Time has been changing and this is the age of innovention [innovation + invention] where static approach is being replaced fast by the dynamic [fast and consistent] one. In today's business environment, the target is to reap optimal benefits from land use alternatives - land being the scarce resource where competing crops/ allied activities are there all targeting to have a greater share of.
The integrated rural development approach emphasises on the very need of coordinating different agencies under a single management system of essential components (including education, health etc.) required to bolster the rural development process. The management system must be able to envelope local people in planning, decision making and implementation of the programmes. Thus, the main emphasis is on rational development and coordination of all principal factors required for agricultural and rural development.
The concept of an integrated approach refers not only to its multi-sectoral nature, but also to the broad range of actors involved. International non-governmental organisations (INGOs); the United Nations and its agencies; multilateral financial institutions like the WTO (World Trade Organisation), World Bank (WB), and IMF (International Monetary Fund); regional associations; private sector donors and investors; local governments; communities; families; and individuals -- all have a role to play in integrated development efforts.
It has been a fact that a majority of the world's farmers, particularly those in tropical regions, depend for their food and income on multispecies agricultural systems (the cultivation of a variety of crops on a single piece of land). Those systems, which are often without synthetic inputs and based on integrated management of local natural resources and, in many cases, on rational management of biodiversity, though theoretically offer numerous ecological advantages, yet calls for renewed thinking in as much as the days now are for simultaneous bunching and multi-tasking so that risk element is reduced to a considerable extent via bifurcating into various components leading to professional practises.
HEAT IS ON? For optimally using the land, productivity factor coupled with nutrient-rich environmentally allowable productions has emerged to be the leading factor. In fact, the Integrated Rural Development System (IRDS) has revolutionised the conventional farming of livestock, aquaculture, horticulture, agro-industry and allied activities in some countries, especially in tropical and subtropical regions that are not arid. The IRDS possesses the inherent strength to remove constraints to a significant extent by not only solving most of the existing economic and even ecological problems, but also provide the needed means of production such as fuel, fertiliser and feed, besides increasing productivity manifold. Inter-sectoral-resource-flow is thus bolstered.
Government schemes are gaining ground and subsidy-centric approach is being slowly replaced by market-oriented activity-diversification-based approach. The RBI (Reserve Bank of India) , and NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) efforts as well as the activities of other development agencies (government and nongovernment) are accentuating the changing process to a satisfactory extent.
Various activities, hitherto least known or practised are making foray into the farming community. Those who added fish to the livestock-crop system are in the process of making a very big step forward, not only by increasing the fertiliser from the fish wastes, but also enhanced their income from the bigger and quicker yield of fish and their relatively high market prices. Cost-effective quality conscious planning is also on, although to a lesser extent. Horticulture, apiculture, viticulture, pisciculture, duckery, piggery, poultry, agricultural machineries' uses are steadily jacking up the drive for modernised farming practises.
Processing the produce for preservation with value addition and spoilage minimisation are contributing to overall benefits. Food processing sector is getting encouraged by the resource flow. Micro and small entrepreneurship is steadily gaining ground. Injecting latest research findings (both in farm and non-farm sector) could alter the situation to a large extent and labour absorbing capability could in that situation surpass the labour-displacing factors.
In the overall sense: techno-economically and environmentally sound farm and non-farm activities, jointly, has the latent strength to turn the backward 'depressed corridor' into a developed region - ultimately helping attain sustainable development. This has assumed to be of utmost importance in this part of the country since the scope for big industry remains a far cry. Income and employment generation via this process of integration, in turn, could reduce the incidence of regional disparity, spatially, temporally, hierarchically and functionally.
MANAGEMENT OF INTEGRATION PROCESS - THE ULTIMATE FACTOR: Obvious enough, integrated farming calls for skills in different types of activities (viz. raising pigs and poultry, crop and vegetable farming, growing grass and aquatic plants and farming of fish). If integrated farming has to be done successfully on a large scale, a sufficient number of people with the required skills have to work together like a team. With the introduction of integrated farming, the organisational and accounting unit is to be changed to production-brigade-level. The main motivation for integrated farming emanates from the acceptance of the national policy of all-round development, where the economic benefits of individual operations do not figure very prominently compared to the overall process wherein of course the former is well-recognised in the context of overall regional development.
The challenge, of course, is to coordinate the efforts so that they complement -- not contradict each other. In the process it is very much a realistic logical expectation that the local people, those who are affected by the development, must be allowed to take the lead in directing, implementing, and evaluating the projects in as much as local ownership is the goal toward which all of the other players must be working. Steps must be there to ensure that casting too wide a net should not be counterproductive and discouraging. Development partners must strike a balance between being conscious of the complexities and broad implications of their actions and remaining focused on targeted, well-planned initiatives as rightly assessed by the UN's ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council).
THE WAY AHEAD: Further innovations as well as increased productivity are necessary to push the integrated farming system almost to perfection. Finally, the climate change factors must not lose sight. Can we deny the fact that traditional agricultural practices were extremely efficient, admirably adapted to social, ecological and climatic conditions and eminently sustainable? Any change to be initiated must have reflection of local knowledge, resources, and practices, among others. Overnight change cannot be there as simple as this. We may start doing all of a sudden something hitherto unknown to an area, say, but can this be sustained?
Acceptability is the most crucial factor. Any change, if myopic, is better avoided. Agricultural development - an essential part of the overall development process - involves a substantial use of "off-farm inputs" such as hybrid seeds, inorganic fertiliser, pesticides, and irrigation water and farm machinery. The more developed it is, the more sophisticated and expensive are these inputs. So, negative effect on the soil is a matter of serious concern. It is good that bio-fertilisers are making inroads, though to a smaller extent. Pollution control, environment suitability must not be the back benchers. Agricultural lands require lop attention as sectoral competition may lead to diminution of farm land steadily in the absence of proper planning for land use.
Dr BK Mukhopadhyay, a Management Economist, is Principal (Faculty of Management Studies), ICFAI University, Tripura, India.
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