Parveen is an example of a small farmer from Vagarahalli village of Hassan district in Karnataka whose enterprise has made sustainable agriculture a reality on his 1.69-hectare farm. Traditionally, he grew crops such as ragi (finger millet), maize, potato and coconut with a small dairy and poultry unit. The use of improved varieties and hybrids has been supplemented on the farm with introduction of high-value crops such as ginger and sericulture. Drumstick and papaya have been intercropped with coconut. Silver oak has been planted all along the farm borders. Farm waste is being recycled into healthy manure. He has installed a micro-sprinkler irrigation system in the coconut garden in addition to using appropriate farm machines such as coconut climbers and de-huskers.
Despite the challenges of climate change, soil fatigue and reduction of water availability, with the above measures, Parveen has increased his net annual income from Rs 47,740 to Rs 7.28 lakh! Without doubt, technical and capacity-building support from the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), Hassan, has been a critical resource.
The Doubling Farmers Income (DFI) Report, 2017, observes that the integration of farm activities, in both rainfed and dryland areas, when carefully chosen, planned and executed can yield greater dividends for sustainable livelihoods, especially in the case of small and marginal farmers .
The Union Government is implementing the National Mission of Sustainable Agriculture. The objective of this mission is to extensively leverage the adaptation of integrated farming practices and appropriate technologies in conjunction with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and more importantly, the state governments.
Food and nutritional needs of a more health-conscious population entails a diversification of farming from staples towards high-value crops, such as fruit and vegetables. Further, integrated farming with the inclusion of beekeeping, fisheries, sericulture, poultry and mushroom cultivation can give additional high-energy food without affecting the production of foodgrains.
As per the National Statistical Office’s (NSO) Situational Assessment Survey 2018-19, the income from the livestock sector has quadrupled. Hence, the promotion of dairying and proper collection and utilisation of livestock excreta can save up to 50 per cent of fertiliser inputs on farms in addition. Besides, combining social forestry on wastelands on farms can enhance the restoration of soil fertility. The net result from such integrated farming, experts add, would be a substantial increase in gainful employment and additional income to farm families, leading to a better standard of living.
In India, the complexity increases with the diversity in integrated farming practices by small and marginal farmers across our 15 agro-climatic zones. These include arid/desert regions and high-altitude, plain and coastal areas. For instance, in a study conducted by the ICAR, the number of integrated farming systems ranged from eight in West Bengal to one in the states of Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Maharashtra and Karnataka. As many as six integrated farming systems are in existence in Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha.
In the above context, it becomes absolutely imperative to push institutional policy interventions, first and foremost, to strengthen precision agriculture at the last mile in ‘on-farm management’. This encompasses the application of appropriate technologies to aid small and marginal farmers in the input farming of practices tillage, residue, nutrient, water, weed and mechanisation management.
Equally important is the generation and use of quality data and its analytics, both at the national and state levels, for such farming practices.
Concomitant to on-farm management, it is also imperative to strengthen the last mile ‘farmgate’ infrastructure through the requisite investments. This is to connect small and marginal farmers practice integrated farming to both domestic and international markets. They are many a time unable to individually invest in the primary processing infrastructure at the farmgate. This includes post-harvest management activities through “pack houses” such as drying, grading, sorting, ripening, waxing, packaging and quality control assessment. They also include crop-specific cold chain storage/warehousing with pre-cooling facilities, reefer vehicles and distribution hubs for perishable crops. Small and marginal farmers are also sometimes unaware of the crop quality specifications required by different types of buyers and intelligent information about the near-farm, across states and export markets.
Our KVKs under the aegis of the ICAR have created and nurtured several successful integrated farming system models with crop combinations. The time is ripe for them to learn and dovetail from the good practices of the myriad private sector agritech initiatives, especially agri-startups, in the rural landscape. To name a few, Dehaat, Ninjacart, Sammunati, Waycool, Agrostar and Jumbotail have attracted huge venture capital funding in precision agriculture, on-farm management, supply chain and output market initiatives, according to a 2021 Ernst & Young study.
The creation of the Rs 1 lakh crore Agri Infrastructure Fund (AIF) by the Union Government is also a step in the right direction. It provides access to credit, with interest subvention, for agri-entrepreneurs, farmer producer organizations (FPOs) and governments to invest in rural community assets and post-harvest infrastructure.
There is a tremendous penetration of broadband connectivity and mobile usage in villages. Hence, virtual interaction with farmers on integrated farming ‘package of practices’ has to be supplemented with the physical reach of sufficient numbers of extension officers of agriculture, horticulture and allied departments. The use of Common Service Centers (CSCs), in this context, has to be intensified too. These are last-mile public delivery access points in districts that provide high-quality and cost-effective video, voice, data content and public utility services.
It is in the above robust ecosystem that small farmers, such as Parveen from Karnataka, will be doubly empowered through a public-private partnership approach to imbibe the economic, ecological and sustainable dimensions of integrated farming.
Views are personal