Introduction to Small holder Farming Systems

Farming systems: To better understand this definition, we shall break down the definition into three words, a farm, farming and system:

What is a farm? A farm is a production block or unit in which crop and animal production is carried out with purpose of producing economic net returns or food for purposes of food security.


What is farming? Farming is the practice or process of sowing/ planting seeds/ planting materials and growing edible plants. You can also describe raising animals for milk, meat and as farming.

What is a cropping scheme? The design  according which crops are raised on individual plots of a farm with an objective of getting the highest  returns by way of good output of crops at a lower cost of input from each crop and without impairing the fertility of the soil

What is a system? A system refers to a set of inter-related practices organized into a functional entity i.e. an arrangement of components or parts that interact according to some process and transforms inputs into outputs. Energy is required to transform inputs into outputs.

What is a farming system approach?

Farming system is an integrated set of activities or mix of farm enterprises that farmers perform in their farms and allocate resources in order to efficiently utilize the existing enterprises. The selection of enterprises should be based on the cardinal principles of minimizing the competition and maximizing the complementary between the enterprises.

The ultimate goal of a farming system approach is to increase the productivity and profitability of the farm (Sharma et al., 1991). The farming system considers the components of soil, water, crops, livestock, labour, capital, energy and other resources, with the farm family at the centre managing agriculture and related activities. Therefore, a mix of more crop enterprises or both crop and livestock enterprises serve to complement the farm income and help in recycling the farm residues / wastes.

An example of a farming system.

We shall take an example of a small holder farmer who grows maize and rears poultry birds at his or her home. The maize when harvested is used to  provide both maize bran and whole maize as feeds for birds while birds will provide manure that is used to enrich the soil with nutrients that are needed to increase farm yields for the maize. In this scenario, this farmer is enjoying and utilizing the two high value quality farm inputs produced cheaply at his farm to maximize proceeds for the two farm enterprises. At the end of the season, this farmer will sell eggs or meat and maize or posh from birds and maize garden produced cheaply at his or her respectively to gain a higher profit margin.


The above example informs us that a farmer producing under a farming systems approach out competes the same farmer in terms of farm proceeds and profits generated from the same acre of land and area.


Why farming systems approach

The high cost of farm inputs, fluctuations in the market price of farm produce, risk in crop harvest due to climatic vagaries and other factors such as environmental degradation, depletion in soil fertility & productivity, unstable income of the farmer, fragmentation of holdings and low standard of living and poverty add to the intensity of the problem the calls for the adoption of farming system approach. This approach therefore serves to achieve the following goals;

  • To develop the farm – household systems and rural communities on a sustainable basis.
  • To improve efficiency in farm production.
  • To raise farm and family income.
  • To increase welfare of farm families and satisfy basic needs.

Therefore, integrating farming system in our farming practices is one of  way of working towards  addressing  production issues such as limitation of land, reduction in the risk associated with mono cropping activities and thirdly promoting enterprise diversification, value addition and development of alternative income sources with efficient utilization of farm resources. Farming system integration means less land is required for a mix of enterprises.


If you are still interested in the farming system approach, keep your eyes open for Episode2: on Components of farming systems on our website and social media platforms.


Compiled by: John Tusasirwe, Agronomist.

Climate Smart Agriculture

Climate Smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach of agriculture extension implemented by Transformation for rural development Ltd (TRAFORD) to equip farmers with the necessary skills and knowledge to produce enough quality food and produce that meets the both local and export standards.