EDITORIAL

Pepping Up the Integrated Rural Development Process

Dr BK Mukhopadhyay
A noted management economist and an international commentator on business and economic affairs. He may be reached at m.bibhas@gmail.com

Time has been changing and this is the age of innovention (innovation plus invention) where static approach is being replaced fast by the dynamic one. In today’s business environment, the target is to reap optimal benefits from land use alternatives – land being a scarce resource where competing crops and allied activities are there, all targeting to have a greater share.

The integrated rural development approach emphasizes the very need for coordinating different agencies under a single management system of essential components (including education and health) required to bolster the rural development process. The management system must be able to envelop local people in planning, decision making and implementation of the programmers. Thus, on this score, 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 organizations (NGOs), the United Nations and its agencies, multilateral financial institutions like WTO, World Bank and IMF, 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 for years together a majority of the world’s farmers, particularly those located in tropical regions, have depended for their food and income on multi-species 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, call for renewed thinking in as much as the days now are for multi-tasking so that the risk element is reduced to a considerable extent via bifurcating the system into various components leading to professional practices.

For optimally using 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 revolutionized 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 by providing the needed means of production such as fuel, fertilizer, 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 and NABARD efforts as well as the activities of other development agencies 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 fertilizer from the fish wastes, but by also enhancing their income from the bigger and quicker yield of fish and their relatively high market prices. Cost-effective quality conscious planning is also on, though to a lesser extent. Horticulture, apiculture, viticulture, pisciculture, duckery, piggery, poultry, and agricultural machineries’ uses are steadily jacking up the drive for modernized farming practices.

Processing the produce for preservation with value addition and spoilage minimization are contributing to overall benefits. The food processing sector is being encouraged by resource flow. Micro and small entrepreneurship is steadily gaining ground. Injecting latest research findings 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, have the latent strength to turn the backward depressed corridor into a developed region, ultimately helping one 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.

Obvious enough, integrated farming calls for skill in different types of activity such as 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 – as a team. With the introduction of integrated farming, the organizational and accounting unit is to be changed to production-brigade level. The main motivation for integrated farming emanates from the acceptance of a 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 recognized 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 or logical expectation that the local people, those who are affected by development, must be allowed to take the lead in directing, implementing, and evaluating the projects in as much as local ownership is the goal towards which all of the other players must be working. Steps must be there to ensure that casting too wide a net is not 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 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 be lost sight of. Can we deny the fact that traditional agricultural practices were extremely efficient, admirably adapted to local, social, ecological and climatic conditions and eminently sustainable? Any change to be initiated must have a reflection of local knowledge, resources, and practices, among others. Overnight change cannot be there – as simple as that. We may start doing all of a sudden something hitherto unknown to an area, 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 development process — involves above all massively increasing “off-farm inputs” such as hybrid seeds, artificial fertilizer, pesticides, irrigation water, and farm machinery. The more highly 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-fertilizers are making inroads, though to a smaller extent. Pollution control and environment suitability must not be the backbenchers. Agricultural lands require top attention in as much as sectoral competition may lead to diminution of farm land steadily in the absence of proper land use planning