Small-scale farms play an important role in feeding rural communities in low and low middle-income countries through the contribution of staple commodities. However, the production of crop and livestock of small-scale farms are commonly at low to medium level of intensity. As a result, these farm systems are often affected by food-insecurity. Moreover, the demand for animal protein is estimated to grow rapidly as a result of a fast population growth. Therefore, there is a need to increase food productivity in a sustainable manner. In Nepal, most of the farm systems are characterized as small-scale. These farm systems are mixed, combining cereals (maize, wheat and rice) and livestock production. Nevertheless, Nepalese crop-livestock systems are low productive. In addition, farms are continuously decreasing in size due to land fragmentation caused by cultural reasons. Thus integrated crop-livestock systems may contribute to an efficient design of a sustainable farm system, as they aim at achieving synergism between soil, plant, animal and atmosphere.
This thesis explores and evaluates crop-livestock integration as a pathway to achieve sustainable intensification in cereal-based farming systems in Nepal from a farmer’s perspective. This thesis employs a diversity of methods from hard and soft sciences with quantitative methods: intercrop field experiments, Ecological Network Analysis, biophysical-socioeconomic modelling; and semi-quantitative methods: Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping, interviews, and on farm-discussion groups with farmers.
Chapter 2 explores the concept of robustness for nutrient flows. The main results show that the farms in the different agro-ecosystems recycle only a small portion of the total Nitrogen (N) inputs and have therefore high rates of N losses. Moreover, they display a high dependency on N imports in the form of fodder. Furthermore, farm N networks are organised (high productivity) but inflexible (poorly resilient) and consequently unbalanced (low robustness). However, scenarios of improved management demonstrate that crop production can be improved, leading to reduced fodder imports and less N losses. Consequently, the N networks increase the flexibility, which results in higher level of robustness of the N flow network.
In Chapter 3, it is shown that 1) substantial productivity improvements can be achieved through intensification methods, 2) the active involvement of farmers in on-farm trials increases understanding of underlying decision-making factors to adopt or non-adopt improved practices, and 3) engaging farmers positively influence farmer perceptions towards the adoption of innovative practices. Even though it is shown that productivity increases significantly by the explored improved methods, social and cultural factors still limit its fast adoption.
Chapter 4 shows how farmers identify trade-offs between the benefits of increased cash income and farmyard manure production from intensified livestock production versus increases in labour requirements for fodder imports. It is shown that farmers are not willing to make additional investments in on-farm feed production, as they perceive these as insufficient to bridge the widening feed gap resulting from additional livestock. Furthermore, a sensitivity analysis shows that, given the farmers’ perceptions, an increase in milk market demand could have enhanced positive effects on livestock production and on-farm income.
Chapter 5 identifies the main drivers associated with agricultural intensification that occurred in the farming systems in the mid-hills since 1985. These drivers are based on the access to agricultural inputs such as improved varieties of seeds and livestock. This has been a consequence of improved connectivity and access to markets, which have been stimulated by agricultural policies and developmental projects. Furthermore, the trade-off analysis of two contrasting scenarios: 1) dairy cattle specialized vs. 2) average mixed farm systems showed that there is space for improving farm configurations by minimizing trade-offs between livestock intensification (profit) on the one hand and N losses and leisure time in the specialized farm on the other hand. This is associated to the farm larger landholding size.