Integrated Farming Systems:
A Pathway for Bundelkhand’s Poor



Agriculture is the mainstay of the Bundelkhand economy with 90 per cent of the population dependent on agriculture. According to a Central Government report, the region was unable to cultivate 40 per cent of the farms due to water and fodder scarcity, leading to about 30 per cent reduction in food grain production and abandoning of 2 million livestock. This has adversely affected farmer livelihood security. Moreover, soil health and fertility has declined drastically. The ecosystem has been disrupted in chemical farms, water systems have been poisoned and groundwater has been depleted. Farmers are being drastically affected by the productivity decline, ecological degradation and climate change stresses despite heavier fertiliser application.

Ecologically sustainable integrated farming systems (IFS) possess the potential to strengthen the livelihoods depending on the agricultural sector as it allows for improved management of soils, biological resources, pests, disease vectors, genetic diversity and conservation of natural resources in a culturally appropriate manner. The promotion and development of sustainable integrated farming systems is a powerful tool for meeting development and sustainability goals by empowering the farmers in Bundelkhand.


The United Nations Development Programme states that rapid poverty and hunger reduction is a result of high per capita growth driven by agricultural productivity, employment creation and equitable distribution of income, assets and opportunities. In this context, the farming communities in Bundelkhand present themselves as an obvious target group if chronic poverty in the region is to be addressed. About 67 per cent of farmers in the region belong to the small and marginal category and have less than two hectares of land. Adherence to obsolete and resource-inefficient farming practices has been the bane of the farming community in the absence of information and capacity building inputs for promotion of sustainable, scientific and integrated farming systems. Farmers have not had exposure or access to improved agricultural inputs in terms of information or technology. The need for differentiated technological, institutional, infrastructural and investment support have not been made available to the farming community. Moreover, social exclusion, gender inequity and low levels of awareness and education have continued to hinder development. Land degradation and increasing water scarcity have ensured that agricultural productivity continues to decline over the years, leading to a vicious cycle of livelihood insecurity, poverty and debt.

Lack of access to markets means that farmers are not able to procure fair prices for their produce. Lack of non-farm opportunities perpetuates continued dependence on the unproductive agricultural sector. Ironically, it is the agricultural sector that has tremendous potential to fuel economic growth in rural areas. It can generate job opportunities in value addition (as in the food processing industry), in bringing agricultural products to the consumer (market linkages), as also in providing support (infrastructure, information, quality control and training) to the farmer.

Almost 40 per cent of women in Bundelkhand are malnourished. A total of 35 per cent of women in Bundelkhand form part of an active agricultural workforce being responsible for 75 per cent of the farm work but have negligible involvement in decision making, leading to poor access and limited control over resources. Moreover, due to the culturally entrenched patriarchal ethos in the region, poverty and water scarcity impact them more severely. Though inclusion of women in the watershed committees has been legally provisioned, yet their engagement in decision-making processes has been negligible. The predominantly patriarchal society results in women not having equitable access to resources and almost negligible say in decision-making processes.

Bundelkhand has been chronically drought hit with rain deficits of 60-70 per cent. A poor natural resource base coupled with unsustainable management practices has led to ecological degradation and high distress in the farming sector, further reinforcing the already backward socio-economic demographics of the region. In the face of climate change related vulnerabilities, the situation is likely to deteriorate at an accelerated pace unless integrated remedial measures are undertaken.

The government has committed large investments for integrated watershed development in the region. However, it is important that along with the capital investments being made in terms of watershed works, it is essential to invest in community based systems to ensure that it translates into the desired levels of social value creation through capacity building of local stakeholders to sustainably and equitably manage the resources as well as for enhancing agricultural productivity and promotion of livelihoods.

A focus on integrated farming systems will enhance income, productivity and livelihood security in a sustainable manner. It will also strengthen rural livelihoods, thereby reducing poverty and provide co-benefits in terms of natural resource conservation and empowerment of women. The approach to work with community institutions and integrated farming systems presents a holistic approach and sustainable impact through multi-dimensional and concerted efforts as opposed to stand alone interventions that address only some facets of the complex web of factors behind poverty in the region.

Integrating Farming Systems

An integrated farming system consists of a range of resource-saving practices that aim to achieve acceptable profits and high and sustained production levels, while minimising the negative effects of intensive farming and preserving the environment. Based on the principle of enhancing natural biological processes above and below the ground, the integrated system represents a winning combination that: (a) reduces erosion; (b) increases crop yields, soil biological activity and nutrient recycling; (c) intensifies land use, improving profits; and (d) helps reduce poverty and malnutrition and strengthens environmental sustainability.

At present, farmers concentrate mainly on crop production that is subject to uncertainty in income and employment to the farmers. In this context, it is imperative to evolve a suitable strategy for augmenting the income of a farm. Integration of various agricultural enterprises, viz., cropping, animal husbandry, fishery, forestry, etc., has great potentialities in the agricultural economy. These enterprises not only supplement the income of the farmers but also help in increasing labour employment. The integrated farming system approach introduces a change in the farming techniques for maximum production in the cropping pattern and takes care of optimal utilisation of resources. The farm wastes are better recycled for productive purposes in the integrated system. A judicious mix of agricultural enterprises including dairy, poultry, goat rearing, fishery, etc., that are suited to the given agro-climatic conditions and socio-economic status of the farmers will bring prosperity to the communities engaged in agriculture.

The integrated farming approach adoption will entail necessary steps that include: (a) disseminations and trainings for farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices; (b) promotion of soil and water conservation works as well as carbon-efficient practices; (c) trainings for livestock management; (d) trainings towards value addition to farm produces; (e) trainings to build farm-based enterprises; and (f) establishment of market linkages for farmers. Promotion of activities like crop diversification, agro forestry, horticulture, double cropping will improve returns for the farmers and create employment opportunities.

Looking Ahead

Promoting integrated farming systems can help achieve the five capitals comprising the sustainable livelihoods framework, i.e., natural, human, social, physical and financial. It is thus intrinsically attuned towards sustainability of interventions.

Deteriorating natural capital of land and water resources will be addressed through promotion of conservation agriculture, land and water management and regeneration of the natural resource base. Social capital will be built by promoting the formation of farmer groups to gain improved access through institutional alliances, enhanced collective bargaining power and empowering them with the knowledge to take informed decisions and collective action.

Imparting skills, trainings and knowledge to farmers and women to deal with livelihood challenges and realise improved farm productivity, incomes and lifestyle will enhance human capital, also yielding benefits in terms of access to better nutrition, education, etc.

Physical capital will be supplemented by improving the infrastructure for market, technology and value addition support. Financial capital will be enhanced by helping farmer groups and group agri enterprises to become formally organised and, thus, interact with financial institutions to access credit and markets. In the long term, it will help them to move out of the poverty and debt trap. The combined outcome of the above-mentioned approaches will be reduced vulnerability to climatic shocks and irregularities and improved resilience and livelihood security of the communities of Bundelkhand.

There is a need to reorient the support systems available for the farmers, gear up technical extension and research towards ecological agriculture, and create the synergies required to make ecologically sustainable integrated farming systems successful at a large scale. The Integrated Farming Systems approach supports the government schemes and policies to address poverty in the region. These farming systems possess the ability to tap the economic potential of the region. The collaboration of the government and the civil society, with the support of the private sector, can help these communities fight their way out of the vicious circle of poverty by helping the adoption and implementation of such systems in the region. q

Mayukh Hajra

Chitrangna Dewan


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