Sustainability through Farming Systems

Farming System

Sustainability through Farming Systems

Two farming systems have been proposed for enduring sustainability. They are:

Low external input sustainable Agriculture or Low input sustainable Agriculture ( LEISA/LISA )

It means Minimal use of external production inputs. In view of the limited access of most farmers to artificial external inputs, the limited value of these inputs under LEIA conditions, the ecological and social threats of ‘green revolution’ technology and the dangers of production on nonrenewable energy sources, the strong emphasis on High External Input Agriculture (HEIA) in agricultural development must be questioned. However, it is also open to question whether it will be possible to raise world food production sufficiently without the use of such external inputs. Besides, natural as opposed to artificial inputs can also have detrimental environmental effects.

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LEISA is an option which is feasible for a large number of farmers and which can complement other forms of agricultural production. As most farmers are not in a position to use artificial inputs or can use them only in small quantities, it is necessary to concentrate on technologies that make efficient use of local resources. Also, those farmers who now practice HEIA could reduce contamination and costs and increase the efficiency of the external inputs by applying some LEISA techniques. It is important that the agro-ecological knowledge of both scientists and farmers can be applied, so that internal and external inputs can be combined in such a way that the natural resources are conserved and enhanced. Productivity and security are increased and negative environmental effects are avoided.

A. LEISA refers to those forms of agriculture that

• Seek to optimize the use of locally available resources by combining the different components of the farm system, i.e., plants, animals, soil, water, climate and people, so that they complement each other and have the greatest possible synergetic effects.

• Seek ways of using external inputs only to the extent that they are needed to provide elements that are deficient in the ecosystem and to enhance available biological, physical and human resources. In using external inputs, attention is given mainly to maximum recycling and minimum detrimental impact on the environment.

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• LEISA does not aim at maximum production of short duration but rather at a stable and adequate production level over the long term. LEISA seeks to maintain and, where possible, enhance the natural resources and make maximum use of natural processes. Where part of the production is marketed, opportunities are sought to regain the nutrients brought to the market.

Numerous developing countries are now implementing so-called structural adjustment programs that involve policies such as devaluation of exchange rates, reduction of government spending and intervention, reduction of subsidies and removal of price controls. In this way, the demand for imports is to be curtailed and the purchase of local goods stimulated, so as to reduce the balance of payment and government deficits and to promote national economic growth.

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LEISA appears to fit within this context, as it is less demanding on imports and credits than the conventional approach to agricultural development. At farm, regional and national level, LEISA implies the need for closely monitoring and carefully managing flows of nutrients, water and energy in order to achieve a balance at a high level of production. Management principles include harvesting water and nutrients from the watershed, recycling nutrients within the farm, managing nutrient flow from farm to consumers and back again, using aquifer water judiciously, and using renewable sources of energy. As these flows are not confined by farm boundaries,

LEISA requires management not only at farm level but also at district, regional, national and even international levels. At each level, technologies are sought to make the flow cycle as short as possible and to balance the flows. In this book, the focus is on practices that can be applied at farm level. Questions related to techniques and system at village level and above are equally important, but should be addressed in a separate study.

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LEISA incorporates the best components of indigenous farmers’ knowledge and practices; ecologically sound agriculture developed elsewhere, conventional science and new approaches in science (e.g., systems approach, agro-ecology, biotechnology). Thus, conventional science has served mainly HEIA, but the contributions could make to LEIA should be explored to the full. LEISA practices must be developed within each ecological and socioeconomic system. The specific strategies and techniques will vary accordingly and will be innumerable. The experience thus far of developing LEISA systems cannot provide universal, ready-made answers for the problems of farmers in other areas, but can provide some indications of principles and promising possibilities.

The process of combining local farmers’ knowledge and skills with those of external agents to develop site-specific and socio economically adapted farming techniques has been given the name ‘participatory Technology Development’ (PTD). Farmers work together with professionals from outside their community (e.g., extension workers, researchers etc.) in identifying, generating, testing and applying new techniques. PTD seeks to strengthen the existing experimental capacity of farmers, and to encourage continuation of the innovation process under local control (Haverkort, et al., 1988). The experience of combining indigenous and scientific knowledge through a process of PTD indicates strongly that it is indeed possible to transform LEIA to LEISA (Low External-Input and Sustainable Agriculture). This approach to agricultural development appears to be better adapted to the needs and opportunities of LEIA farmers and to fit better into their cultural context than the conventional approach.

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B. Sustainable agroecosystems

An alternative to the chemical dependence is to maximize the contributions of bio diversity to pest control and nutrient cycling and to attain optimal productivity with minimal inputs. Edwards and Grove (1991) proposed an analogous term for management of nutrients, integrated nutrient management. This approach capitalizes the adaptive features of traditional systems and incorporates additional advantages of conventional and innovative technology. It is important to recognize a strong link between the availability of organic matter and both bio diversity and nutrient cycling (Palm et. al., 1987).

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The practice in many developing countries of removing organic matter from the land for fuel and other purposes is a serious constraint to long-term sustainability (Oram, 1988). The most sustainable farming practices and components of the man managed bio diversity can be developed only by understanding the functions of the agro ecosystem and low social and economic conditions of the farmers and their climatic and environments impact upon overall crop and animal productivity. No matter how well the agro ecosystem functions biologically, it is sustainable only if it is socially and economically sound (Altieri, 1987).


• Production costs are low,

• Overall risk of the farmer is considerably reduced,

• Pollution of water is avoided,

• Healthy food very little or no pesticide residue is ensured,

• Ensure both short and long term profitability.


Continuation of LEISA will perpetuate a vicious circle of “low input-low yields” which the third world countries with even increasing population cannot afford. The solution for this is the optimal input farming which will meet the requirement of sustaina.

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