Integrated Farming System for Sustainable Agriculture
Integrated Farming System (IFS) is the integration of different agricultural methods like crop cultivation with animal husbandry and aquaculture with pig farming. The essence of IFS is that it works like an ecosystem where all the elements are in equilibrium and interdependent. The waste of one element works as a nutrient for another. The final result is the optimum utilization of resources and nutrients, restoration of ecological balance, and increase in the income of the farmers. For example, some part of the agricultural land can be utilized for growing fodder crops for animals to eat. The crop residue can also be utilized as food for animals. The excreta and urine from the livestock are safe to use organic fertilizer. The use of such organic fertilizer restores soil health. The farmers get benefits like an increase in income from crops and animal husbandry; fewer efforts are required to dispose of the waste and soil health improves. All these benefits to farmers also ensure the sustainability of agriculture. However, some of the enterprises maybe just taken up to increase the farmer’s income, without any interdependency with agriculture.
Sustainable Development is at the core of almost all discussions, all the way from economic to climatic deliberations. The principle of sustainable development is that we should neither sacrifice the needs of today nor compromise the needs of future generations. Food security is one of the most important concerns for the survival of human beings; hence sustainable agriculture is one of the solutions to the above concerns. Sustainability in agriculture is mostly about the sustainability of small farmers since small farmers are about 80% of the farmers in India.
Many strategies have been thought of to make agriculture sustainable. These include agro-climatic zoning, various methods of farming like crop rotation and mixed farming, soil and nutrition management, and Integrated Farming Systems (IFS).
Sustainable agriculture is somewhere at the intersection of economic profitability, social well-being, and ecological balance. Let’s see how IFS enhances each of these components, hence contributing to the sustainability of agriculture.
The profitability of farmers is the most important aspect of sustainable agriculture. It is difficult to provide incentives to farmers without the promise of good returns. IFS has the potential to increase productivity multiple times. For example, practicing apiculture (beekeeping) with oilseed cultivation has shown the productivity gain of 2-3 times in oilseed because of pollination services provided by bees. Besides this, farmers also get additional marketable products like honey, wax, bee venom, and pollen from such mix-farming. This further enhances the profits of farmers. For this precise reason, beekeeping is being promoted under the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture.
As already pointed out, around 80% of farmers in India are small and marginal farmers. These farmers practice subsistence agriculture; only a few can upgrade to commercial agriculture. IFS increases the productivity of not just crops, but also of farmers. With better productivity and more marketable products in hand, small farmers are also able to generate handsome revenue. The practice of agroforestry on edges of farmlands and fallow lands provides farmers with revenue-generating products like timber, fruits, and herbs. Under ‘Har Med pe Ped’ initiative of Sub-mission on Agro-forestry, a sub-mission of Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, agroforestry is promoted among farmers. Bamboo survives in a variety of climates and matures very fast. For this reason, it is being promoted under National Bamboo Mission.
The enhanced production of various types of crops and other agro-products ensures food and nutritional security, impacting the overall health of the country. Animal husbandry provides dairy products; apiculture provides honey and agroforestry may provide fruits and medicine. Practices like agroforestry generate employment, which is helpful in solving the problem of unemployment and underemployment in rural areas. Since the availability of agro-products is enhanced by IFS, it promotes allied industries of agriculture in rural areas.
IFS methods, if implemented properly, have a positive impact on the ecology of the region. In places where animal husbandry is practiced with crop cultivation, the excreta from animals are utilized as manures. This decreases the dependency on chemical fertilizers, promotes organic farming at a low cost, and impacts soil fertility positively. With this integration, various organic farming models like IFS promote diversification of species in a local area, thereby increasing the complexity of the food web. This induces stability in the local ecosystem and supports more wildlife with time.
Resource and Knowledge Centers:
While IFS has many benefits; proper management of farms is of crucial importance. Since all the elements are in the vicinity of each other, care should be taken that food or medicine for one should not harm the other. To enable farmers to make informed decisions, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) has developed 45 IFS models covering all the 15 agro-climatic zones of the country. The information on these models is being imparted through Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVKs), which are the resource and knowledge centers in the field of agriculture in the district.
Though Green Revolution transformed India from a food importer to a food exporter country, monoculture turned out to be a major problem in this transformation. Among other problems, this led to imbalances in soil nutrients and huge consumption of chemical fertilizers required for the intensification of agriculture. Hence comes the realization regarding the unsustainability of our cultivation.
IFS mimics the natural environment at least to some extent. Diversification and interdependency among the different agricultural and allied methods lead to food web complexity. Apart from ecological balance, IFS has huge social impacts in terms of nutritional and food security and the creation of employment. Most importantly, it increases the profitability and productivity of small farmers. Hence, Integrated Farming Systems is going to have a major contribution to the sustainability of agriculture and in the vision of doubling farmers’ income.