Bio-intensive farming system: An Alternative Approach to Sustainable Livelihoods

A subsistence-oriented agrarian economy is predominant in Nepal, a least developed country of South Asia. In the late 70’s, high response varieties (HRVs) as well as the chemical fertilizers were introduced in Nepal with an objective of transforming the subsistence agriculture into a commercial one. During the last two decades, however, the agriculture and environment have shown a negative change. These include deforestation, soil erosion, landslides, and loss of indigenous crop varieties, which were well suited to the local environment. As a result of these negative processes, many hill districts have become food deficient. Moreover, there has not been a significant positive change in the pattern of resource (land) ownership. Rather the small holders have lost their ownership to land for the sake of earning livelihood. The small farmers are compelled to sell their lands to the landlords or rich farmers for their survival during food shortage periods. After losing their lands, the small/marginalized households become landless, and owing to the lack of employment opportunities in the villages migrate to cities/towns to earn their livelihood. The process of dispossession and disempowerment of landless and marginalized population groups and their migration into cities to earn livelihoods have created a vicious cycle in rural Nepal. If the food needs of the Nepalese people are to be met through increased agricultural production, in the new millenium, the development strategies adopted in the past periodic plans are to be given up and new strategy options are to be adopted.

Privatization of public service sectors and cut down in the government expenditure in those sectors, continuous price rise in basic commodities, agricultural inputs and food items, diminishing role of occupational castes in rural economy, ever increasing rate of unemployment are some of the major impacts of globalization in Nepal. Furthermore, women and children are reported being trafficked into the sex trade, labor exploitation and servitude like practices amidst such labor migration. These are the evidences of how globalization, the open market economic policy and the inappropriate development policies compel the marginalized rural population to move towards servitude and exploitation, losing all grounds, means of and hopes for a self-reliant livelihood in the small least developed countries. These conditions have aggravated poverty as well as economic and food insecurity, particularly in rural areas. The exploitation, which the landless laborers, tenants and marginalized farmers have suffered at the hands of “Landlords” and money lenders in the villages, and the sub-human food-deficient conditions in which most of them are living, have made them timid, suspicious, and resigned to their destiny. Most of them have lost all hopes, lack initiative or are afraid to exercise it, and are not courageous enough to break the socio-cultural traditions impinging upon their subordinate socio-economic situations. They are dehumanized, disintegrated and unanimated. Extreme poverty and erosion of household economy have reduced them to a state of apathy. The poverty has thus created a vicious cycle in the rural areas of the country, where over 80 percent of its population reside. This process of impoverishment and marginalization is the central issue this participatory action research aims to address. The process of impoverishment and marginalization is characteristic to other developing and least developed countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America as well, leading to food insecurity and unsustainable livelihoods. In such conditions, it is difficult and would be even a mistake to anticipate that the survivors of poverty and marginalization would improve their standard of livelihoods on their own initiatives. They rather require stimulus and assistance from outside to build up their selfconfidence, to raise their consciousness and to improve their socio-economic conditions so that they would be able to shake off the “culture of greed”, the “culture of poverty” and the “culture of silence”, which are being perpetuated from one generation to the next

Principle and Features of Bio-intensive Farming System

The concept of bio-intensive farming system is based on the agro-ecological principles of sustainable organic agriculture system and participatory rural development. It is not merely intensification of external inputs as advocated by green revolution concept. These principles include the scientific crop rotation, mixed farming system with specialized crop and/or livestock/agroforestry enterprise(s), optimization of organic recycling, participatory and sustainable management of natural resources (land, forest, water, plant/animal biodiversity), participatory research and extension, and higher degree of economic self-reliance of farm households against external techno-economic shocks.

Empowerment of People’s Organizations

Enhancing people’s organization’s identities as social capital through empowerment of local farmers’/women’s groups and advocating for the rights of farming communities and women on natural productive resources like land, plant genetic resources and seeds, water, forest is an important feature of the BIF system. It is a demand driven problem-solving approach directly related to the needs of the rural marginalized population groups including women and the landless and their socioeconomic environment. This approach places the small landholders and women at the center of the innovation. It is a promising alternative to traditional methods and the intensive chemical farming, which is based on commercialization of food production resources and process, greed market economy, and which is in control or command of a few rich people, the landlords or corporations.

The bio-intensive farming system flourishes when the rights of farming communities to natural resources, work/employment, food, education, health, information and skill development are translated into reality. This approach intends to make the farming communities aware of the fact that food security is a human right’s issue, which includes a number of other human rights. And these rights are inter-linked with various dimensions of food security as presented in chart-9. Empowerment of the people’s organizations is a primary work for advocacy on food security issues from the perspective of human rights.

Conservation and Utilization of PGRs

The integrated animation and bio-intensive farming system approach envisages that in-situ conservation, authorized utilization, and free exchange of plant genetic resources (PGRs) among the farming communities and researchers comprise an essential component of sustainable livelihoods. It encourages cooperation between farming communities and researchers for proper identification, documentation, conservation and utilization of the biological diversity for the benefit of local farming communities, in particular, and for human beings, in general.

Documentation, conservation and utilization of biodiversity (plants, animals and soil microorganisms) and the farming communities’ control over plant and animal genetic resources are critical for preventing further degradation of the productive resource base, economic opportunities, poverty and the food insecurity situations as well as to make the livelihood of the rural population sustainable both in terms of space and time.

Eco- and Health-friendly Rural System

The bio-intensive farming system is a biologically intensive mixed farming system, which relies on intensive engagement of farmers, organic recycling optimization through intensive crop rotations, integrated soil nutrient management (ISNM), integrated pest/disease management (IPDM). The ISNM favours a very limited use of mineral fertilizers in the field crops to complement organic or bio-fertilizers and IPDM is about the limited use of less hazardous pesticides/fungicides integrated with/without plant-based or biological agents in emergency cases. Neupane (2000) has pointed out that integrated pest management (IPM) is the only eco- and healthfriendly option available today for the control of pests in agriculture. Integrated pest management is one of the technico-environmental components of the IPDM concept within the conceptual framework of bio-intensive farming system. The bio-intensive farming system relies on appropriate spatial management of field crops, vegetable crops, fruits and fodder trees as well as livestock and poultry for rational and ecologically non-destructive utilization of lands in the hills and mountains. Furthermore, it increases the soil fertility, revitalizes the degraded soil, decreases environmental pollution and prevents health hazards to humans and livestock as well as reduces further degradation of the environment, which otherwise might lead to desertification of the globe. It is, therefore, not only eco-friendly but also friendly to human and animal health.

Equitable Access to Natural Resources and Public Service

Equitable access to natural productive resources like land, community pasture/forest, medicinal plants, water sources and community irrigation water, and equal respect to the diversity of farming community (ethnicity, gender, sex, religion) at the local level are the essential prerequisites for attaining food security and sustainable livelihood. The community forestry, community pasture, community irrigation system, community food security stocks (Dharam Bhakari), community herbal garden, community-based women’s health resource centre, community-based health clinic, community-based development education and information centre are some of the local infrastructures or social capital, which would prove to be a sustainable way of ensuring community members’ equitable access to common resources and public services. WOREC has been attempting to transform the targeted communities in this direction.

Sustainable Technology

The BIF system as a kind of sustainable organic agriculture focuses on the community in terms of resources (human resources, animal power, seed, manure/fertilizers, bio-pesticides, implements, finance), perfect social marketing and extension of technical skills and information through the local farmers’ scholars and leaders, both male and female. The available natural resource bases have now gradually been depleting causing difficulties in increasing food grain production in all the agro-ecological regions of the country (Chitrakar, 1997). Posey (1986) has rightly pointed out that there are many lessons to be learned from the native inhabitants, not the least of which is that “natural resources” also include people. In 1990, he pointed out that growing discoveries of the importance of  indigenous knowledge about the environment have called attention to the necessity of understanding and respecting the different “realities” of native people. I agree with him and perceive the necessity of understanding and respecting the different realities, experiences of native Nepali people and diversity among them. The BIF system approach relies on the utilization of indigenous knowledge, realities, resources and experiences, which have a history of hundreds of thousands of years, and on the modern agro-ecological principles and scientific techniques that offer the potential to conserve and regenerate resources. It is close to the beneficiaries and low in cost with minimum reliance on external expertise, capital, resources and equipment, which has been shown to result in the over–dependence of farming communities. The technological aspects it promotes include inter-cropping, mixed cropping, and crop diversification and rotations to increase the cropping intensity as well as to minimize the incidences of diseases and pests. In addition, it emphasizes the promotion of agro-forestry, renewable energy like solar energy, bio-gas, and improved cooking stoves aimed at conserving the forest, reducing the work burden on women in regard to collection of fuel wood and cooking food at the cost of their health. The by-product of biogas plant is applied in the crop field for improving the soil fertility and structure. Furthermore, the time saved by infrequent movement to the jungle or forest is utilized for extra–income generation for livelihood. This approach facilitates farmer-to-farmer communication and extension. The farmer managed model demonstration farms; maintenance of seed purity and improvement of local crop varieties with high food values in the farms by the farmers themselves; seed storage at household level and farmer-to-farmer information, education, communication and extension are the essential components of this technology. The model demonstration farms are the nodal points, which serve to be the field laboratory of the farmer or “Farmer’s Field School”, managed by the farmers and used for demonstration, dissemination or extension of technology to the members of the local farming communities. These farms are also used for participatory research. These farms serve to be the bridges between participatory research, extension and production.

Contact for further information:

Dr. Binayak P. Rajbhandari, Founder & Executive Chair, Adjunct Professor of Sustainable Agriculture at Himalayan College of Agricultural Sciences & Technology (HICAST), Purbanchal University, P.O. Box 13233, Kathmandu, Nepal; Email:; URL://

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