- Organic farming (OrF) is in a new phase in India. According to the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare(as of March 2020), approximately 78 million hectares of farms have been under OrFin the country which is 2% of the 140.1 million hectares of net sown area.
- A few states have taken the lead in enhancing the coverage of OrF.
- Madhya Pradesh tops the list among the states with 0.76 million hectares of area under OrF - which is more than 27% of India’s total OrF area.
- Madhya Pradesh along with Rajasthan and Maharashtra account for about half of the area under OrF.
- The top 10 states account for about 80% of the total area under OrF.
What is meant by Organic Farming?
- OrF is a method, which involves the planting of crops and raising animals in natural ways.
- It involves the use of natural resources which avoid artificial materials to maintain soil fertility and maintains ecological balance thereby reducing pollution and degradation.
- In other words, OrF is a method of farming that involves growing and caring for crops without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Also, the use of GMOs is not allowed.
- It relies on environmentally balanced agricultural policies such as crop rotation, green manure, organic waste, pest control, mineral additives, etc.
- OrF sustains the health of people, soil systems, and ecosystems by depending upon ecological processes and biodiversity adapted to local conditions, rather than using inputs with adverse effects.
- OrF combines tradition, innovation, and science to benefit the environment and promotes fair relationships for all involved.
Key Features of Organic Farming
- Protecting the soil quality using safe organic materials and encouraging biological activity in the soils.
- It often incorporates vermiculture and vermicomposting.
- Indirect provisioning of crop nutrients through soil microorganisms.
- Biological processes which are driven by mycorrhiza allow natural nutrient production in soil throughout the growing period.
- Nitrogen fixation in soils using leguminous plants.
- There is effective recycling of organic materials.
- Weed and pest control are based on methods like crop rotation, biodiversity promotion, natural predation, organic manure provisioning, etc.
- Rearing of livestock and taking care of nutrition, health, housing, rearing, and breeding of animals.
- Conservation of natural habitats, wildlife, and care for the larger environment.
- A key feature of OrF is the rejection of genetically engineered animals and plants.
Principles of Organic Farming
Principle of Health
- OrF should promote the health and well-being of soils, plants, animals, and human beings.
- It facilitates the sustenance of mental, physical, ecological, and social well-being.
- For example, it supplies pollution-free, chemical-free, and nutritious food items to human beings.
Principle of Fairness
- Fairness is evident in maintaining justice and equity of the shared planet both among human beings and other living beings.
- OrF provides good quality of life and could eventually help in reducing poverty.
- Natural resources must be preserved for future generations and, therefore, used judiciously.
Principle of Ecological Balance
- OrF must be modeled on living ecological systems.
- OrF methods must fit the ecological balances and biogeochemical cycles prevalent in nature.
Principle of Care
- OrF should be practiced responsibly and carefully to benefit the environment along with the present and future generations.
- Further, OrF does not depend on synthetic chemicals when compared to modern and conventional agricultural methods. It utilizes natural biological methods to increase soil fertility such as microbial activity boosting plant nutrition.
- Most importantly, multiple cropping practices in organic farming boost biodiversity which supports resilience and productivity and contributes to a healthy farming system. On the contrary, the conventional farming system uses mono-cropping that destroys soil fertility.
Organic Farming in India
- So far, Sikkim has been the only Indian state to have fully become organic.
- A majority of states have only a small part of their net sown area under organic farming.
- Even the top three states (Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra) that account for the largest area under organic cultivation have around 4.9%, 2.0%, and 1.6% respectively of their net sown area under OrF.
- Some states like Meghalaya, Mizoram, Uttarakhand, Goa, and Sikkim have 10% or more of their net sown area under OrF. All of these states lie in the hilly areas, except Goa.
- Most of the other states have less than 10% of their net sown area under OrF.
- Union Territories
- UTslike Delhi, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Lakshadweep, and Daman and Diu have 10% or more of their net sown area under OrF, but their agricultural area is comparatively very small.
Why is Modern Farming Unsustainable?
- Modern Farming often leads to loss of soil fertility due to a lack of crop rotation and excessive application of chemical fertilizers.
- The nitrate runoff with rainwaters contaminates nearby water bodies.
- Deep plowing and heavy rains cause soil erosion.
- Additional fuel requirements for cultivation.
- Utilization of poisonous chemical sprays to decrease pest and weed.
- Cruelty is imposed on animals during housing, feeding, breeding, and slaughtering.
- Loss of biodiversity could be caused due to monoculture.
- Exotic species and hybrids could eliminate native animals and plants.
Differences between Organic Farming and Conventional Farming
Before seeds are sown
ConventionalFarmer fumigates his farm using harsh chemicals to exterminate any naturally existing pathogens or weeds and fertilizes the soil using petroleum-based fertilizers.
Organic farmer prepares his land and enriches the soil by sprinkling natural fertilizers like shellfishes, manures, or bone meals.
Before planting seeds
ConventionalFarmer soaks the seeds in fungicides and pesticides to protect them from insects and pests. Chemicals are added to the irrigation water to prevent insects from damaging the planted seeds.
Organic farmer does not soak the seeds in chemicals nor irrigates them with water loaded with chemicals. He depends on natural rain and during dry months depends on stored rainwater.
To get rid of weeds
ConventionalFarmer uses weedicides to remove the weeds.
Organic farmer physically removes the weeds out of the farm, although it would be very labor-intensive. Further, he could use a flame weeder to exterminate weeds or use animals to eat away the weeds.
Any person consuming the products from the conventional farmers would absorb the pesticide and weedicide into the body, which could lead to diseases like cancer.
The absence of chemical application in OrF makes the food safe for consumption which is why people are going organic in record numbers today.
Policies do not mean greater organic coverage
- Policy desires -
- States like Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Nagaland, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh have expressed their desire to become fully organic or natural-farming states.
- Low organic coverage -
- Although at least 20 of them have a policy or a scheme with regard to OrF, coverage of OrF is low in several states. Only selected states have set specific measurable targets.
- Some states had anOrFpolicy for several years but the coverage has been low in absolute terms under organic cultivation.
- For example, Kerala and Karnataka had an organic policy since 2010 and 2004 respectively, but have only 1.1% and 2.7% of their net sown area under organic cultivation.
- On the other hand, states like Rajasthan, which had formulated their policy recently, have significant coverage of OrF.
- It indicates that the conversion to OrF in states might have started much before the actual enactment of OrFpolicy.
- Certification agencies -
- Currently, around 12 states -Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Sikkim, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand - have state organic certification agencies accredited by APEDA (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority).
- Branding -
- Some states have developed organic brands like Jaivik Jharkhand, Naga Organic, Nasik Organic, Bastar Naturals, MP Organic, Organic Rajasthan, Kerala Naturals, Organic Manipur, Organic Arunachal, Tripura Organic, etc.
Organic coverage under NPOP, PKVY, and MOVCD
- Coverage in India -
- India introduced the organic farming policy in 2005.
- The 78 million hectares covered under organic farming in India is about 2% of the 140.1 million hectares of the net sown area in the country.
- 94 million hectares under National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP)
- 07 million hectares under Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Regions (MOVCD)
- 59 million hectares under ParamparagatKrishiVikasYojna (PKVY)
- NPOP vsPKVY and MOVCD-
- NPOP scheme began in 2001 and covers nearly 70% of India’stotal organic area coverage of which 30% is under conversion.
- NPOP aims to provide the means of evaluating certification programs for OrF and its products. It aims to encourage the development of OrF& processing and would be implemented by APEDA.
- Beginning in 2015-16, PKVY and MOVCD schemes cover 21.5% and 2.6% respectively, of India’s total organic area coverage.
- PKVY is an elaborated component of Soil Health Management of the National Mission of Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA), while MOVCD is a Central Sector Scheme, a sub-mission under NMSA, and aims to develop certified organic production.
- State schemes -
- The remaining 6.1% of the area under organic cultivation is either under a state scheme or not related to any scheme.
- NPOP in States -
- India’s topmost organic state Madhya Pradesh has nearly 90% of its organic area under NPOP.
- The top three states - Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra - collectively have more than 80% of their organic area coverage under NPOP.
- Only a few states like Telangana, Bihar, Uttarakhand, and Andhra Pradesh, are covered more by PKVY than NPOP.
- Certification -
- During 2016 to 2019, nearly 96% of the total certified organic food production was under NPOP certification while the remaining 4% was under Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) of certification.
- Organic Farmers -
- Even though India has a very small area under OrF, it ranks first in terms of the number of organic farmers.
- India has more than 1.9 million farmers, which is 1.3% of 146 million agricultural landholders.
- Further, some un-certified farmers are not counted, especially in tribal, hilly, and rain-fed areas.
Reasons to promote Organic Farming
The population of the planet has reached unprecedented levels and providing food for the world has become extremely difficult. Pollution and climate change have been the other negative externalities caused due to the use of fossil fuel-based chemicals like fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides. Correspondingly, the need of the hour is sustainable cultivation and production of food. The reasons to take up OrF include:
- To Accrue the Nutritional Benefits
- Foods obtained from OrF are loaded with nutrients such as vitamins, enzymes, minerals, and other micro-nutrients when compared to the food produced using conventional farms.
- This could be due to the management and nourishment of organic farms using sustainable practices.
- Previous researchers have concluded that food items from organic farms contained way more nutrients than those prepared from commercial or conventional farms.
- To Stay Away From GMOs
- Studies reveal that genetically modified foods are contaminating natural food sources at a very high pace and are manifesting grave effects.
- Further, they are not even labeled which makes them a great threat.
- Accordingly, sticking to organic foods could be the only way to mitigate the grave effects of GMOs.
- Natural and Better Taste
- Studies report that organically farmed foods have a natural and better taste.
- The natural and superior taste results from the nourished and well-balanced soil.
- Organic farmer always prioritizes quality over quantity.
- The sugar content available in organically grown vegetables and fruits provides them with extra taste.
- The quality of vegetables and fruits could be measured by Brix analysis.
- Direct Support to Farming
- Conventional farming methods have enjoyed tax cuts and huge subsidies over the past decades which has led to the proliferation of commercially produced foods and boosted diseases like cancer.
- Correspondingly, it is time that governments invest in OrF technologies to mitigate these problems and secure the future.
- Additionally, it all starts with us buying food items from known organic sources.
- Purchasing food items from organic farmers would be a certain investment in a cost-effective future.
- To Conserve Agricultural Diversity
- In the previous century itself, approximately 75% of the agricultural diversity of crops was wiped out.
- Tilting towards one form of farming could be a recipe for disaster in the future.
- A classic example would be a potato.
- Initially, there were different varieties available in the marketplace.
- However, today only one species of potato dominates.
- This could be dangerous because if pests knock out the remaining potato species available, we would not have potatoes anymore.
- Correspondingly, we would need OrF methods that would produce disease and pest-resistant crops to guarantee a sustainable future.
- To Prevent Drugs, Antibiotics, and Hormones in Animal Products
- Commercial dairy and meat products are highly vulnerable to get contaminated by dangerous substances.
- According to a S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, a vast majority of pesticides are consumed by the population emanating from poultry, meat, eggs, fish, and dairy product.
- This means that they are fed foods rich in chemicals and toxins.
- Drugs, antibiotics, and hormones are injected into animals which are directly transferred to dairy and meat products.
- Hormones fed to farmed beef, fish, and dairy products contribute mightily to the ingestion of chemicals which come with a lot of complications like genetic problems, tumor growth, and cancer risk, with the outset of puberty.
- Free of Poison and helps stay Healthy
- OrF does not make use of poisonous chemicals, pesticides, and weedicides at any stage of the food-growing process like their commercial counterparts. Therefore, organic foods do not contain any chemicals.
- Organic farmers use natural farming methods that do not harm the environment and human beings. These foods help prevent dangerous diseases like cancer and diabetes. Since organic farming avoids the use of toxins, it reduces the sickness and diseases caused due to them.
- Lower Prices
- There is a huge misconception that organically farmed foods are expensive.
- The truth is that they are cheaper because they don’t use expensive pesticides, insecticides, and weedicides.
- One can get organic foods directly from the source at reasonable prices.
- Eco-friendly Farming Methods
- In commercial farms, chemicals are applied to infiltrate into the soil which severely contaminates the soils and nearby water bodies.
- Plants, animals, and human beings are all affected by this phenomenon.
- OrF does not utilize these harsh chemicals, therefore the environment remains protected.
- Longer Shelf-life
- Organic plants have more structural and metabolic integrity in their cellular structure compared to conventional crops which enable longer storage of organic foods.
- Organic farming is preferable as it battles weeds and pests in a non-toxic manner, involves fewer inputs for cultivation, and preserves the ecological balance while promoting biological diversity and protection of the environment.
Challenges to organic farming in India
- Lack of Awareness - The most important challenge in the development of OrF is the lack of awareness among farmers about the OrF and its potential benefits.
- Marketing Problems -Before the beginning of organic crop cultivation, their marketability over conventional produce must be assured.
- Inability to obtain a premium price for the produce, at least during the nascent stages, leads to a setback.
- Shortage of Biomass - There could be a shortage of required quantities of the nutrients which could simply not be enough to meet the requirements.
- Inadequate Infrastructure Support- Despite NPOP adoption, the state governments are yet to formulate a credible mechanism and necessary policies for implementation.
- The certifying agencies are inadequate.
- High Input Costs - The costs of the organic inputs are more than those of industrially-produced agrochemicals used in the conventional farming system.
- Financial support -
- Substantial financial support is necessary to promote OrF.
- In India, OrF does not receive the benefits of government subsidies.
- A program for OrF must be supported by full compensation both in cash and kind to the farmers in the event of a loss.
- Market development -
- It is a crucial factor to promote domestic sales.
- An important role of the government in this direction should be supporting the producer and consumer associations to market the products.
- Awareness -
- A vigorous campaign is crucial to highlight the benefits of OrF against conventional farming and increase awareness among the farmers and consumers.
- Crop identification -
- Identification of crops for OrF is important. For example, cotton growth in the rainfed areas or soybean cultivation in Madhya Pradesh could have great potential.
Natural farming is not a new concept in India, with farmers having tilled their land without the use of chemicals since time immemorial largely relying on organic residues, cow dung, composts, etc. This is also in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goal 2 which targets to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.
With capacity building and greater awareness of the producers, organic farmers could soon be reinforcing their rightful place in the global agriculture trade. In a world bruised by the COVID pandemic, the demand for safe and healthy food is showing an upward trend and hence could be an opportune moment to be captured for a win-win situation for our farmers, consumers, and the environment.