4. Characteristics of the bio-intensive approach to small-scale household food production.
AVRDC Publ. No. 87-273, Proc. of the Vegetable Improvement Gardening
Workshop; AVRDC, Shanhua, Tainan, Taiwan, ISBN 92-9058-028-3, 1988, pp. 93-99
The bio-intensive approach, as the name suggests, is a biological (as opposed to chemical) form of agriculture in which a small area of land is intensively cultivated with the use of nature's own ingredients to rebuild and then maintain the soil's productivity.
At the heart of the approach is the effort to improve the soils capability to nurture and sustain plant life. What a bio-intensive gardener tries to do on his small plot is to stimulate or replicate a natural forest (with the constant recycling of nutrients and maintenance of soil, moisture, and microbial conditions). Many countries of the world (and China is particularly notable) have farmed biologically for thousands of years and have been able to sustain output levels over those years. In sharp contrast the "efficient" but short-sighted approaches being used in many Western and Third World countries have often been disruptive of the natural resource base.
Farmers in many parts of the world are experiencing the fact that they have to use steadily increasing quantities of fertilizers and pesticides to sustain previous yield levels.
In the bio-intensive approach being recommended here for small-scale plots, the soil is gradually enhanced and the composition of beneficial microbial life actually improves from season to season. The soil structure and humus content is also supported. The nutrient content of the soil is built up, rather than depleted, after each crop. A healthy soil means a healthy stand of plants, and that means less insects and diseases. In the bio-intensive approach, yields continue to rise for the first few years and then tend to stabilize at an overall higher yield.
Such systems and the outputs (i.e. yields) are easily sustained at that level for many years with unchanging or even reduced levels of material and labour inputs.
The bio-intensive system is characterized by a greatly reduced dependence on expensive inputs that are generally used in conventional food production approaches. Many of these nonrenewable inputs, such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides, are produced at high energy costs (usually petroleum-based). Instead of chemicals, plant and animal wastes and natural mineral substitutes are used. In the methods being advocated here, the inputs required are bones, wood ash, eggshells, compost, ipil-ipil leaf meal or fish meal.
Locally available seeds are advocated rather than hybrid and other imported substitutes. Experience suggests that it is feasible to achieve a 100% self-reliance in recurring input needs. Other than hand tools, all material inputs are usually available locally or within easy access.
This reduces significantly or eliminates the need for cash outlays. It also provides the producers with a sense of control over the required production resources. Finally, by emphasizing the use of local and biological resources, rather than energy-intensive, fossil-fuel-based chemical imports, a small step is being made in the direction of conserving the world's nonrenewable resources.
The bio-intensive approach to food production at the household level differs considerably from the conventionally introduced gardening systems because of its stress on deep-bed preparation, nutrient recycling, building up of the soil's biological base, diversified cropping, and a balanced and integrated ecosystem.
1184 92 - 8/45
Asia, Africa, feed garden, fodder production, legume trees, shrubs, grasses, marginal lands, livestock, integrated systems
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