waste gets recycled through a biodigestor for vermicompost or biogas. Some components are designed based on the need.

For eg., if there is livestock, then fodder crops are integrated on the farm. The decisions are taken by the individual farmers as the new design, at times calls for additional financial investment. To help farmers to add new components/sub systems, farmers are linked to other programmes and schemes of the mainstream institutions, for eg., NABARD, NREGA etc.

Another improvement over the pilot programme is to create local resource persons to take IFS forward. The programme envisages to develop 200 resource farmers who can train others in IFS, thus ensuring sustainability of the programme.

Challenges ahead

Backyard poultry is a good source of income with little investment.
Backyard poultry is a good source of income with little investment.

While results of this scaling up phase is awaited, however, there are some positive indications with regard to increased production and income and reduced cost of cultivation. Also better resource management has become possible by integrating various techniques like soil water conservation, rainwater harvesting, cropping sequence management and multitier arrangement.However, there are challenges which need to be addressed. In most of the states, lands are fragmented, where even 1-2 bigha land is further subdivided and fragmented. In such situations, having a IFS to fulfill the nutrition requirements of the family is often a problem. Also, location of the land poses a challenge. If the land is located at one corner along the side of the road or canal, it is easier to carry out certain activities like widening the bund, planting trees or maintaining an organic system as compared to the land at the middle of the field.

At the farm level, for integrating components, it becomes necessary to link to a number of schemes, if available, to avail the resources. In the absence of a single source/scheme providing support on various aspects, it is a big challenge for small farmers to integrate various components on their farms.

Anshuman Das

Anshuman Das, Programme Coordinator, Welthungerhilfe, Anshuman.Das@welthungerhilfe.de. He played an instrumental role in designing, monitoring, capacity building and methodology development in BIOFARM programme with DRCSC. He is coordinating the SIFS programme in South Asia now with Welthungerhilfe.