Organic Farming: Future of Indian Agriculture

The hazardous effects of excessive application of fertilisers and a rising consciousness are now pushing farmers to opt organic farming in the country. MOHD MUSTAQUIM reports on the status, challenges and opportunities of organic farming in India.

Organic Farming: Future of Indian Agriculture

Subash Sharma, a farmer from Yavatmal district in Maharashtra, had been doing chemical farming since 1975. The practice led to degradation of soil fertility and decline in production. When the increasing farming cost did not bring him expected return and only height the burden of debt, he turned to organic farming in 1994.

Today, he is engaged in organic farming in his 20 acre land, which has not only increased soil fertility but also decreased the cost, and at the same time has led to a rise in productivity. Today, Sharma earns around Rs 20 lakh per annum.

This new practice has now become a change agent in the area, and Sharma has trained people in his village on application of organic farming. Following him, there are around 30 farmers from the village who have adopted organic farming over 250 acres land.

Despite this success, Indian farmers find it difficult to discontinue chemical farming, a trend widely encouraged during Green Revolution. In our attempt to feed an increasing population, we have knowingly poisoned the very food we consume. Consequently, the residual effects of excessive application of fertilisers and agro-chemicals have become a major threat.

Underlining this, the Government has initiated National Programme for Organic Production, which involves accreditation programme for certification bodies, standards for organic produce, promotion of organic farming and other related issues.

Read more on the success story of organic farming in Sikkim:

India produced around 1.24 MT of certified organic products in 2013-14. This includes all varieties of food products, sugarcane, cotton, oil seeds, basmati rice, pulses, spices, tea, fruits, vegetables and coffee, etc. The production is not limited to the edible sector, organic cotton fiber, functional food products and others were produced through the same practice.

The practice also helps maintain the health of soil as organic wastes such as decomposed plants, animal manure and bio-fertilisers are being used. In the long-run, it will make farming as well as production more sustainable in an eco-friendly environment.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), organic farming is a production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity, and this is accomplished by using on-farm agronomic, biological and mechanical methods in exclusion of all synthetic off-farm inputs.

Emphasising on organic food, Krishan Guptaa, MD & CEO, Organic India, says, “It is the fundamental right of every human being and living animals to get safe and clean food which can only be achieved by the organic food. It is less hazardous to life and also provides better nutritional value.”

Organic farming regulations such as lengthy bureaucratic procedure in getting certification are discouraging farmers from adopting the practice. Also, issues such as limited availability of organic inputs like bio-fertilisers, bio-pesticides, organic seeds, and market linkage pose a great challenge to farmers who want to adopt organic practice.

“One of the major challenges for India is to maintain the integrity of organic certification system. All stakeholders like farmers, processors, traders and the certification bodies in the organic process should be fully involved and committed to maintaining the integrity of the certification system,” says Santosh Sarangi, chairman of the certification agency, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA).

Talking about the lack of domestic standards, AK Tripathy, joint secretary, Department of Commerce and Industries, Government of India and former chairman APEDA, remarks, “There is no credible domestic certification system in India and that is something the Ministry of Agriculture or whoever has to do.”

However, Guptaa believes that for an acre of land a farmer only needs to have two or three cows. He can easily decompost the dung and turn it into bio-fertilisers. Crop and farm wastes are the major inputs for making vermicompost, a bio-fertiliser. Similarly, they are capable to produce seeds and other requirements for the field.

In order to fulfill the demand of bio-fertilisers, Sharma makes compost of one trolley of cow dung, half trolley of soil with 50 kg of tur (arhar) peel for one acre of land. Moreover, he has planted around 200 trees at the boundaries of his field which attract birds. The birds eat bugs, and thus help balance the ecology and environment.

According to him, there should not be a little bit of slop in the filed so that rainwater can be retained in the field equally, further conserving and upgrading water table. Today, he produces sugar-can, vegetables, tur, jowar, pulses, wheat and other cereals by relying on the same practice.
India’s production of bio-fertilisers has grown up from 25,065 metric tonnes in 2008-09 to 46,836 metric tonnes in 2012-13, indicating the increasing trend of organic farming.

Negative Impact of Chemicals
With the increasing population, we still have to rely on chemical farming to meet the rising consumption. Today, water depletion in the northern states of India such as Haryana and Punjab have become a major concern for the environment. Sharma explains, organic farming helps retain water, and chemical farming does just the opposite.

The negative impacts of Green Revolution are quite distinct. Some regions like Bhatinda in Punjab have become a cancer zone due to excessive use of chemical fertilisers and agro-chemicals. “Punjab has become a centre for cancer disease because of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, why the governments are not taking preventive measures for that?” questions Dr. NR Bhateshwar, Director, Sheel Biotech.

Many understand that application of chemicals is to enhance production which the organic practice cannot. Guptaa, however, links the general understanding of low productivity being associated with organic farming to the gimmick created and floated by the fertilisers, pesticides and seeds companies. He adds, “Indian farmers are capable to produce sufficient food grains to feed the country. You must have heard that every year foodgrains are rotten in the open due to lack of warehousing facility. When a farmer brings his produce to the nearby mandis, around 25 percent of their produce get wasted.”

According to APEDA, at present, only 5.55 million hectares are used in organic farming. With 142 million hectares of arable land, India has the potential to penetrate the US$ 64 billion worth global organic food market. India currently has a meagre 0.35 percent share in the global organic food basket.

Sarangi says that APEDA is working towards increasing the portfolio of organic products available for exports from India in order to have a higher share of organic products. “We are expanding from merely crop production system to aquaculture, textiles and livestock,” he adds.
“We are not only promoting horticulture products. But, we are also more into technology transfer, post harvest management and awareness programmes,” says Rajendra Kumar Tiwari, managing director, National Horticulture Board.

What every farmer wants to achieve is to maximise his return with small land holding. Though farmers today, are more aware of the residual effects of fertilisers and pesticides, they still continue using as most are hardly aware that organic practice can bring them the same result. And this calls for the need to increase awareness about organic farming. “We are already trying to create awareness, and I hope other organisations would also come to do this. There should be assured good return for the farmers,” Guptaa further says.

There is a need to institute a central body which can help farmers overcome the hassles, to spread awareness about organic farming, and to ensure availability of organic inputs, seeds and pesticides. State agencies should support farmers in developing bio-fertilisers by setting up necessary facilities. Recently, burning of farm waste hazed the skies over Punjab and Haryana, if the farmers had been aware that the waste could have been decomposed to developed bio-fertilisers, then one stone could have killed two birds.

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