Resilient crop-livestock systems

Traditionally farming meant a combination of crops, animals, fishery etc. However, these traditional farms were gradually replaced by specialised farms, be it monocropping or commercial animal farms, in pursuit of higher returns. But this transition made farming more risky and highly dependant on expensive external inputs. With a majority of the farming community belonging to small and marginal category,  who are most vulnerable to the vagaries of nature and the markets, specialised farms are no longer a choice to reckon with. Its time to move towards diverse farms or integrated farms.

Diversified systems consist of components such as crops and livestock that co-exist independently from each other. Diversified systems are a combination of specialized subsystems that aim to reduce risk in conditions of variable but relatively abundant resources. Integration is done to recycle resources efficiently. Integration occurs most often, however, in Low External Input Agriculture (LEIA) farming systems that exist in many tropical countries where products or by-products of one component serve as a resource for the other – dung goes to the crops and straw to the animals. In this case the integration serves to make maximum use of the resources. An important aspect in promoting mixed farming is that the yield of the total enterprise is more important than the yield and/or efficiency of the parts.(FAO, p.6)

Mixed farms are systems that consist of different parts, which together should act as a whole. They thus need to be studied in their entirety and not as separate parts in order to understand the system and the factors that drive farmers and influence their decisions. For example, farmers of coastal Tamil Nadu are compelled to grow rice despite its low returns, as rice alone has the unique feature of withstanding water stagnation for a longer period of time. Integrating fish culture and poultry rearing in rice helped farmers in 3 coastal districts in Tamil Nadu to double their income and enhance the nutritional status of their families. (Kathiresan Ramanathan, p.11)

Integrated farming systems (IFS) involves linking several components of the farming 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. Thamilarasi, a farmer in Tamil Nadu who was growing a single crop earlier, could now earn more, by integrating animals to the diversified cropping systems on her farm. Besides increased income, she could get nutritious food for the family and home grown feed for livestock, by recycling plant and animal wastes. (Krishnan J., p.33)

Similarly, Lily Mathews is a case to draw inspiration in converting an adversity into an opportunity. Starting with 10 cows in 2008, she has expanded her diary enterprise by adding milking machines and value addition products. The dairy enterprise in turn is sustaining her cropping systems.(Archana Bhatt, et.al., p.22)

Diversification, besides reducing risk and providing more income, also acts as a pest control measure. By including certain species like marigold on the borders, the main crop suffers lesser pest incidence. For instance, Thamilarasi (p.34) planted castor as trap crop to protect groundnut from insects (larval stage) attack, and sorghum on outside border as preventive measure to stop sucking pests entry.

Between-farm mixing occurs between pastoralists and farmers. The linkage can help the farmers access organic manure at a local level and also supplement the income of pastoralists with the exchange of manure with farmers. These examples of pastoral systems across the country provide an understanding of their knowledge systems in the management of natural resources, adapting toward local climatic conditions, and the economic and ecological value created from the livestock manure in enhancing soil fertility. In Gujarat’s Saurashtra region the pastoralists locally known as Maldharis- Bharwads, Rabaris travel to different parts of the state in search of fodder to sustain their livestock, enroute to the grazing resources they are also dependent on the farmer’s land for fodder. Also, most of the sheep rearers from the Kurumas community in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, visit the farmer’s land in search of fodder. In lieu, the farmers provide them food, shelter and offer clothes. Such relationships and interdependencies not only secure the small farm holders but secure the livelihood of pastoralism as an occupation. (Rithuja Mitra and Sahith, p.25)

Mixed farming is a risk reducing option for small farmers

Local innovations

During summer, farmers face green fodder scarcity and animals need green fodder with more water content. Understanding that Spinless cactus with 80 -85% water content, as the best alternative to green fodder, especially in summers, BAIF in Karnataka is successfully promoting cactus as livestock fodder among farmers in South Indian States.(I I Hugar, p.28)

Mr. Rajarathinam, a retired Engineer from Tamil Nadu took up farming with his innovative ideas, after his retirement. Having crops and animals, the farmer ventured into setting up bio gas digester as he believes it to be one of best options for promoting sustainable agriculture. (Rajarathinam K., p.31)

External support helps

While progressive farmers do try out innovative ideas on their farms, majority of the farming communities will need support to initiate diversified integrated farming systems. Lilly Mathews in Kerala, could diversify into dairy farming only because of the support provided by the government departments and other organizations in her journey. The initial support to buy 10 cows was provided by the Animal Husbandry department, Kerala, which she proudly acknowledges.

Similarly, Krishi Vigyan Kendras have been instrumental in helping farmers adopt integrated systems. Lyngrah’s farm, now a model farm, serves as an example of such support provided by KVK, Meghalaya (p.16). Also, the farming system design of Rice+Fishery+Poultry was upscaled with farmers in Cuddalore, Villupuram and Nagapattinam through a World Bank – Indian Council of Agricultural Research funded National Agricultural Project (NAIP), with the main objective of enhancing the sustainable rural livelihoods in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. (Kathiresan Ramanathan, p.11).

The few examples of linking several systems on the farm included in this issue indicate that integrated farming system has the potential to play a key role in transitioning towards an environmentally sustainable economy.   There is a need to develop systems and provide much needed support that can support such transition.

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