Apr 27, 2010

ICAR wakes up to the virtues of organic farming. Will the USDA also learn?

At a time when India is already committed to take on unwanted technology from the US under the Indo-US Knowledge Initiative (KIA), and more recently a memorandum of understanding (MoU) has been signed between the US and India in March 2010 for "cooperation in agriculture and food security", the subtle winds of change flowing through the corridors of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) in favour of sustainable agriculture through organic farming, provide a whiff of fresh air.

This is indicative of a mindset change, and it appears the civil society movement in favour of organic agriculture has certainly made an impression strong enough to bring about this change, even if it is still in its infancy. If ICAR begins to move in the right direction, resurrecting the much abused natural resource base, I think this is a change that the country needs to welcome.

I only hope that the US also takes a leaf out of the ICAR book, and launches a nationwide programme to restore sustainability in agriculture. Instead of following the misguided industry-backed food factory approach, the US would do well to revert back to natural farming. It is time the US takes advantage of the India-US MoU and learns from the Indian experience. Future generations in the US would remain eternally grateful to this sensible initiative, if at all the USDA opts for a change for the better.

Unfortunately, US President Obama like the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is being wrongly advised. Both Obama and Singh have advisors who deserve to be kept at least four kms away from decision making. But then, where do you find real Statesman among the global leadership that you should expect such a miracle to take place.

Nevertheless, the recommendation of a national workshop on organic agriculture, presided over by the new ICAR chief Dr S Ayyappan on April 23, comes as a pleasant surprise. Dr Ayyappan is not a plant breeder, and probably that enables him to look afresh at agriculture. Plant breeders, all over the world (I too am trained in Plant Breeding & Genetics) are cast in a productivity mould, and have singularly done the maximum damage to global agriculture. They have bred crop varieties, which are only suitable for the high-external input agriculture thereby indirectly helping the commercial interests of the private companies.

Incidentally, data presented by the All India Coordinated Project on Cropping System Research (AICRPCSR) showed yield improvements with organic farming over a 5-year period from each of its 13 locations. At the same time several NGOs like Timbaktu Collective in Andhra Pradesh have conclusively demonstrated improvement in soil fertility. "Our work in the 26 villages with 890 farmers and 2,700 acres of land is definitely proving that organic farming (no chemical fertilisers or pesticides) is helping soil health improve. Soil test have shown clear increase in both carbon and nitrogen increase. Where we have managed to support the farmers to buy cattle (459 pairs of Halikar cows and 13 seed bulls) and the impact is even greater. We are going to start working with another 300 farmers and 900 acres this year," says Bablu Ganguly.

There is hope for the future of Indian agriculture.

Meanwhile, the following are the highlights of the programme and issue of importance:

* Research data presented during the meet and available in literature clearly indicate that comparable yields are possible under organic management with majority of the crops without application of high doses of organic inputs

• Plant protection issues can be managed without chemicals under organic management.

• Organic agriculture can be an ideal option for resource poor small and marginal farmers in rain-fed and less endowed regions of the country

• Organic farming is not just a crop production system but an integrated farming system approach comprising of soil, water, crops, animals, environment and the farmer.

• Certification is not the requirement of organic and is needed only where market demands for it and assures premium prices.

• Organic farming is a system of intensive crop production using on-farm and low cost biological approaches targeted at reduction in cost of cultivation, preservation of soil health, conservation and judicious utilization of resources and ensuring safe and healthy food free from chemical residues

• A wealth of innovations are available in civil society domain which need to be strengthened, refined, validated and made relevant to today’s requirement with the integration of science.

• There is growing demand for organically grown food in both, international and domestic markets. With its diversity and potential India can become No.1 in the world in supply of organically grown agricultural commodities.

• In spite of initial success there are many unresolved issues on production and resource management front which need to be addressed through research


After thorough discussion following recommendations are being made.

1. Integrated Organic Farming System should be promoted to ensure food, nutritional and economic security of small and marginal farmers on a priority basis.

2. Organic farming being low cost and bio-intensive needs to be promoted wherever feasible and particularly in areas where use of agro-chemicals is minimal (rainfed, hilly and other vulnerable and ecologically fragile areas)

3. While organic farming largely focuses on cropping system based, commercial crops like Basmati rice, sugarcane, oilseeds, pulses, cotton, spices, tea, coffee, cashew, fruits and vegetables which have high demand as organic produce needs to be promoted on priority.

4. ICAR/State Agriculture universities should coordinate to generate and compile information on organic farming practices. The research should be on-farm and participatory action research.

5. The potential of organic farming for mitigating and adapting to adversities of climate change should be documented and harness

6. Scientific validation of various inputs and practices from traditional knowledge and innovated by farmers and other institutions needs to be taken up.

7. Protocols for standardization of processes for mass production of organics and biologicals should be evolved.

8. Participatory Guarantee System based Quality Management Systems should be promoted

9. Research data available so far suggests that in several regions and for several crops yields improved due to organic farming systems therefore proactively these models needs to be promoted.

10. ICAR and State Agricultural Universities should consider establishing dedicated research and educational institutions on organic farming

11. Community Based Extension models should be promoted to facilitate horizontal learning.

12. Organically responsive seed and planting material should be evolved.

13. Locally adopted and produced seed, planting materials and animal breeds should be promoted. Community Based Organizations should be encouraged to manage local seed banks.

14. Best experiences on organic farming from farmers and organizations needs to be identified and documented and used as input for research and extension.

15. KVKs, State Extension and NGOs should be oriented on organic farming and roped in to develop village level resource persons and train farmers on using on-farm produced inputs.

16. Direct Incentives (ecological bonus) to organic farming can be initiated through community based organizations.

17. NREGA can be extended to support organic farming like in Community managed sustainable agriculture program in Andhra Pradesh.

18. Recommendations of “Expert Committee on Organic Farming” on researchable issues need to be addressed. #


Swapnil Barai said...

Organic Farming is something that Indian Agriculture today needs, moreover the failure of extension system to reach farmers with technology preached by the plant breeders would have brought ICAR to know and change their mindset a little early. Well better late than never!!!

witan said...

You wrote: "...Both Obama and Singh have advisors who deserve to be kept at least four kms away from decision making."
Foremost among Manmohan Singh's agriculture advisors is a former DG ICAR / Secretary DARE, who remitted office some 30 years ago. Devinderji, you have unwittingly hit upon an unpleasant truth!

anand said...

There are many problems with complete awareness about organic farming. There is requirement to compile the research worldwide to give proofs about organic farming together. I think if training facilities, government encouragement, market and transport facility should be the first priority for spreading the message of this organic farming.
Also there is no information available abouts the type of seed use for organic farming like hybrid or traditional seeds.