Dr Tasneem Mubarak
There is no denying the fact that farmers in many parts of the country are in distress. The farming sector produces very little income, especially for small and marginal farmers. The government’s plan to double farmers’ incomes by 2022-23 is a very challenging task, but not impossible. Many interventions can be made in terms of bridging the yield gaps, investment in irrigation and water conservation, food processing and value addition, creation of suitable infrastructure for storage and transportation, market interventions, and crop diversification. Among these, crop diversification has the potential to solve many problems.
Crop diversification in simple terms means shifting from a single crop, often of the traditional variety which is less productive and remunerative, to multiple crops that have more yield and better monetary returns. Growing a single crop has many risks related to weather vagaries and market price fluctuations. Besides, outbreak of diseases and pests are very common in the mono cropping system, affecting production, quality of produce, and costs involved in cultivation.
During the post-flood situation in 2014, farmers who husbanded animals along with agriculture or who cultivated horticultural crops could manage the repercussions better than those who depended on a single crop. Integration of agriculture, horticulture and animal components in diversified farming systems offers a lot of advantages. The components are interactive among themselves and farm wastes are better recycled for productive purposes. The other advantages associated with the practice are better soil health, fertility, and productivity through on-farm recycling of organic wastes; nutritional security due to year-round availability of nutritious food enriched with protein, carbohydrate, fat, minerals and vitamins; a clean environment as a result of effective recycling of waste from animal activities; reduced production cost of components; increased farm income through input recycling from the byproducts of allied enterprises; regular income through diverse agri-products; and generation of regular employment for the farm families.
Horticulture-based integrated farming systems with livestock as component are often more viable and sustainable. Thus, judicious integration of crop enterprises suited to specific agro-climatic and socioeconomic situation of the farmer is essential for augmenting the income of a farm and increasing the family labour employment.
To showcase the potential of integrated farming system (IFS), Krishi Vigyan Kendra Kulgam (SKUAST-Kashmir) established a demonstration in 2017 on IFS for the marginal farmers of the district. It was done on an area of one hectare with horticulture, agriculture and livestock as components. Since its establishment, more than 9 thousand farmers from every nook and corner of the district have visited it and interacted with the scientists of the Kendra.
Demand for seed varieties, plant breeds, and related technologies that have been demonstrated has increased many fold in the district and the KVK is now exploring multiplication and supply of technology products to facilitate the interested farmers to the level possible with the existing resources. It is pertinent to mention that after 3 years of diversification the farm income has increased more than 3 times from the same patch of land.
The major attraction of the IFS model is the High Density apple orchard, which has created a lot of demand for such saplings in the district. The line department is also getting huge response and receiving hundreds of applications for the planting material. There is also great demand for the livestock component being demonstrated at KVK. Developing Integrated Farming System Models in farmers’ participatory mode, which are better suited to a given agro-climatic and socioeconomic environment, is the need of the hour. The IFS models need to be standardised both under irrigated and rainfed conditions. Some situations may need complete diversification and others just the scaling up of existing ones.
Putting scientific knowledge and skill in existing systems would also bring positive changes in farming. Demonstration of potential technologies is, therefore, essential given the increasing disinterest of youth in agriculture and also for motivating the farmers towards adopting such models for better food, nutritional and economic security and overall prosperity of the society.
The writer is Sr Scientist & Head, KVK-Kulgam, SKUAST-Kashmir. firstname.lastname@example.org