Integrated agriculture enhances farm productivity and livelihoods in agro-biodiversity hotspots

Integrated agriculture enhances farm productivity and livelihoods in agro-biodiversity hotspots

India is home to incredible diversity in plant and animal species and is ranked among the richest areas of biodiversity in the world. Unfortunately, much of this diversity is being eroded at an alarming rate, largely due to habitat destruction and invasion by alien species. In the hilly regions of southern India, known
as the Eastern and Western Ghats, the native agro-biodiversity (which includes farmed species) is being replaced by the cultivation of cash crops in order to generate farming income. In Kolli Hills (Tamil Nadu), over the last three decades, cassava has increasingly replaced native millets. A parallel shift has happened in Jeypore (Odisha), where eucalyptus is now occupying traditional agricultural landscapes, while banana is replacing paddy rice in Wayanad (Kerala). Roots and tubers, often neglected by agricultural extension systems, are traditional sources of food and income for small farmers in rural India.

While enabling farmers to generate some income, the loss of diversity and increasing monoculture of market-driven cash crops is accelerating rates of soil erosion, promoting crop disease, while making farmers more vulnerable to climate risks. It is also reducing local food production, thereby increasing people’s dependence on food procured from outside the region, and on wheat and rice provided by public food distribution systems.

This paper is a result of a participatory research and intercropping trials with pulses and millets conducted on farmers by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in collaboration with the University of Alberta - working through the Alleviating Poverty and Malnutrition in Agrobiodiversity Hotspots (APM) project - initiated participatory varietal selection (PVS) for cassava varieties. The paper also highlights the result of an organized high quality millet seed production through community seed banks.

Participatory research on cassava and elephant foot yam undertaken in Kolli Hills and Wayanad has resulted in farmers identifying better varieties that suit their requirements, including higher yields, higher starch content, enhanced drought tolerance and the ability to adapt to local conditions. Through intercropping, they have also been able to cultivate a diversity of short duration food crops alongside their main crop, boosting the nutritional content of household diets, earning extra income and strengthening the resilience of their farming systems against shocks, such as drought. 

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