Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture (LEISA) is about the technical and social options open to farmers who seek to improve productivity and income in an ecologically sound way. ILEIA, The Netherlands and its Indian partner organisation, AME Foundation, Bangalore, document and publish experiences on Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture through LEISA India. Starting as a supplement to the global AgriCultural Network magazine, LEISA India emerged as an independent Indian edition from 1999 onwards.
Language of the magazine: English, as well as seven local language editions (in the following languages: Kannada, Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Oriya, Marathi and Punjabi).
Valuing underutilised crops
It is heartening to know that there is increasing recognition worldwide for family farming and nutritional crops like pulses and millets (UN declarations such as International Year of Family Farming -2014; International Year of Pulses -2016). However, it is deeply disturbing with country facing unprecedented heat waves, droughts and farmer’s miseries.
Women forging change
“If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent”, says FAO. Inspite of access to resources, women are still the major force for farming to continue. Women are the defacto custodians of local culture and bio diversity.
Water: Lifeline for livelihoods
We are rapidly moving towards water crisis, with increasing and conflicting demands – drinking, agriculture, health, sanitation, construction etc. In India, the issue is seriously compounded with growing populations, multiplying needs and unabated wastages and pollution.
More and more people are moving towards urban areas for various reasons. This has also increased the demand for food while putting pressure on scarce resources. Urban life styles and food preferences also influence the type of food grown and the way it is grown to meet the growing urban food demand. Rural urban linkages play a crucial role in influencing the minds of consumers about the importance of safe food and the methods that need to be adopted in producing the same. The consumer demand for safe food becomes the prime driver in farming moving towards agroecological way.
Soils for life
More than 90% of the planet’s genetic biodiversity is found in soils. A gram of soil can contain as many as 10,000 different species. The various micro organisms in the soil are capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere, make other nutrients accessible to the plants and also improve the physical structure of the soil. However, with agriculture becoming commercialized, farmers have shifted to high chemical agriculture, depriving soils of organic matter on which the soil life thrives.
Cultivating farm biodiversity
This issue of LEISA India is about biodiversity: a nation’s heritage, an opportunity and a solution to deal with threatened livelihoods and ecologies. Biodiversity is a reliable adaptive strategy as well as a mitigating strategy. Family farmers are custodians of biodiversity and articles in this issue highlight how farming and biodiversity go hand in hand.
Family Farming: A way of life
Out of the 2.5 billion people in poor countries living directly from the food and agriculture sector, 1.5 billion people live in smallholder households, of which many are extremely poor, according to FAO. Smallholders, practicing agro-ecological approaches promote sustainable farming systems, using mainly family labour for production and using part of the produce for family consumption.
Education For Change
Small-scale farmers who are already grappling with a number of challenges like low yields, natural resources degradation, uneconomic holdings, lack of access to resources etc., are unable to cope with the changes in the external environment, which are happening at an alarming rate. There is an urgent need to educate, motivate and encourage small farmers in adapting quickly to these changing circumstances.
Farmers and Markets
Small scale farmers have traditionally been growing local foods on a subsistence level. The advent of new technologies led to increased production and the surpluses were being marketed primarily in the local markets. But the opening-up of the economy to global players and changing consumer food demands has had disastrous effects - agriculture became more market oriented, farmers lost control over their food systems to big agri-businesses and local foods got replaced by globally tradable commodities.
SRI: A scaling up success
System of Rice Intensification, popularly known as SRI, is described in various ways – as a knowledge intensive alternative, an innovation, an approach etc. SRI is being accepted by large number of farmers...who are not only realising the benefits but also sharing their learning’s with others.
Land degradation is not just the result of natural disasters. It is also the outcome of long-term over exploitation of natural resources and ecosystems, generated by the dominating approach to agricultural development. To address these problems, we cannot pursue the same ways of thinking that have led to this situation. We need to take a different perspective – which is already presenting itself.
Greening the economy
Through this issue, we have brought together experiences of small farmers, individuals and institutions who are working towards making this planet green and safe. We appreciate and recognize the efforts of all those small farmers who are making the shift to ecologically sound agriculture.
Securing Land Rights
The demand for food is rising. The land resource for food production is increasingly diminishing. Landlessness and land fragmentation are growing worldwide. Land is increasingly being perceived as a commodity. It is rigorously being exploited to generate immediate, short-term gains, at the expense of a long-term impacts on the land resource and the environment.
Regional food systems
It’s time to rethink, reeducate, and regrow our food system, which is healthy and sustainable. There are a number of practical solutions already available. In this issue, we have made an attempt to present some of them through field experiences where local communities have built a sustainable local systems of food production and consumption.
Youth in farming
In this issue we share some experiences which highlight how youth remaining in rural areas build on what they have and know, be recognized and respected. Also, how the youth are getting interested in not only farming but also interested in serving rural communities. The experiences also illustrate that they need not radically learn new skills, creating a ‘disconnect’, but if guided and motivated, could also tone up their leadership and entrepreneurial skills.
Finance for farming
India’s rural poor are overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture as their primary source of income; the majority are marginal or small farmers, and the poorest households are landless. Credit is not the only financial service needed by small holders.
Livestock for sustainable livelihoods
Millions of poor people in the drylands of western India, the Deccan Plateau, and in the mountainous reaches of the Himalayas, depend only on livestock for their livelihoods. Keeping livestock is traditional and closely linked to rural culture, indicative of the fact that rural families have always realised the importance of livestock. These pastoralists depend heavily on the natural resources like forests and common lands for rearing their livestock.
Sustaining gains and scaling up
Scaling up is perceived as a natural and almost organic process. If things are done well, people – whether beneficiaries or interested outsiders will take it up on a wider scale. Change leaders too, typically opt for wider rather than narrower impact. Donors too, while making investment decisions, fund initiatives in which they feel there is potential for success or long term utility.
3-Women and food sovereignty
Women continue to play a major role in providing the food security to households. Their role in agriculture has become all the more important as farming is increasingly becoming a responsibility of women to feed their households. Farming is once again in the hands of women, though not with recognition and respect to them, but as the only means of survival for the households.
2-Farmers as entrepreneurs
Farmers have used a variety of ways to develop alternative income earning opportunities. Such incomes may have some link to agriculture, such as the marketing or processing of agricultural products or could be outside the realm of agriculture, e.g. products of handicrafts made from plant fibre.
Traditionally, farming was based on the principle of biodiversity. Small farms were naturally benefiting from the diversity in their natural environment which provided food, fodder, fuel and medicines to the family. Agro biodiversity started dwindling due to various reasons ranging from inappropriate farming practices to unplanned and unsustainable development activities.
4 - Dealing with climate change
Farmers have been practicing farming in contextual factors beyond their control. Climate is one of them. With the new understanding that climate change is real, happening, and inevitable, the complexities involved in farming have become manifold.
3 - Farming and Social Inclusion
Social inclusion is a process which ensures that people have greater participation in decision-making which affects their lives and access to their fundamental rights. It is now recognised that to reduce poverty, inclusive growth should be the ultimate goal of economic growth.
2 - Living soils
Soil is by far the most biologically diverse part of the earth. It is indeed a living entity in itself, containing an enormous number of organisms, and vast biodiversity. Careless farming practices have resulted in soils devoid of life.
1 - Towards fairer trade
Green and fair trade provides opportunities for farmers to reach consumers who are willing to pay a better price for their goods, in spite of the fact that the process can be long and complicated. For LEISA and organic farmers, global fair trade markets are offering an exciting economic opportunity while the local and regional markets are growing slowly.
4 - Ecological pest management
Ecological pest management is about bringing the balance back to disturbed ecosystems caused by modern agricultural practices. It focuses on managing pests as one component of a larger ecosystem and also learning to observe eco balances.
3 - Healthy produce, people and environment
Our health is influenced by the water we drink, the air we breathe, by many physical and non-physical factors in our environment, and by the quantity and quality of the food we eat every day. The quality of our food is largely determined by the way it is grown or produced. Health and agriculture therefore are linked and calls for integrated processes, innovative approaches and novel partnerships.
2 - Securing seed supply
Plant genetic resources are important to farming communities not only for production, but also for their role in culture and tradition. Women have been the primary contributors to this form of biodiversity management, identifying and storing seeds each year. As seed embodies the past and future of agriculture, its preservation is paramount for long term sustainability of soil, eco-systems and farming communities. For farmers, good quality seed is the most essential input.
1 - Farmers coming together
Farming communities need to, as well as, do organize themselves, especially when they belong to small scale categories and are pursuing agroecological approaches. Working together can take many forms, and a variety of terms are used to cover the scope of this idea – collective action, farmers’ organisations, womens’ groups, unions, co-operatives, self-help groups, networks, alliances etc.
4 - Nurturing Ecological Processes
Ecological agriculture is all about understanding the conditions leading to sustainable, productive agriculture that has harmonious environmental impacts. In this issue of LEISA magazine, we present some examples of intensified agricultural production based on ecological processes.
3 - Knowledge Building Processes
Generation of knowledge is a process which is and needs to be ongoing, but that further steps also need to be taken to exchange, make the knowledge available to all, and most importantly, to act on this knowledge.
2 - Changing Farming Practices
The conversion process from conventional practices to more sustainable farming systems, though desirable, may not be an easy process. It can rather be a complex one with the natural resources degraded, quite often by their very own farming practices and lack of access to resources and information on eco-friendly ways of farming.
Documentation for change
The aim of a documentation process is to build new knowledge. LEISA, as a concept, is constantly evolving and changing as a response to changes in the natural, social and political environments. Documenting new developments is therefore very important for the further development of LEISA.
4 - Towards Policy Change
Policies shape how organizations, communities or societies function. They are updated often to regulate our constantly changing societies, and therefore are far from static. In farming, a very high percentage of the rural population is involved in the daily management of natural resources.
3 - Contribution of small animals
For most small scale farmers, for whom it is important to make optimal use of available resources, livestock still has an essential role to play. They are less risky and raising of small animals offers opportunities for a regular cash income through out the year.
2 - More than money
Agriculture is often valued in direct financial terms. In an alternative system like LEISA, farmers do incur costs, may be of different type but reap benefits which are much more holistic and sustainable.
1 - On-farm Energy
Agriculture is about converting solar energy into energy forms that are useful to feed humans and animals. To achieve energy efficiency in the farming system, it is important to integratethe different components so that they support each other and maximise the flow of energy and nutrients in the farm.
Farming with Nature
Biodiversity refers to the variability of all organisms, including their genetic diversity and the diversity of eco-systems in which they live. Agricultural development has n most cases been pursued without considering its effect on biodiversity. Pressure on agricultural land is increasing. Global demand for food and fiber is expected to grow by at least 50 percent in the next few decades, and much more in low ncome developing countries.
3 - Post Harvest Management
Most of the agricultural research and extension efforts are focused on increasing crop and livestock production, in order to improve farm incomes and food availability.
2 - Next Generation Farmers
In this edition of the LEISA Magazine, we look at young people in their role as family and community members and as ndividuals, whose opportunities depend on the policies and structures of the agricultural economies of which they are a part.
1 - Valuing Crop Diversity
Over time we have identified and learned to use nearly 8000 species for our food and well-being. Today, however, only about 30 crops form the basis of world’s agriculture. Over 50% of our energy requirements are now met by just three crops: rice, wheat and maize. The continuously narrowing base for global food security limits the options available to farmers, and reduces the agricultural biodiversity necessary to provide security in resource-poor environments.
4 - Reversing Degradation
Land degradation is something that most small farmers in the South are familiar with. Changes in land use practices or pressure on land that make traditional farming methods unsuitable are the main reasons for land degradation in many parts of the world. Restricted access to more productive agricultural lands also force farmers to cultivate more marginal areas such as forested slopes that have low farming potential and are vulnerable to soil erosion, once forest cover has been removed.
3 - Access to Resources
History, values and beliefs are reflected in the way societies organize their systems of agricultural production and natural resource management. They determine the extent to which farmers and other rural community members have the right and power to secure the resources they need to ensure food security and income.
2 - Ways of Water Harvesting
Water is an essential resources not only for agriculture but also for many industrial processes. As its needed for different purposes, the proportion of water required for agricultural production is increasingly challenged. Small scale water solution such as water harvesting system can help improve the live of the smallholders farmers considerably.
1 - Farmers Field Schools
Farmer Field School (FFS) has been immensely successful in Asia. Case in Indonesia, FFS for rice farmers has reached over two million rice farmers. These farmers have increased their yields and incomes,reduced pesticide use, and use inputs such as water and fertilizer more efficiently. They have gained the knowledge and practical experience necessary to manage their agroecosystems sustainably.
4 - Women in Agriculture
Women play important role in agricultural industry. In Sub Saharan Africa, for example, women produce around 80 percent of food, both for household consumption and for sale. Women are usually responsible for food processing and also make a major contribution to food storage, transportatio and marketing.
Recreating Living Soil
Conservation Agriculture is challeging farmers to produce in more integrated and ecological way by following Integrated pest management (IPM), Weed Management(IWM, Integrated Soild Fertility Management (ISFM) or Agro-forestry or organic agriculture.
Access to information is one of the most valuable resources in agricultural development. Today, the demand for agricultural information is stronger than ever. The increased market integration that is experienced by the most remote farming communities greatly increases the pace of change. Events and developments far away from home have profound effects on livelihoods of farmers.
Managing Livestock Sustainably
For the most and majority farmers in developing countries. livingstcok production is becoming part of their life and more important aspect in their agricultural production. Especially for the small scale farmer in marginal condition where land can not be used for any other purposes.
Agricultural Biotechnology (Supplement)
Biotechnology was perceived as potential area that can contribute to the sustainable agriculture. In this edition, we explore the possibilities of biotechnology system (plan tissue culture and genetic engineering) and their appropriateness and reported effects and the major issue concerning the major population.
Lessons in Scaling Up
Farmers as a primary producers, longing to increase their income, stay in the buisness/market and therfore to raise productivity, reduce cost and minimize negative impact of their production systems are some of their wishes. The improvement of agricultural production is somehow not only the wish of the farmer. Policy makers, researcher and developmet workers/extension worker also wish the same idea.
Go global or stay local?
International trade is evolve quite fast. Products from different part of the world are found everywhere. Farmers are guaranteed to get the benefits from the globalisation and free trade on their productions and can be sold on the global market competitively. However, the impact of the free trade shows that most of the small scale farmers can not really compete on this globalisation market.
Coping with Disaster
Many farmers have to cope with fluctuation of their production conditions. But other hazardous issues like floads, eartquake, epidemic diseases or economic crisis also haunted their life. Often driven by stress and compact situation, adaptation and innovation has become normal part of the farmer survival tools. Emergency agriculture is needed to end the relief phase and to encourage restoration of the management of agriculture and marketing the products.
Monocultures towards Sustainability
This edition, we look at the negative impact of monoculture especially of annual food crops and the alternatives that are being developed regarding the sustainability agriculture.
Farming in the Forest - Integrated agriculture, integrating sustainability
This edition focused on ways and meands to improve the sustainability in the context of farming in the forest. The changing global policies and alternative strategies adopted by NGO that reflect the resilience of the local communitiy will be discuss as well in the farming in the forest edition.
Farmer Innovation - Creativity in sustainability
Innovation often appear from curiosity or necessity. The same case with farmers. They build up some new ideas that they heard from other farmers or extension agents. They try to implement their ideas or innovations in to practice.
Desertification - The new old problem
Combating desertification assumes increased importance as an issue. Though the issue is recognised and being addressed at various levels ranging from international conventions to local initiatives, the need for a bottom up approach is increasingly recognised as the most appropriate approach for tackling the problem.
Restoring Bio diversity
Human started using nature to sustain themselves as hunters and gatheres. When the population increased the natural environment can not support anymore. Human were forced to domesticate certain plants and animals that can caused to the natural damaged.
Stakeholders in Research
What has been the role of the agriculture researcher that change the process of the agricultural system? This question is the main topic of the LEISA India edition.
Markets for LEISA and Organic Products
LEISA INDIA is a supplement to the LEISA newsletter. The goal of the newsletter is to bring out the Indian edition with good mix of Indian and International contribution.