Development in the small-farm sector holds the key to a holistic
progress in the Asia-Pacific countries
AN ASSESSMENT was made by the
Food and Agriculture Organization
(FAO) recently on several Asia-
Pacific countries. Despite three
decades of impressive economic
growth when food production doubled in this region, hunger, malnutrition and related cases claim several thousand lives everyday. It also
reveals that although India could
generate more than 80 per cent
growth in food production during
the past decades from 10 per cent of
its regions blessed with excellent
irrigation facilities, a repetition of
the miracle is impossible.
The investment in irrigation,
dams and water distribution structures has shrunken over the years.
There has been salinity devastation
in irrigation farmlands due to poor
and lack of
investment in drainage.
According to John Dixon of FAO), the incidence of land and
forest degradation and poverty are particularly acute in rain-
fed areas, which have benefited less from rural development
efforts than the irrigated areas.
It is projected that by AD 2025, per capita cropland available in Asia will be less than 0.1 ha. As the development of irrigated cereal production appears bleak, attention should be
given to integrated intensive farming systems (IIFS) in both
irrigated and rain-fed areas.
Since agriculture is still the major provider of both food
and jobs for rural households in the Asia-Pacific region, in the
context of a shrinking resource base, agriculture can be sustained only by producing more food, fuelwood, fodder, fibre
and other commodities from less land, less water and less
energy. A study conducted by the mss Foundation of Madras,
points out the need for extending support to small-farm agriculture for intensifying farming systems through appropriate
service package based on field research, backed by proper
public policies. The study also calls for maximising net income
per unit of land, water and energy and not merely the output.
The accomplishment of Indian agriculture during the
post-independent era is a saga of success. The country has
crossed the food grain production limit by 189 million tormes.
India has accomplished self-sufficiency in food followed by
building up huge buffer grain stocks and has also emerged as a
'grain power'. While all these accolades are being showered on
India, it must also be accepted that the country still has the
largest working population who live below the poverty line.
Indian agriculture is dominated
by farmers owning sub-marginal,
marginal, small and medium holdings which account for over 70 per
cent of the arable lands. Besides, the
landless agricultural labour too
depend on this sector for their existence. But the country has failed to
build up livelihood security to this
vast majority of its population.
With the rapid decline in per
capita land and water availability
and swelling rural workforce, economically-sound IIFS becomes
essential for safeguarding national
food security as well as for building
up livelihood security. IIFS studies
are currently receiving keen attention in the Asia-Pacific region as
the most promising super highway
to economic improvements for the
FAO, collaborating with the MSS
Foundation, had conducted a fiveday workshop on IIFS at Madras in 1995. M S Swaminathan,
director of the institute, in his introduction to the exhaustive
Indian case study report presented in the FAO meet on IIFS, says
that "the most urgent need of small-farm agriculture is the
intensification and diversification of farming systems so that
agriculture helps to provide not only more food, but also more
skilled jobs and income. For this purpose, intensification
should be done in such a manner that ecological foundations
essential for sustainable agricultural advances get strengthened and not eroded.
Therefore, comprehensive case studies
adopted in different countries under the FAO project should
interest and benefit policymakers, extension workers, credit
and financial institutions, and agricultural scientists and
The meet observed that the vast majority of the rural
households in Asia have only limited access to bio-physical
and financial resources, while human resources are relatively
abundant. Maximising benefits from given resource endowments through value addition leads to better livelihood security and thereby, food security.
It has been planned to intensify efforts to identify successful and sustainable IFFS models from every agro-ecological
zone by focussing on indigenous knowledge, study and analysis/assess, and tests with farmers using multi-diseiplinary
teams and extend the knowledge base to the masses. It was
suggested that the IIFS required a new approach to its extension, like using model IIFS farms as demonstration centres and
the hub of local extension activities, and using IIFS farmers as
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