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Vegetable – based farming system – Enhancing gains through appropriate crop combinations

Wajih S, Singh BK, Singh AK and Srivastava A

Multi layered farming

Amidst the risk of recurrent floods and prolonged waterlogging with changing climate thresholds, 265 households of small and marginal farmers in eastern Uttar Pradesh and North western Bihar are setting new safe pathways towards developing flood-resilient vegetable farming.Adopting multi-layered farming technique, vegetable growers are harvesting two to three crops in the same piece of land simultaneously and have increased their net profit by more than double.


 The whole of the middle Ganga plain, which includes most parts of eastern Uttar Pradesh and western Bihar, despite being blessed by heavy rainfall (around 1200 mm), surface water from perennial rivers like Ganga, Ghaghara, Rapti and Gandak and fertile soil, mono-cropping farming activities have been dominant in the region with only one Rabi crop, being fully cultivated. The Kharif crop invariably suffers heavy damage due to recurrent floods or long durations of waterlogging in low-lying areas. Owing to large dependency on weather-based livelihood, mass existence of small and marginal farmers (more than 80 per cent), small and marginal landholding size (84 per cent below one hectare), the limited scope of mechanization in agriculture has forced these vulnerable people to represent poor human development indices. Besides, the changing climatic thresholds and intensifying hydro-meteorological disasters have exacerbated the vulnerabilities of the people in the region and forced people into a vicious cycle of poverty and indebtedness.

Considering the above-mentioned situations of the region, it has become important to address the issues of the small and marginal farmers to minimise the impact of crop damage and enhance the net profit by adopting innovative technologies. The percentage of small and medium farmers in our country is very high but due to the small size of their farms, are not being recognised as real contributors to the nation’s economy, though providing livelihoods. In the campaign to make the country self-reliant, it has become important to understand the role of the small and marginal farmers in achieving the goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat and concerted efforts to be made to make this small farms more profitable and productive.

Prima facie, it seems a challenging task to achieve; however, these farmers have proven it by doing smart farm planning and by adopting appropriate crop combinations through the multi-layered farming system.

The technology

The multi-layered farming system is not a new technique of farming (See Box1). Farmers are practising it for a long time. But the improvisation in this technology made is the synergy of local knowledge of adopting appropriate crop (vegetable crops) combinations, its survivability in waterlogging condition and above all, the low risk of a complete crop failure.

Box 1:Multi layered farming

Multi-layered farming maximises the use of land by adopting appropriate crop combinations with space (planting crops vertically, horizontally and underground) and time management (considering the duration of plant growth, maturity and fruiting). In the farming system, the first level is the underground surface, which promotes the production of tuber crops, the second strata is the ground surface on which various types of leafy and fruit vegetable are grown while the  third level is  the raised bamboo machan/ platform (generally 8 feet above the ground), where creeper vegetables are grown.  This technique of farming increases the net sown area, reduces the input cost and more importantly enriches the fertility of the soil and adds organic nutrients to the soil.

The technology emphasises on space and time management. It focuses on smart farm planning and selection of appropriate crop combinations of vegetables with different root zones, maturity period, demand for solar energy (sunlight) and plant height.

This technique of farming is being piloted in Campierganj and Jungle Kaudia Block of   Gorakhpur district and Nautan block of West Champaran, Bihar, under the Core Support Program supported by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), New Delhi. The inherent uniqueness and competitive advantages of the technology have not only paved a way for optimum land utilization but also opened up avenues for farmers to reduce input cost and increase the profit margin to an extent of more than double.

However, the vegetable-based multilayer farming is a labour-intensive technique, demands regular monitoring, smart planning  at farm level  as well as appropriate crop selection. If it is not done properly, it affects the production of crops and overall profit margins. Apart from this, it requires an additional cost of 25 thousands per acre on preparing bamboo-based machan /Platform etc., However, this is a one-time investment for the year and lasts for more than three to four years.

Initiative

The initiative of multi-layered farming with appropriate crop combination, on a pilot basis was started in 2019 over 3 acres of land in Gorakhpur and west Champaran. The research team had taken a comprehensive list of locally grown vegetables and segregated three pairs (six crops) of crops combination of creepers, tuber and leafy vegetables. This segregation of crops was based on the parameter of pH level of the soil, property of root zone depth of the crops, availability and duration of solar energy (sunlight), nature/ property of crop, the tolerance level of crops to waterlogging and life cycle of the plants i.e time of sowing, transplanting, growth, and maturity of the crops.

Crop Combination trials

Three pairs of crop combinations are evolved of six crops. All these six crops are strategically selected based on time of sowing, duration of vegetative growth; time of harvesting and most importantly the demand for sunlight energy for growth.

1. Bitter gourd and Potato crop: This is the combination of a creeper (bitter gourd) and tuber crop (Potato). Bitter gourd is a 6-months (August to February) crop while the potato is 4 months crop. Bitter gourd is planted in the month of August and its vegetative growth goes up to October. In November-December, as soon as the moisture in the atmosphere becomes less, the leaves of the bitter gourd start to fall and sufficient sunlight gets on the ground surface. This gives an opportunity to take another crop. Considering the nature of the life cycle of bitter gourd crop, potato is the only high demanding vegetable that can be taken with bitter gourd. So, farmer sows potatoes in October in the same field. It receives sufficient sunlight during November and December even under the machan of bitter gourd for its vegetative growth. Potato is harvested in February – March.  In this way, using proper space and time management, farmer can harvest one additional crop and hence get an extra income.

For estimating the net profit of this combination with reference to solo cropping, three fields of one acre were selected. Two with solo crop (bitter gourd and potato separately) and one with the combination of both, using multi-layered farming. Producing bitter gourd and potato on two different farms of oneacre size, requires an input cost (collectively) of around Rs. 59,000. But, when both these crops are cultivated through multilayer farming technique, its production cost drastically reduces to Rs. 38,380. Thus, in the multi-layered farming system, the input cost for producing bitter gourd and potato collectively reduced by 35 percent and increases the profit differences by 25.89 and 45.51 percent, respectively, from the sole cropping.  Thus, the input-output and net gain margins in this crop combination was much better in comparison to individual crops of bitter gourd and potato which is shown in Table 1.

Table 1:  Comparative Input-output cost, Profit in individual, and combination of Potato and Bitter gourd

Crop Production (in quintal)/ acre Input cost in (Rs ) Income Net Gain in Rs
Bitter gourd 56.70 29,880.00 56700.00 26,900.00
Potato 98.92 29,200.00 49460.00 20,260.00
Bitter Gourd + Potato 122.60 38,380.00 82,475.00 44,095.00

2. IVY Gourd and Elephant Ear: IVY Gourd (local name ‘Kundru’) is a traditional creeper, grown in the area as a cash crop. The combination of cultivating elephant ear was successfully tried with IVY in one-acre area. As both these crops are taken during the Kharif season, while selecting this crop combination, the criteria of water tolerance and availability of sunlight for vegetative growth was prominently considered. IVY gourd is a water-tolerant crop, resistant even for 15-18 days of waterlogging while the elephant ear is a tuber crop, and does not require much sunlight.  The crop calendar and input-output and profit margins of both these crops are given in Table 2. In this trial, the combination with an additional compatible crop enhances the profit and also compensates lowering of the yield of IVY gourd in case of damage of roots due to flooding.  Elephant ear and IVY cultivation in combination increase the net gain difference by 75.9 and 92.5 per cent,respectively, when compared to sole cultivation.

Table 2:  Comparative Input -output cost analysis of  individual and combination of IVY gourd  and Elephant Ear

Crop Production in quintal / acre Input cost ( In Rs) Income    (in Rs) Net gain        (in Rs )
Elephant Ear 32.60 28,550.00 48,900.00 20,350.00
IVY Gourd 42.50 27,500.00 42,500.00 15,000.00
IVY gourd + Elephant ear 69.25 33,840.00 81,625.00 47,785.00

3. Bottle gourd and Cabbage: The third successful combination tried out was bottle gourd- a traditional creeper extensively grown in the area with cabbage, a leafy crop. As both the crops demand more sunlight for growth and fruiting, again while selecting these crops, the timing of sowing the crop and availability of sunlight are the important criteria. Bottle gourd crop is planted during June-July month and it takes two months (August and September) for its vegetative growth. However, in November- December due to decreasing moisture in the air, its leaves are shed. Hence, beneath the machan of bottle gourd, sufficient light gets available for the growth of cabbage crop. Farmers transplant the cabbage saplings in the field from the nursery at the end of November. Cabbage is harvested during December- January –February. Therefore, the multi-layered farming technique helps in procuring yield of both the crops and increases profit per unit of land.

Table 3:  Comparative Input -output cost  analysis of  individual and combination of Bottle gourd and Cabbage 

Crop Production in quintal / acre Input cost (in Rs) Income   (in Rs Net gain    (in Rs )
Bottle Gourd 53.50 28.186.00 53,500.00 25,314.00
Cabbage 120.00 33,800.00 60,000.00 26,200.00
Bottle Gourd + cabbage 145.00 40,360.00 96,800.00 56,440.00

 Impacts

The above appropriate crop combinations in multi-layered farming system helped in enhancing the profits of farmers.At the same time, they increased the spread of harvest time so that there is continued income for the farmer for a longer period. The advantages of the technology are:

  • Per unit land area production is enhanced.
  • Longer spread of market income.
  • Soil moisture is protected with optimum use of soil nutrients.
  • Higher Land Equivalent Ratio (LER).
Birbal, a small vegetable grower of Suras village of Campierganj block of Gorakhpur district.  He primarily cultivates vegetables on his 0.18 acres of land. He grows sponge gourd, bitter gourd, beans, brinjal, ridge gourd and tomato. For the first time in 2020-21, he cultivated vegetables on his 0.18 acres of land with the multi-layered farming method. He cultivated beans on the surface and bitter gourd on Machan of his 0.18-acre field. He also planted sponge gourd on all four sides of the field. Thus, the total input cost incurred on seed, preparation of field and irrigation was around  Rs. 5,870.00 coupled with Rs 4500 for making machan/ Platform with bamboo.

Despite lockdown from March to May 2020,  Birbal said,  “In last three months I sold beans of Rs 5,890.00 and bitter gourd of Rs 13,970.00”. He earned a total of Rs 19,860.00 from both crops by investing 10,370.00. Thus, the net profit was Rs 9,490.00 (More than 91 % of the input cost). When Birbal’s income was compared with another farmer Mr. Paekran, his neighbour, who cultivated bitter gourd only in his field of 0.18 acres with input cost of Rs 1150000 it was noticed that he got a better yield and sold bitter gourd of a total Rs. 16,000.00. However, when compared with a total net gain, Birbal got 52.37 per cent more profit than the Mr Paikaran with the same size of the plot area.

As observed in various trials, the crop combination and multi-layered farming helped farmers in reducing input costs and increased profit due to factors like optimization of resources and reduced input needs (fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, labour) and reduced losses due to floods/inundation. This provided better net gains and enhanced LER helping farmers in enhancing their income from farming. Based on the above-mentioned analysis, it is clear that vegetable-based flood resilient multi-layered farming technique is more profitable.

The benefits can be seen as follows:

  • The farmers can take two or more crops in a single field simultaneously. Thus, provide higher profit in each combination which ranges between (115% to 147%) from the same piece of land.
  • The need for both crops is fulfilled in the same irrigation, manure, weeding and hoeing. This reduces extra input cost by 33 percent on an average, thereby, increasing the profit margin.
  • With the inclusion of diversity in multi-layered farming, the quality and nutrition content in the soil improves. Also, having many crops in the same field during a time, it reduces the chance of getting impacted by diseases and infection.

Conclusion

The technology is most appropriate to all the small and marginal farmers of Indo-Gangetic Brahmaputra plains who have limited scope for farm mechanisation. Initially, the technique was started and tested in a small segment with 9 model farmers of village Jungle Kaudia in block Campierganj of Gorakhpur, UP and Nautan block of West Champaran Bihar, with six vegetable combinations. In two years, it has scaled up to 265 households in Gorakhpur and West Champaran. Now farmers are experimenting more combinations and innovatingon their farms to extend their profit and minimise their losses incurred due to flood and waterlogging.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the SEED Division of Ministry of Science and Technology for providing financial support for developing technologies for the benefit of small-marginal farmers under the CORE project.

 Wajih S

Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group

224, Purdilpur, M G College Road

Gorakhpur – 273 001, Uttar Pradesh, INDIA

Email: geag@geagindia.org

Website: www.geagindia.org