Against the backdrop of squeezing landed plots, newer methods of agriculture continue to be tested and finally adopted in the country. These are mostly undertaken by venturesome rural male youths and a section of women: ever-undaunted, enterprising and innovative. Integrated farming stands out among these agro-methods. Normally topographical deficiencies, various limitations in traditional farming and other drawbacks prompt the rural people to go for this type of farming. They include both relatively affluent and marginal farmers.
Initially in an awkward and experimental stage --- uncertainties surrounding the targeted results, integrated farming is now comfortably in place in Bangladesh. Compared to agriculturally conducive regions, this special type of farming has thrived over the last few years in both arid and flood-prone areas. Unlike the traditional focus on largely mono-crop farming, this method is followed in scores of agro-activities at a time. Although the prime objective remains focused on crop fields, the farmers practising this method integrate fishing, dairy farming and poultry in this new method of farming. A number of energetic young farmers are seen preparing floating seedbeds besides their crop fields or in the middle parts. These seedbeds are gaining fast popularity among farmers with poor facilities of growing rice seedlings. Many others grow floating vegetable patches in adjacent canals and stagnant water bodies. Fruit orchards and pockets of spinaches and leafy vegetables in the midst of semi-arid patches in the crop fields are now common spectacle in many parts of the country. People engaged in integrated farming methods receive all kinds of support and patronage from the local non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Initially, the concept came from the Integrated Farm Management Component (IFMC). It is considered the largest segment of the Agricultural Growth and Employment Programme (AGEP), which formally began working in Bangladesh as a 5-year programme (2013-2018. It was financed by a grant from the Government of Denmark.
The Bangladesh Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) played a major role in the implementation of the integrated farm management activities. Thirty per cent of the project's budget was provided by the Government of Bangladesh. In the following years, IFMC has formed six regional offices in Mymensingh, Cumilla, Jashore, Barishal, Rangpur and Rajshahi. Those were accompanied by small set-ups in 20 districts providing support to the capacity development of farmers' organisations (FOs).
It's now quite evident that despite the programme's ad hoc nature in the beginning, it has later been replicated throughout the country. Noticing its immense fruits, farmers both professional and non-professional have picked up this radical concept of farming. To their expectations, hefty volumes of yield followed. Given the continued decline in soil fertility, unabated loss of topsoil and the mindless fragmentation of agro-lands, the relevance of integrated farming to the country's agriculture continues to increase. A striking aspect of the integrated farming culture is women's enthusiastic participation in it. Individually or at times in a group, they set up kitchen gardens beside their homesteads. They are not far from their family crop-fields. Some other women plant vegetable plants on the fringe of croplands developed by the male members of the family. Lots of women set up poultry farms on bamboo platforms above fish ponds. The droppings of the poultry birds serve as a great source of fish feeds. In many villages, fish enclosures in the middle of crop-fields are now a common scenario. The availability of green pastures along the borderlines of croplands or in the post-harvest fields encourages a section of women to rear cattle. The natural grasslands serve as ideal grazing grounds for cows, goats or buffaloes. Lately, goat and sheep rearing has been recognised as a highly profitable income-generating activity among a section of enterprising women. Women owning large swathes of ancestral lands are now focused on developing dairy farms. Being periodically helped by their chiefly farmer-husbands, the female dairy owners are now emerging as new operatives of integrated farming. The advantages of women's involvement in poultry and dairy farms are many.
Perhaps as a dictate of nature, women in Bangladesh have been having a special bond with cattle for ages. In spite of their tight schedules of household chores, village women can make enough space for looking after their domestic animals. The value of the labour and other efforts they employ in rearing cows, goats etc becomes evident when the animals fetch money at the market.
In fact, large integrated farm complexes in villages have brought about a kind of revolution in Bangladesh. It has also changed the definition of agriculture by expanding its spheres to previously inconceivable areas. That the field-centred agro-crops can be supplemented by dozens of profitable product yields under a broader sphere was once beyond the thoughts of even the most adventurous of farm enthusiasts. In today's Bangladesh, constrained by limited croplands and farming outlets, the project continues to gain popularity. Integrated farming is no agro-movement, like 'grow more food'. It has been necessitated by the hard realities present in today's Bangladesh agriculture, and the harder times lying ahead of us.
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