May 18, 2015

Organic farming is an idea whose time has come

Organic farming is the new buzzword. With Gujarat being the latest entrant, 9 States – Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Mizoram, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Nagaland – have formulated organic farming policies. In addition, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Goa are in the process of framing organic farming policies.

Presiding over the formal launch of the Gujarat Organic Farming Policy at Ahmedabad on May 16, I said that organic agriculture is an idea whose time has come. Globally, India is the fastest growing market when it comes to organic foods. Against 11.3 per cent annual growth being seen in the US for organic foods, India is much ahead. According to the India Organic Food Market Forecast and Opportunities: “the organic food market revenues are expected to grow at a combined annual growth rate of about 25 per cent in the period 2014-19.”

Gujarat’s organic farming policy was prepared after an elaborate consultation process involving more than 1,200 people across 7 different locations. This participative process lasting over 8 months included 650 farmers, 130 scientists and 80 women, says Kapil Shah of Jatan, the Baroda-based voluntary society that initiated the policy formulation process. Gujarat has allocated Rs 10-crore in the current fiscal to promote organic farming.

Interestingly, along with organic foods, there is also rapidly growing market for milk of desi cows. Rich in minerals, and known to prevent some of the lifestyle diseases like Type-1 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and autism, the demand for A2 milk – as it is called – is growing. At a number of places across the country, small dairies comprising native cow breeds have sprung up. Haryana is among the States that have announced financial support for small dairies of native cow breeds. Rajasthan too is encouraging the shift towards native breeds.

While State Governments are keenly formulating organic farming policies, the desired shift towards enlarging the area under organic farming practices is not keeping pace with the growing demand for organic foods. This is primarily because of the lack of clarity at the political as well as policy planning level. Somehow policy makers are still not convinced whether the country’s food needs in the times to come can be met from non-chemical farming systems.

Strangely, while India is a signatory to the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), I find most policy makers are unaware of its report, released in 2008, which looked at different technological options in the light of climate change, water availability, loss of cultivable lands, existing trends in population growth, and rural/urban food and poverty dynamics. The report categorically states that ‘business as usual’ are not the answer and advocate a shift towards non-chemical farming as the only sustainable way ahead.  

I therefore think there is an urgent need to make IAASTD report a mandatory reading for senior bureaucrats/scientist-administrators. At the same time, non-chemical farming practices will only get a fillip when a suitable subsidy regime is crafted. It is primarily because chemical fertilizers, pesticides and seed are subsidized in a manner that these become cheaper than the organic inputs that farmers are lured towards the chemical-based farming systems. The need now is to provide financial support for organic inputs, including farm-yard manure and natural farming products like panchkavya.

In the quest to increase food production, there has been a complete disregard to eco-system services. With 2nd generation environmental impacts now becoming pronounced, ascribing an economic value to eco-system services like maintaining soil fertility needs to be calculated. A healthy soil leads to a health crop, which in turn leads to healthy living. The advantages from preserving and conserving a healthy soil therefore are multifarious and needs economic support to make this viable for the farmers. At the same time, organic farming needs to be backed by research and development. Agricultural Universities must shift the plant breeding approach from the existing thrust on breeding improved crop varieties which are responsive to chemical fertilizers to being responsive to organic resources. This is what I call as organic breeding. 

And finally, the banking system too needs to provide farm credit for organic farming systems and also for keeping native cattle breeds. At a time when consumers demand for organic is on an upswing, national policies have to be in tune with the changing times. Let’s not be caught napping.#

Organic food is an idea whose time has come May 18, 2015.

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