Integrated Farming System for Boosting Farmers’ Income and Sustainable Development in Mizoram

- Professor Shri Kant Tripathi,
Department of Forestry, Mizoram University

Integrated farming system (IFS) is a combination of crop production with livestock management where one component benefits the other and the practice is economically beneficial and environmentally friendly. IFS can be used by the farmers in a small land area with better production efficiency and can provide variety of produces. In IFS, agriculture can be integrated with livestock, poultry, and fishery placed in one place to create year-round employment and additional income to the farmers. In IFS, crops and animals can be placed together in such a way that the waste of one component can benefit the other so that the organic matter and nutrients can be efficiently recycled within a small piece of land and the losses of organic matter and nutrients can be minimized. This reduces the cost of production and improves productivity and farm-income. Even the crop residues can also be used for production of organic fertilizers through vermicomposting in IFS. The system not only promote healthy environment but also benefit the poor small farmers by growing diversity of crops in a small land area, increase cash income, maintain soil health, improve the quality and quantity of productive food by exploiting maximum resources which are unutilized in traditional agriculture practices. New integrated methods include improved farming technologies such as integrated nutrient management, site-specific nutrient management, conservation technology, use of biofertilizers, crop rotation, zero tillage, and the use of agricultural systems which help farmers track their activities to production capacity and profitability of farms as well as entire farms.

Components of IFS are: A: Crop - Cereals, Pulses, Oilseeds, Fruits, Vegetables, Spices, Flowers, Fodder/Forage Crops, Sugarcane, Fibre Crops etc.; B: Livestock and Poultry - Cows, Buffaloes, Pigs, Goat, Sheep, Poultry, Duck etc.; C: Fishery - Fingerling Production, Composite Fish Culture, Paddy cum Fish Culture, aquaponics etc.; D: Secondary Agriculture - Bee Cultivation, Mushroom Cultivation, Food Processing, Vermicomposting, green manuring, Biofertilizer, Azolla Cultivation, hydroponics, aquaponics etc. Integrated farming system can be developed by integrating the above four components (i.e. A + B, A + C, B + C, A + D, B + D, C + D, A + B + C, A + B + D, B + C + D, A + C + D, A + B + C + D) depending upon the feasibility. 
The basic principle for an integrated farming system is to enhance ecological diversity and income of indigenous farmers; i) by selecting the appropriate crop method with crop rotation, crop mixing, and intercropping that can avoid competition for water, nutrition and space, and adopting environmentally friendly methods, and ii) by using multi-story layout to effectively use of maximum total available area with high level of interaction between biotic and abiotic components.
In the state of Mizoram where 60% of the population is engaged in shifting agriculture and most of the farmers have less than one hectare of land like small and marginal farmers. The concept of IFS can be implemented in the shifting cultivation of Mizoram as a method for substitution of an old aged agricultural method. It will be highly appreciated if the marginal farmers are provided with one time small financial support either through Government subsidies or through bank loans on nominal interest rates to ease the farmers to establish integrated farming systems. This way, marginal farmers can utilize some parts of their land by growing fodder crops like maize, millets, sweet potatoes etc. which will be beneficial for both the farmers and animals and if crop rotation is followed then there is more profit from agriculture in the form of milk and meat. Agriculture practiced with animal husbandry not only provides additional income and employment opportunities to the family members throughout the year but also the livestock excreta can be utilized as manures. It also provides additional yields from crops while preserving soil fertility. Crop residues used as fodder for livestock will reduce the cost of feed. 
For the place like Mizoram, the cultivation of fish and livestock with common crops can be a better option to support each other, for example, fish can be fed from farm residues such as leaves, stalks, or other waste products. In addition, plankton, which is a major food source for fish, can be grown using livestock manure that grows around fish farms. Fish pond silt provides excellent manure and fertilizer for land crops and is highly demanded by farmers. The second integrated farming model can be pig farming with fish culture and common crop. Pig stalls are made on or near the back of the pond and pig manure is drained directly into the pond or taken from the animal house and placed in the pond. Pig dung acts as the best fertilizer for the pond and increases the biological production of pond water and consequently fish production. In addition, fish eat directly from pig excreta, which is 70% digestible food for fish. This system does not require extra fish feed or pond manure. Expenditure on fish culture can be significantly reduced as pig wastes serve as an alternative to fish feed and pond manure, accounting for 60% of the input costs in fish culture.
Other activities like bee keeping (apiculture), an agro-based activity, not only provide honey but also increase pollination of our food sources. Mushroom cultivation is a profitable agri-business that can improve the economic and food status of farmers in dry areas. Mushrooms are excellent source of important nutrients and very low in calories and fat free and provides opportunities for greater income generation and employment creation. More advanced farming system like hydroponics and aquaponics can also be incorporated without involving the soil and can be set up everywhere especially on a barren lands. These systems are more productive with faster growth rate than using the soil as medium for growth.  
Major limitations of the IFS are lack of knowledge among farming communities, timely availability of inputs and availability of credit facilities on reasonable interest rates for initial establishment.
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