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I have been working in the IT industry for the past 15 years and I have planned to gradually shift to another line of business i.e. agriculture a couple of years after my MBA. The reason for this shift is general disenchantment with our current lifestyle, exciting opportunities that I see for the agricultural industry in India and a personal and family desire to go back to our roots. As a part of this objective, I have been working towards identifying opportunities and ideas to start off my new venture in the India state of Tamil Nadu. The research question was largely influenced by this decision as I have been working on my future objectives since the past couple of years visiting various farms, agricultural universities and farmers regarding the setup of my agro business.
In the course of my analysis and study I have had the opportunity to actually visit a lot of farms and interact with many farmers (a majority of them traditional farmers for generations) and a couple of progressive farmers who have brought incorporated technology, research and various innovations in their farm.
One of the key experiences during this time was the massive availability of agricultural land in this state at throw away prices, I was curious on the reasons for this as Tamil Nadu is one of the largest agro-producers in the country. A detailed investigation revealed that most of these large chunks of land had been brought by property aggregators from small and marginal farmers to be sold as a chunk to larger investors. The underlying reason was that the small and marginal farmers could not sustain production of crops on their land holdings due to various reasons and were heavily in debt so they were selling of their land easily and moving to the cities to work as contractors or daily labourers in construction or other areas.
Almost all of the small and marginal farmers who had sold or were selling their land were traditional farmers and been practicing conventional agriculture for generations with the same principles i.e. heavy mono cropping, too much reliability on external inputs (fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides etc.). Slowly but surely this practice resulted in massive yield reduction and increasing debt due to continuous borrowing for procuring external inputs and to sustain their livelihood
Surprisingly in the midst of all this madness I came across a small group of farmers spread across different districts who were doing very well in spite of the same background they shared with the ones who were selling their lands, on closer investigation I realised that these bunch were doing things differently and were not only able to sustain themselves but their small land holdings were actually more efficient and making profit. These farmers were practicing cultivation using the integrated farming approach and no matter on where they were within the state i.e. dry land, wet land and hilly land they were doing well. This type of farming was also being done by the non-traditional progressive farmers who were relatively new to agriculture having given up high paying jobs in the technology industry and relocating back to the villages
This is one of the main reasons that led me to selection of this topic for my MBA project as I had the opportunity to see things first hand, speak with the relevant stakeholders and associated people and actually see the results in front of me in black and white. I have come to the conclusion that if small and marginal farmers have to sustain then they have to take up this approach or they will ultimately end up selling their land holdings and move out of agriculture like their other peers
Literature Review & Research Methodology
All of my research and study for this project has gone hand in hand with the analysis and investigation for my own agro business. For the same of practicality I have confined the research to three key districts in Tamil Nadu where I will be setting up my farm i.e. Sivagangai / Madurai / Ramanathapuram. In addition to this the research is focussed on red-soil dry land as this is the geographic profile of these three districts.
The research is focussed on evaluating the various models that can be used in the pursuit of a practical sustainable agriculture approach using IFS for small and marginal farmers. Almost all these models have integrated farming as their core base
Inputs to the research are also being sourced through sources on the internet (journals, articles and books). I have also collated database of small to medium farmers who practice indigenous methods of integrated farming and sustainable agriculture. I have started interviewing and visiting some of these farms to gain a first-hand experience of how the illiterate, semi-literate farmers achieve success using the IFS approach as well as achieve sustainability, reduce operational costs with the focus on developing ecologically friendly and sustainable agriculture methods. The data shared by them will be collated and discussed with the staff at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University who can give the "scientific reasoning" for the success of these methods. There were challenges in the farmer interviews as most of them thought of it as a wasteful exercise that will not give them any economic benefit
As a part of the research I am being helped by a progressive farmer in conducting experiments on his farm especially with respect to sourcing low cost inputs for integrated farming e.g. coir waste is abundant in south India, this was used to create low cost coir compost. The only cost that was incurred is in transportation and some labour for initial sieving, cleaning and cutting. The raw material was free residue from a coir factory. In three months using only lime and normal windrow based composting we were able to generate coir compost with an ideal CN ratio of 20. This is a completely organic input that can be made by anyone or as a community approach. The cost came to approximately .40 paisa per kilogram of coir compost i.e. 0.00463588 GBP. If you go to purchase comparable organic compost from the market it would cost anywhere between 5 to 10 rupees a kilogram (1 rupee = 100 paisa).
I can broadly classify the design of my research into the following areas
2. Engineering & Technology
3. Economics & Finance
4. Environment & Ecology
I have also taken a membership in the Tamil Nadu Agricultural university which has provided me with quality research materials (theory & studies), access to experiment plots and access to subject matter experts and scientists in various agro functions
At this stage, I have developed a network of people, institutions and organizations that can be used a source for any information that I need (theory or practical via field visits), it was a pleasant surprise to discover that there do exist likeminded individuals that are trying to do something to similar to mine (MBA's, some Engineers). I am therefore now involved in this forum as well and have been made the global moderator
One of the main themes running through all of the above is that I am looking at low cost "on-farm" options that will fit into the integrated farm model and generate employment in the rural sector for unskilled people e.g. I am thinking of mass producing enriched coir compost on-farm using the windrows approach although this may require more labour, the cost and quality of compost will more than compensate for it. Things like this also ensure that the full time labour in the farm is skilled in multiple activities rather than only conventional cultivation. Most of this research is qualitative i.e. it has been obtained by speaking to farmers and the helpful folks at the Tamil Nadu agricultural university; I have included qualitative data where I am able to find it to support my findings. Obtaining quantitative data for analysing real-time benefits of IFS over conventional farming spread across a large number of growers has been difficult and the data that is available is mostly on pilot projects or sample plots that have been used by institutions as a demonstration to marginal landholders
Objectives of the study
The objective of the study is simple i.e. how can an integrated farming system help sustain the livelihood and continuity of small and marginal farmers in India. There will also be additional environmental, social and economic benefits of using this approach. This project is not focussed on the merits and demerits of the regular conventional v/s organic farming debate. The focus is on reducing external inputs and achieving in-farm sustainability as much as possible. This study only briefly talks about the role of institutions and the government on the overall agricultural scenario however it is more focussed on the IFS approach for sustainability of small and marginal farmers
The major objectives of this study can be classified into the following points
Security and continued livelihood guarantee for small and marginal farmers
Ensuring yearlong employment to these farmers so that migration of this workforce to the city and further land fragmentation is reduced thus preventing further shrinkages of cropping area otherwise we will end up in a situation where there will be no cultivable land left for the growing populace and the millions of farmers will be rendered landless and reduced to further poverty and social destabilization caused by migration
Using the farm ecosystem as the basis for input and output of resources e.g. output (manure) from rearing pigs goes as input for fertilizer and compost and thereby reducing wastage and pollution
Reuse of farm waste and minimization of sourcing external inputs
Conservation of natural fertility of the soil and resource base
Cost reduction and generation of surplus income
Improvement in standard of living of small and marginal farmers
Improvement in social, environmental, ecological and economic benefits to the rural populace as a whole
Agricultural Scenario in India
To gain a better appreciation of the research question and the study it is imperative to understand the current agricultural scenario and issues in India and how this actually increase the importance of IFS
In our country most of the farmers own very small land holdings i.e. sometimes less than one acre of land, these farmers usually cultivate crops with the primary aim of survival i.e. food for their family throughout the year as well as making some money to take care of their other basic needs like medicines, household expenses and other bare necessities of life. It is therefore vital to develop a system for these poor farmers as their whole family stands to be completely uprooted and destabilized if there is a crop failure or any natural calamity or illness or seasonal demand fluctuations especially when most of these farmers practice mono cropping and single crop cultivation which is basically a high risk activity. Some of the key highlights and issues in the Indian agriculture scenario are as follows
As per the 2011 census conducted by the government of India, our total population is 1.21 billion in 2011. Approximately 64% live in the villages. A majority depend one or another on farming and agro related sector. [citation]
The labor force contribution in agriculture is around 55% in comparison to the contribution of 15% of the GDP by this sector [citation]
Small & marginal farmers dominate the agricultural demographics i.e. around 80% i.e. (<1 acre = marginal farmers, 1 to 2 acres small farmers, 2 to 4 acres & < 10 medium and >10 large players)
Based on the agro census data available to my research, it is seen that there is close to 120 million land holdings in India out of which 99 million constitute small and marginal land holders and the average land holding size is also declined, it can be seen that the country is largely dependent on these small and marginal farmers for their source of agricultural produce, bulk of rural employment & livelihood and agricultural growth
The major crops that are conventionally grown in these areas are cereals, cotton, horticultural produce, maize, rice, wheat
60% of cultivated area is rain-fed as only 40% of area is under irrigation.
Small and marginal farmers comprise of more than 80% of total sector with only a 44% share.
The agricultural policies, regulations and rules of states are also important especially since there are completely different policies across various states which clash with each other and skews the consolidated view of the sector as a whole
Cultivation patterns: Small and marginal farmers try to grow crops that will fetch them the maximum returns, there is no scientific basis for crop selection it is only on the basis of seasonal demand or experiences from the previous years or what their neighbors are growing i.e. mostly based on speculation than fundamentals.
India has seen a spectacular green revolution from 1980 onwards which helped in achieving food sustainability and self-sufficiency however we need to focus on the millions of small and marginal farmers to achieve comprehensive agricultural reforms that are directly linked to the livelihood of millions of such families who are totally dependent on agriculture for their very survival
Challenges, Issues & Problems (Conventional Farming)
This section highlights the major challenges that are faced by small and marginal farmers in India; these are only the most pressing issues that directly impact their livelihood and the future sustainability of small and marginal farms & (families)
Ever increasing population causing great demand for land that is putting more pressure on small and marginal farmers to sell their lands to major real estate investors or very large agricultural companies
A majority of the land is not supported by irrigation and farmers have to depend on 4 months of rain as their primary source of water, in addition to this there is lot of water contamination and depletion of ground water resources due to over usage, irrigation facilities / technology and economics are mostly out of reach for the small guy
Increase in the cost of external inputs like fertilizers, pesticides as well as vagaries in rainy season take a heavy toll on farming families increasing their debt and reducing them to penury and distress eventually leading to a rising case of farmer suicides
Soils have become depleted due to mono cropping and over use of synthetic inputs resulting in yields getting lower every year, natural fertility of the soil has gone for a toss as a result of depleting organic content i.e. continuous use of fertilizers and resulting nitrate run-off. This also is due to lack of bio diversity because the same crops are grown over and over again just to take care of basic sustenance
Further division and reduction in land holdings have caused social tension and violent crimes in the small and marginal farmer community especially because property relationships are quiet complex as a majority of the small and marginal farmers are non-registered and there is sometimes no documentation on the legal ownership / status or encumbrances of the land which results in difficulty in availing local government or institutional schemes, credits or benefits
The focus of institutions is largely on high return areas of agriculture where there is an abundance of all natural resources, funds and technology inputs, the majority of the land mass does not enjoy this resulting in declining output from rain-fed areas and areas where dry land agriculture is practiced
Middle men exploit the small and marginal farmers providing them least returns on their produce, there is no centralized or regulated markets where these farmers can market their produce so that they get maximum and fair reimbursement for their crops
Lack of education in small and marginal farmers make them more adverse to change as they see it as an excuse which will set them up for failure and eventually having to surrender or sell their land holdings.
Conventional farming system - 500
Dairy, poultry, agriculture, horticulture
Dependency on synthetics
Genetically modified seeds etc. high responder / high yielder
India roles and challenges of small holder agriculture slide 27, 28
Integrated Farming System (IFS)
Organic agriculture is one of several to sustainable agriculture and many of the techniques used (e.g. inter-cropping, rotation of crops, double digging,, mulching, integration of crops and livestock) are practiced under various agricultural systems. What makes organic agriculture unique, as regulated under various laws and certification programmes, is that:
1) almost all synthetic inputs are prohibited and 2) Soil building crop rotations are mandated.
The basic rules of organic production are that natural inputs are approved and synthetic inputs are prohibited, but there are exceptions in both cases.
Certain natural inputs determined by the various certification programmes to be harmful to human health or the environment are prohibited (e.g. arsenic). As well, certain synthetic inputs determined to be essential and consistent with organic farming philosophy, are allowed (e.g. insect pheromones). Lists of specific approved synthetic inputs and prohibited natural inputs are maintained by all the certification programmes and such a list is under negotiation in codex. Many certification programmes require additional environmental protection measures in adoption to these two requirements. While many farmers in the developing world do not use synthetic inputs, this alone is not sufficient to classify their operations as organic.
Today's chemical farms have little use for the skilled husbandry which was once the guiding principle of working the land. The emphasis today is solely on productivity - high input in exchange for high returns and productivity (mostly diminishing now however for farmers worldwide). Four important considerations - what happens to the land, the food it produces, the people who eat it and the communities which lose out - are overlooked.
Components of IFS 500
Integrated Farming System v/s Conventional Farming Systems
Now that we have read and understood the fundamentals and approaches of both conventional and the integrated approach for cultivation, it becomes easier to see the differences between both of these for specific areas or perspectives in the agricultural domain. It can also been seen that even though this project does not make explicit references to organic farming or the new sustainable agriculture approach that is the new mantra, the basic fundamental of the IFS approach leans heavily towards both these faculties i.e. greater acceptance and implementation of the IFS approach over the conventional way of growing makes the producer and associated entities implement the greater objectives of long term sustainability and reducing of synthetic inputs
Conventional Farming System
Integrated Farming System
The main and only crop is the "centre" of the universe. All activities, decisions, impact and risk revolves around the "centre". Typical example of putting all the eggs in one basket
The whole farm is taken as an ecological unit and out-put efficiency per yard is more than conventional approach. Multiple crops, live-stock and other components have their individual importance and are inter-dependent on each other for collective success
There is lack of sharing and help between growers as the primary aim is to ensure that the crop gets the maximum yield without thinking about the consequences of what the effect may be on the others e.g. heavy use of pesticides contaminate ground water, large doses of synthetic fertilizers attract pests and insects that may cause damage to the whole periphery of the farm e.g. nitrate run-off
The nature of an IFS system promotes sharing of resources, labour & knowledge. Farms can form a collective community where their cropping pattern / cycles can complement each other. Residual and surplus output from one farm can act as an input to the other e.g. crop residue from sugarcane is voluminous and this can be used for community composting where different nutrient sources can be utilized from various farms for a richer compost
Dependence or dominance of nature, vagaries in weather e.g. heat / rain etc. can cause the entire standing crop to fail
Multiple components of the IFS approach reduce risk and dependence on nature, it is very unlikely that all the components spread across the entire year shall collectively fail, cultivation is more in harmony with nature
Mono cropping and concentration on only on a specific variety or type of crop
Richer mix of diversity with a combination of trees, fruits, vegetables, crops, livestock
Small and marginal farmers are exploited by middlemen, large landowners, suppliers and anyone that can get some financial benefit by making the grower feel threatened about his survival in case of crop failure
Small and marginal farmer livelihoods are more sustainable and have minimal impact in case of external or internal environmental factors. This makes them less susceptible to exploitation
Focus more on correct fertilizer and other synthetic "doses", high level of precision required for inputs, sowing, growing and harvesting. Small mistakes can lead to major losses
Focus is more on selecting the right combination of crops, the correct cycles and adjusting all the components of the farm to work in synchronization with each other. The role of inputs are only as amendments or adjustments that are done on the basis of observation, experimentation and feedback
Rising food demand is the main impetus which is driving the conventional system to be more intensified and focussed on quantity at any cost
Rising food demand still remains a challenge due to fragmentation, lack of application of scientific research which would give this system a more organized structure and establish some kind of framework which can be used a template for small to very large land holdings
More focus on usage of synthetic sources for increase in quantity consequently driving the need for more synthetic inputs to maintain quality (commercial grade high strength insecticides and pesticides)
Synthetic sources are kept to a minimum as most of the inputs required are produced on the farm or in the community itself. The nature of experimentation and intercropping encourages farmers to liaise with each other and free government agro-clinics to customize dosages based on requirements and necessity only
Preference for hybrid or genetically modified seeds, tissue cultured saplings
Native varieties of seeds, species and breeds are encouraged stopping the loss in the natural genetic diversity that is unique to each geographical area
Labour and employment is seasonal with no work to do when the land is lying fallow
Work is available throughout the year to the entire family of the cultivator thus also empowering women who would be mostly jobless during the off-seasons in the conventional farms
It is not surprising that a lot of research, studies and findings highlight the fact that a farmer or a community that transitions from conventional to the integrated farming approach find it very easy and more profitable to move towards using more and more organic inputs in their farms. It is also heartening to note (especially in India) that there seems to be very less effort or almost nil to convince the farmers to use organic inputs once they already are practicing integrated farming.
As a consequence of this, the IFS method of farming could lead to gradual decline to the main issue that seems to be associated with pure organic farming (causing non-acceptance of the organic frame of mind by small and marginal farmers) i.e. lower yields than conventional methods as strategies like integrated pest management and a balanced fertilization method that respects the natural balance along with a safe combination of synthetic inputs may actually lead to higher yields in IFS than conventional methods with the added benefits of organic cultivation.
It would perhaps relax the apprehensions associated with an overuse of synthetic inputs and thus pave the way for a practical & scientifically tested approach to produce food in a safer and more sustainable way with the added benefit of retaining or perhaps increasing the yield. This will also provide better marketing opportunities for the small and marginal farmers who at the moment lose out on the 'organically grown or safely grown' price bands
Sample Flows & Economics in an IFS 500 + 500
Benefits of IFS - 1000
After we have looked at the IFS model and its components, it is clear that they provide a lot of benefits over the conventional system of cultivation and most importantly this approach makes sure that the livelihoods of the small and marginal farmers are secure. IFS has a lot of short, medium and long term benefits, some of the key areas where immediate gains in short and medium term gains can be seen are as follows
Productivity Gains: The IFS approach makes land usage more efficient i.e. income per acre or guntha of land is more as compared to conventional farming because different factors are at work e.g. the cultivated primary crop from the soil, the intercropped vegetable that not only provides additional income but also acts as a companion crop to the primary crop thereby increasing the yield and preventing the occurrence of pest and
Profitability Gains: Once again waste is never wasted in this system of cropping, all sundry waste arising out of various components e.g. livestock manure, blood & bone-meal, crop residue can be composted and reused within the farm itself acting as a good source of organic fertilizer. The use of such keeps the soil PH in check and naturally increases the organic content in the soil contributing to higher yields that are found to be more resistant to pest and diseases. This also translates into reduced expenses to buy synthetic inputs in large quantities (though not totally eliminated) and farmers can form a community to exchange surplus material produced in their farms which can be used in other farms as natural soil amendments or conventional pesticides. The reduction in costly external input also reduces the interference of the middleman who mostly supplies these to the small and marginal farmers and gets them hooked onto synthetic inputs like a drug. End of the day the net profit benefit to cost ratio is increased
Sustainability Gains: Reduction in usage of external inputs and creation of a farm 'eco-system' slowly but surely increases the sustenance potential of the land for longer periods compared to plots cultivated using only synthetic inputs and mono cropping without any linked components
Natural Balance: Different components of various natures are linked to enable to provide various source of nutrients to the soil, crops and the farmer household e.g. vegetables and fruits can be grown as companion crops that can be used for consumption by the family and also contribute to the growth of the primary crops as a natural cultural benefit and increase in biodiversity. The various components can act as natural nitrogen fixators, provide biochemical pest control, create beneficial habitats for beneficial insects and use diversity to provide additional economic security
Recycling: Waste is recycled more effectively and if planned right no part of the output actually goes waste and there is zero contamination of the farm or the water sources as everything goes back either into the soil or the market or as input to the livestock or fishery. This also minimized environmental pollution
Yearlong Revenue: This is the most important benefit that can be achieved using the IFS approach, the farmer is no longer constrained by the 4 months of monsoon, yearlong productivity of the farm is attained using a combination of rainy season crops, dry season crops, animal husbandry, bee keeping, dairy and poultry products as to use the cliché the farmer does not put all the eggs in one basket
Embracing new technology & education: IFS needs to be planned and executed using some traditional knowledge and inputs from agricultural universities, government agencies and institutions. This actually educates the farmers on new technology and the science behind the crop or approach making them realise that education is equally important for their survival. Access to these institutions is easy if the farmer himself is convinced of the benefits and approaches these agencies with a positive frame of mind and for this initial success needs to be actively demonstrated to them. An educated and technology savvy farmer is more successful, confident and assertive and is likely to act as the torch bearer for the community farmers as a whole with the capacity and resources to actually demonstrate the benefits on his own farm to the doubters
Energy Savings: Farmers can channel biogas from their livestock to provide energy to meet basic household requirements and also reduce their dependency on fossil fuels, bio gas generation has been one of the greatest success stories of the IFS approach with more and more farmers having this unit in their farm as the state provides the base unit free of cost and the inputs to the unit is provided by the waste generated in the farmers land
Fodder / Fuel / Timber Crisis: Most of the small and marginal farmers in India own some amount of live-stock i.e. cow, goats, pigs or poultry. In the IFS approach since the complete land holding is completely utilized in the best possible way, it provides an opportunity to grow fodder crops for these live-stocks and this addresses one of the pressing issues that are being faced i.e. non availability of quality fodder. The fodder crisis if further compounded by massive areas going under mono cropping by large companies and destruction of cultivable land to make way for non-agricultural activities. Similarly the varied components in an integrated farm e.g. using the agro-forest or agro-silvo- pastoral model enhances availability of fuel sources for the farmer household without causing a negative effect on the crop or the environment as the wood / timber acquired is mostly incidental and residual and does not involve large scale cutting down of trees thus avoiding large scale deforestation and preservation of natural resources
Employment sustainability: Having a varied spread of different components spread across the land provides an opportunity for the family to be employed all the year around instead of the traditional few months of the rainy season or the crop season in a year as there is an increase in cropping intensity.
Challenges in an IFS 500
(acceptance, education, management, ITK)
Impact of IFS
Social, economic & environmental impact (long term) 1000
Community and Self-Help Groups
Community seed backs, documenting local knowledge sustainetpublication india part 1.pdf page 47