A farm cluster shows the way in integrated farming

Farmers in Angara block of Ranchi are using waste from their farm and households as inputs in their farming system

Chedua Bedia is a 47-year-old marginal farmer from Dubulabeda village in Angara block of Ranchi district. Chedua motivates farmers from his village to come to school – not many schools are like the one here. It’s a Farmer Field School where a group of farmers learn how to integrate the various components of agriculture in their farms.

Chedua is a model farmer today. But, just three years back he barely did any farm planning though he owned multiple assets in his 5.5 acre of farmland. Most of his farmland lay barren and Chedua could only cultivate one crop in his 2 acre lowland. He did commit a few mistakes that resulted in crop losses. His farming practices were typical to what most practised in his village. During monsoons, he cultivated a few traditional paddy varieties. This would give him a meagre yield of around 3 quintals an acre. He used this for his household consumption and supplemented this with the grains he got from the public distribution system.

The soil in his farm had become sickly

The only nutrient available in his farm comprised of farmyard manure, which because of the few animals he had was inadequate. He depended on bulky chemical inputs which cost him a good deal at Rs 3500 per acre. Farm income being too little, Chedua had to migrate to the nearby city of Ranchi for labour work during the months February to May. During drought years, his situation used to worsen because of irregular monsoon. Chedua admits, “my produce was insufficient to meet the household food security requirements. As a result, we were buying cereals and built up a hefty loan.”

Chedua’s farming system was faced with ‘problems’ because of what experts call the breaking up of the ecology-farming linkage. Until a few decades back, the agriculture in the area depended on internal resources. Organic matter was recycled and environmental degradation had not set in. Agricultural yields though modest were steady. Multiple crops were grown in the farms, and rotation of crops provided more nitrogen, which assured healthy soils. In addition, pest and disease outbreaks like the ones seen these days was not common.

The integrated farming system virtually replicates nature

However, life changed when Chedua along with some farmers initiated the Farmers Field School. They were supported in this by Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development, an NGO that stepped in to promote the concept of “Sustainable Integrated Farming Systems” (SIFS) for small and marginal farmers. Becoming a part of the school helped the farmers know about mixed cropping and inter-cropping to boost yields and reduce cost of cultivation.

‘SIFS imitates nature by not only utilizing crops for production, but also varied types of plants, animals, bird, fish, as well as other aquatic flora and fauna.’ (SIFS Manual, Welthungerhilfe, 2014). According to Karunakar Aruk, a field activist involved in the work here ‘these resources are pooled and used in a manner the waste of one is recycled as resource for the other. This energy efficient system enhances the overall yield, income and nutrition of the people.’

The schools began with a focus on single crops such as paddy, groundnut etc., but as the group matured it moved on to integration of the various components of agriculture. The curriculum of the school was designed taking into consideration all the aspects and was geared to take up integration in the field.

Chedua started integrated farming by dividing his farm for different purposes. High quality seed materials were introduced and a shift made from single to triple cropping system. Cash crops like pea, potato, and off season vegetables like tomato were cultivated as summer crops. Mixed cropping was done in kharif of maize and dwarf beans. Organic manuring practices were introduced for enhancing the soil nutrient status. Crops, cattle, ducks and hens formed a part of the self-sustaining cycle. Small ponds were dug to help harvest water during the 1400 mm of annual monsoon.

System productivity increases after using SIFS approach

After adopting SIFS approach, Chedua got 11-12 qt/acre of paddy as against yield of 4-5 qt/acre earlier. Chedua earned a profit of Rs. 25000 and Rs. 12000 from his homestead land by cultivating vegetables using organic practices. He used this income to purchase a 1.5 HP electric pump for irrigation purposes.  His household is also able to consume pesticide free, healthy produce these days. This was just the beginning. A little later, he was also able to change his straw roof to asbestos sheet roof by investing Rs. 40000 from the enhanced incomes from shifting to SIFS approach.

Chedua says that the adoption of organic practices has improved the soil profile. Its water holding capacity has increased with an increase in soil humus content. Also, the crop biodiversity is being maintained for food-nutrient chain equilibrium. He is glad that he has a steady income from his farming system and does not need to go out for wage work. Not only is he cultivating his own land but also that of others on rent basis. His livelihood system has undergone a drastic change.

Many more farmers come from outside to observe his farming practices. Farmers of nearby villages have replicated his farming practices. Chedua now plans to produce his own seed materials of paddy and vegetable. For this, he is looking forward to some training on quality seed production. He also hopes to cultivate pure organic produce from his farmland on a large scale.

Farmers in his village are confident that this approach will stand the test of time. The lush paddy fields of Chedua are a proof of their assertion. ‘We finally have regular nutritious food at home,’ Chedua’s wife beams with assurance.

References and endnotes

A facilitator’s manual: Sustainable Integrated Farming systems, Welthungerhilfe 2014

The article deals with a program implemented by Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development with support from Welt Hunger Hilfe. The program’s outreach is in twenty-five villages in Arsha block of Purulia and Angara block of Ranchi.

A shorter version of this article has appeared in India Water Portal http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/farmers-field-school-jharkhand-shows-way-integrated-farming and SANDRP’s DRP Bulletin here – https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/12/28/drp-news-bulletin-28-dec-2015-farmers-field-school-in-jharkhand-shows-the-way-in-integrated-farming/

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