Farm integration returns more

J Krishnan

Integrated farming systems (IFS) involves linking several components of the farm system. Resource flows are established between components. The ‘outputs’ from one component serve as ‘inputs’ for another. IFS approach is the way forward for resource optimization, utilization; sustaining and improving farm productivity and farm livelihoods; cultivating nutritious, healthy and diverse food and animal feed, besides meeting other rural needs.

Kodiyalli is a village located nearby the reserve forest range of Pennagaram block in Dharmapuri district, Tamil Nadu. The village is  surrounded by reserve forest. Majority of the farmers are small farmers and rain fed farmers, threatened by vagaries of weather. For livelihoods, they are dependent on seasonal dry land monocropping systems. They have to deal with depleted soil fertility, expensive and risky chemical inputs for pest management. The farms are generally managed by women as men migrate to urban areas. Many of them struggle to deal with pest incidences, reduced fertility of soils and risks involved in monocropping with errant climate.

To help farmers switch over to ecological options, thereby reduce costs of cultivation and enhance yields, AME Foundation has been working with farmers of Kodiyalli since early 2021. The farming communities are trained systematically with intensive field guidance to try out acceptable and affordable alternatives for natural resource management and integrated farming systems.Thamilarasi, aged 27, is one such farmer who participated with enthusiasm in those learning processes.

Thamilarasi was cultivating either Groundnut or Ragi as single crop in one acre dry land. She owned two cows fed regularly with expensive and purchased green and dry fodder and concentrates. With training and guidance from AMEF, Thamilarasi was motivated to try out Integrated Farming system model on her farm land. Also, she was keen to add additional components like kitchen gardens, azolla and mushroom on her farm.

Moving over to mixed cropping

Initially, Thamilarasi decided to move from monocropping to multiple cropping based on food, fodder and income requirements of her family.  She was prepared to try out ecological approaches. The crop combinations like deep rooted and shallow rooted; cereals and pulses were identified to meet multiple requirements. For instance, access to diverse foods, feed sources for livestock, for improving soils and microclimate, enabling enhanced stubble yield, addressing pest and diseases through ecological means like promoting ‘predators’ to control ‘pests’. Further, for preparation of organic manures, the plant and animal ‘wastes’ were identified.

Groundnut  was intercropped with red gram for  family’s year long requirement,  castor grown as trap crop to  protect groundnut from insects (larval stage) attack, the cow pea on inside border as major source of pulses, the sorghum/cumbu on outside border as preventive measure to stop sucking pests entry, attract predators besides yielding food grains and fodder. While half an acre of land area allotted was for groundnut cultivation, ragi was cultivated in the other half which lab lab and Red gram crops were intercropped.

In an area of 0.5 acres, fodder crops were established which included perennial fodder grass like Co4CN sweet sudan, CoFs 29 multicut  sorghum, desmanthes etc.. to create fodder support within 3-4 months period.

I never bothered about proper storage of cow dung and the plant biomass…after understanding, I also use weeds for composting., says Thamilarasi.

Recycling crop and animal wastes

Thamilarasi never reused the crop and animal wastes earlier. They were left indiscriminately all over the farm (over a period of 10-11 months), getting exposed to sun and rain– resulting in improper decomposition, thus not helping in soil fertility enhancement.

But now she learnt and started preparing organic manure using the crop and animal wastes. A pit with a dimension of10x15 feet was prepared. It was divided into two parts. One part was meant to keep the cow dung safely under decomposition process and another one for the crop harvest residues, stubbles and other plant manurial biomass sources. On a daily basis, each part is filled. Also, the cow dung solution is added after (1-2feet) layer of biomass fill.

With farmer rearing 5 birds as part of backyard poultry and two goats, the compost pit was filled further with their droppings too. On an average, the daily animal wastes amounted to 25 kgs of cow dung from 2 cows, 600 gm of poultry waste from 5 poultry birds and 1 kg goat waste from 2 goats. In a short span of time, high quality of manure is produced.

Feed management

Diverse fodder crop harvests like ragi straw (912kgs), haulms of groundnut (476kgs), sorghum straw (122kgs)contributed as green and dry fodder for farm animals. Upon harvest of seasonal crops, the feeds were prepared at home. While sorghum and maize grains served as cereals for energy, the protein source was the groundnut oil cake. Around 47 kgs of ground nut oil cake is  obtained from crushing 100kgs of groundnut kernel after oil extraction.Along with ragi and gram husks, around 200 kgs of concentrate feed is prepared. By using crop harvests as fodder and by preparing concentrates, Thamilarasi avoidedbuying green fodder and concentrates. Earlier she spent around Rs. 1650/per month for purchasing 210 kgs of concentrates and Rs.7500 for purchasing green (sorghum) or dry fodder (paddy straw) of 250 kgs. “These expenses severely eroded my income. Many times, I felt it as a burden to keep the farm animals with their feed requirements”, says Thamilarasi. Her two cows presently yield around 10 to 15 liters milk, every day. The monthly income by selling milk was on an average Rs.16,500 to 20000.

IFS – Multiple benefits

In 2019-20, from half an acre, Thamilarasi harvested only 280 kgs of groundnut and 670 kgs of ragi, realising an income of Rs. 30,000 to 35,000/acre. But in the year 2021-2022, she could harvest an array of crops, besides main crops like groundnut (436kgs/0.5acre) and Ragi (920kgs/0.5acre) which fetched her an income of Rs. 44,560.

From the kitchen gardens established in backyard,  within a period of 3 months, she could harvest on an average 1.5 kg chilies, 3 kgs tomato, 3kgsbhendi, 2kg lab lab, 25 kgs bottle gourd, 20 kgs ridge gourd,10kgs bitter gourd, 2.5 kgs brinjal, 4 types of greens, 10 kgs cluster beans and 25 kgs pumpkin. By avoiding outside vegetable purchase, Thamilarasi could save around Rs.4500/- from September to November 2021 on buying vegetables, besides having access to healthy food. Also, the vegetable wastes are fed to animals and filled in compost pit.

Besides dairy, three more components in farming system improved her incomes as well as manurial sources – backyard poultry, goats and azolla. The goats are valued at Rs.16000, the poultry yielded around 40 eggs and the hatched out 35 young birds are weighing 250gms each as on December 2021. As birds gain weight, improved returns are expected – around Rs.28,000.00. She also has started cultivating azolla by November in the back yard. She has started harvesting 0.5 to 1kg every alternate day from 12 sq.meter area. Azolla is fed as feed supplement to farm animals.

All these linkages and integration has helped Thamilarasi realise an estimated income plus savings of around Rs. 1,00,560/- from her farm. Besides increased income, through IFS, Thamilarasi could get nutritious food, follow ecological pest control and got access to home made feed for livestock by recycling plant and animal wastes. Moreover, all these additional enterprises kept her engaged on the farm for a longer period. She says, I feel proud that I have my own farm work.

J Krishnan

Team Leader,

AME Foundation

Dharmapuri, Tamil Nadu

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