Without exception, Asian policymakers and planners face a crisis of continuing rural poverty. Each year, millions more children are added to the farming households without much hope of a better livelihood. Each year, millions of hectares of farming's natural resource base become further degraded. Modern farming methods with their high-external inputs and economies of scale may promise food but at the cost of pollution, marginalization of the poor, and fewer and fewer jobs. Somehow, small-scale farming systems must provide a reasonable rural livelihood, a clean conserved environment, and adequate food, fuel and fibre products.
No doubt, new policies will be needed to protect and foster such development. No doubt, new institutions for marketing, banking and education will be needed at community, local and national levels. No doubt, a higher level of farming management and professionalism will be required. But all of these require governments to be serious and imaginative about rural development.
One option for sustainable development in farming is small-scale integrated agriculture-aqua- culture. The diversification that comes from integrating crops, vegetables, livestock, trees and fish imparts stability in production, efficiency in resource use and conservation of the environment. Uncertainty in markets and climate is countered by a wide array of enterprises. In integrated farming, wastes of one enterprise become inputs to another and, thus, optimize the use of resources and lessen pollution. Stability in many contrasting habitats permits diversity of genetic resources and survival of beneficial insects and other wildlife. Integrated agriculture-aquaculture offers special advantages over and above its role in waste recycling and its importance in encouraging better water management for agriculture and forestry. Fish are efficient converters of low-grade feed and wastes into high-value protein. Fish are the greatest sources of animal protein in rural Asia. For rural households, fish are small units of cash or food which can be harvested more or less at will without loss of weight or condition. While these systems are labour-intensive, they do save labour from fetching water, gathering wood and forage, and fishing in nearby rivers and streams. All of these are elaborated in this technology information kit.
The many examples of integrated farming systems from around Asia that are presented in this technology information kit are not given as models to copy or emulate exactly. Rarely can such complex systems be built from scratch. Indeed, many of the technical and budget details will not apply in every case. Rather, examples are given to show what is possible and to stimulate a process of integration on the farm. What other farmers have proven is shared here to help people who work directly with farmers to facilitate the addition of new resource flows, the integration of new enterprises, the substitution of external inputs and the rehabilitation of degraded agroecosystems.
The kit suggests a procedure for evolving farming systems that share the characteristics described herein. Moreover, we have seen that this procedure not only captures the many levels of integration within a single group of households, but also stimulates households to increase levels of integration.
This technology information kit seeks to stimulate people who work directly with farmers to develop small-scale farms that provide a reasonable rural livelihood, a clean conserved environment, and food, fuel and fibre products.
Clive Lightfoot (ICLARM)
Julian Gonsalves (IIRR)