Small and marginal farmers, who account for nearly 80 per cent of India’s total farming community, manage to subsist largely by pursuing multi-enterprise production systems rather than relying only on crop farming or any other single commodity-based venture. They usually supplement crop cultivation with livestock rearing, fisheries, pig rearing, forestry and the like to meet their varied consumption needs and hedge risks of crop failure.
Most research and development programmes, on the other hand, are designed and mandated to promote single commodities, commodity groups or other farm activities, whether it is crops, livestock, poultry, fisheries, bee-keeping, plant nutrient management or crop protection. New technologies are, thus, passed on to farmers in a piecemeal manner rather than as a complete package that meets all their needs. This does not serve much purpose, especially for tiny land holders, because the gains from just one activity, even if sufficient for their livelihood, usually do not allow farmers to grow or expand.
The Project Directorate for Cropping Systems Research (PDCSR), a wing of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), located at Modipuram, near Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, is seeking to address this lacuna. It is working chiefly on identifying the best possible integrated farming systems that can help optimise returns from small farms in different parts of the country.
The need for farming systems research is felt because farmers do not generally choose the combination of enterprises by considering their symbiotic relationship with each other but because of local factors and available farm resources. These are, therefore, not always the most rewarding production systems. The research is aimed at conceiving farming systems that can harness complementarities and synergy between crop farming and supplementary farm activities. This helps maximise output with minimum costs.
The best example of this phenomenon is the traditional Chinese practice of building animal sheds over ponds so that animal waste falls directly into pond water to serve as feed for fish. This waste, coupled with fish excreta, enriches the pond water with plant nutrients, enhancing its value for irrigation.
“To have a systemic integration of different enterprises in a scientific manner, components need to be chosen in such a manner that the main product or by-product of one becomes the input for the other,” says B Gangwar, director of the Project Directorate for Farming Systems Research. For best results, small farmers should begin with just two enterprises, like crops and livestock, and gradually add more activities as they go ahead.
Where the second enterprise, along with crops, is concerned, experts suggest goats for hilly tracts, pigs for north-east, cows or buffaloes for plains, and fisheries, poultry, ducks and others for most parts of the country. Horticultural plants can be grown on farm boundaries to obtain some fruit for domestic consumption or sale. Activities like bee-keeping can help supplement income besides promoting fertilisation for crops to boost output.
A case study involving the integrated farming system on a small farm of 1.5 hectare, conducted by the PDCSR at Modipuram, has shown interesting results. In this initiative, about 0.72 hectare of the available land was put under crops, 0.32 hectare under dairying, 0.22 hectare under horticulture, 0.10 hectare under fisheries and the rest for miscellaneous needs. Vermiculture (multiplication of earthworms to serve as manure and a health tonic for soil) was also added to this enterprise. Fruiting trees, like bael, jackfruit, amla (Indian gooseberry) and jamun, were planted on the periphery. Besides bearing fruit, these trees served as wind breakers to protect crops against storms and squalls.
The inclusion of leguminous (nitrogen-fixing) crops, as also green manuring crops for incorporating into the soil, improves soil fertility and reduces the need for using costly fertilisers.
This model of integrated farming system generated an average annual income of Rs 46,660 in the first four years and an even higher income of Rs 77,930 from the fifth year onwards, besides providing grains, fodder, fruit and animal-based food products for domestic consumption and sale. Moreover, this system generated relatively higher and year-round employment, estimated to be around double the employment potential of normal farming. It, therefore, kept the family members of small farmers busy for most of the year, obviating the need for them to seek jobs elsewhere. This model can be replicated, with situation-specific modifications, elsewhere for the benefit of farmers.