Organic farming is the future. Because it holds answers to many of our questions around development and climate change. Organic farming is a set of agricultural production practices that maintain and enhance the health of ecosystems and soil biodiversity. There are many terms for it, the NITI Aayog prefers calling it ‘natural farming’, some experts prefer chemical free agriculture, and NGOs in the field are excitedly vocal about the term ‘zero budget farming’. By default, our country was organic. Then modernization and Green Revolution throttled us into the realm of industrial farming. The shift did help us in achieving food security but took a heavy toll.
Use of Chemicals in Farming
Use of fertilizers and chemicals in modern agricultural production led to adverse effects on ecology and human health. Water runoffs from farms containing fertilizers pollute surrounding water bodies and soil. These runoffs also pollute the ground water resources which pose a direct threat to domestic consumption. All of this accelerates land degradation and desertification by destroying the natural soil properties.
An ISRO report in 2019 showed a frightening picture: more than 30% of land is degraded in India. 6.96 million hectors of degraded land were found in Karnataka alone, making it the fifth largest degraded area in India. These degraded lands stretch from Punjab to Tamil Nadu.
Most of our cereal grains belong to the family of Grasses. These species evolved in conditions of low soil fertility. Once grasslands were turned into conventional large agricultural zones covered with fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals, many species could no longer compete with the few grasses that could make use of highly fertile conditions impacting the ecology drastically. On average, one plant species will disappear from each hectare of British and American grassland containing more than 2.5 kilograms of nitrogen. Nutrient overload has resulted in eutrophication, massive algal blooms in water bodies, fish kills and formation of dead zones.
Food is as healthy as it is grown. The indiscriminate use of chemicals in farming come back into the food that we consume. This has lower immunities, hazardous diseases like cancer, food allergies, hormonal imbalances, and many more health issues in humans. Health implications like blue baby syndrome were reported in states like Punjab due to nitrate contamination of groundwater and urea overuse.
Organic Farming is the Future
All of this can be tackled with organic food. Organic agriculture practices maintain soil fertility while producing healthy crops. In 2020, a survey by Indian Council for Agriculture Research’s National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad, of zero budget natural farming in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, found that zero budget natural farming reduced farming cost, increased farmer income and had ecological and social benefits. But the yield results were mixed: while some crops showed higher yield, others showed a decrease.
Organic farming may also hold solution to one of India’s largest socioeconomic problem, unemployment. This is because organic farming is more labor intensive than industrialized agriculture. The conversion of degraded land into farms for organic production, using permaculture could provide a good source of green employment in the future. Small-scale organic farms will require more labor than large industrialized agricultural zones. Government bodies are required to shift subsidies from ecologically destructive chemical-heavy agriculture to truly sustainable ones like organic farming.
But we must carefully control this transition. Any sudden shift in agricultural practices, will pose significant threats to food security. The case of Sri Lanka is a good example.
Problems Faced by Organic Farmers
Existing problems faced by organic farmers in India include higher cost of organic inputs, inadequate state infrastructure for certification and accreditation of goods, marketing constraints, lower yields compared to synthetic farming.
The Indian Union government has been working through multiple policy initiative to tackle these issues. India introduced the organic farming policy in 2005. Previously in 2001, National Program for Organic Production (NPOP) program was started by Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
In 2015, Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojna (PKVY) was introduced. It is a sub-component of Soil Health Management scheme under National Mission of Sustainable Agriculture. The scheme aims to develop sustainable models of organic farming through a mix of traditional wisdom and modern science.
Madhya Pradesh had about 90 per cent of its organic area under NPOP. Maharashtra and Rajasthan have over 80 per cent of their organic area under NPOP. Only a few states like Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Telangana, and Bihar cover more land under PKVY than NPOP.
NITI Aayog has been suggesting states to adopt natural farming for quite some time now. Sikkim is the only Indian state to have become fully organic so far.
World of Organic Agriculture Report 2018
In 2018 India had the largest number of organic producers in the world, according to the World of Organic Agriculture Report 2018. With 835,000 certified organic producers in 2018, India had around 30 per cent of total number of organic producers in the world. Currently India has 4.43 million organic farmers according to the Economic Survey 2022-23, a significant jump from 2018. The Union Budget 2023-24 aims to help 10 million more farmers to adopt natural farming over the next three years. There are many farmers who are not certified and hence not counted, especially by-default organic farmers in hilly, tribal, and rain-fed regions. About 5.91 million hectares of land in the country are under organic farming, which is around four per cent of the net sown area, according to the Economic Survey 2022-23.
The India organic food market size reached US$ 1,278 Million in 2022. The International Market Analysis Research and Consulting (IMARC Group) expects the market to reach US$ 4,602 Million by 2028, exhibiting a growth rate (CAGR) of 23.8% during 2023-2028.
The latest Union budget has made three big announcements:
- The establishment of Bhartiya Prakritik Kheti Bio-Input Resource Centers. Under this, 10,000 bio-input resource centers will be set up to create a national-level micro-fertilizer and pesticide manufacturing network.
- PM-PRANAAM — PM Program for Restoration, Awareness, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth. Under this scheme, states will be incentivized to reduce chemical fertilizer consumption.
- GOBARdhan (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan) scheme. Under this, 500 new ‘waste to wealth’ plants will be established to promote a circular economy.
It’s not just the switch from chemical intensive to chemical free which is going to help with climate change but changing the basic pattern of contemporary agricultural practices. Every crop takes one nutrient out of the soil, so crop rotation is essential. Multiple crops which are symbiotic and are accustomed to the local climatic conditions must be grown using indigenous seeds which are far more resilient to extreme weather conditions. Livestock rearing is essential to provide a steady flow of natural fertilizers. This is more like Biodynamic farming. Bio dynamic farming guides us that every farm is a small ecosystem. And like all ecosystems, the farm needs to have a diverse range of flora and fauna.
A special mention should be made of Godhan Nyay scheme by the Chhattisgarh government’s flagship ‘Naruva-Garuva-Ghuruva-Badi’ program. Naruva means a seasonal or perennial stream, garuva means animal husbandry, ghuruva means composting and badi means backyard kitchen garden. The program focuses on a sustainable and integrated farming system approach lining water management, composting for soil health, animal husbandry and sustainable agriculture on backyard kitchen gardens. It is being advertised as revolutionary shift in approach towards rural development.
To become completely organic again we require a second Green Revolution. This Green Revolution 2.0 should have the mechanism which integrates policy, research, extension, inputs, subsidies, equipment, credit, insurance, storage, and markets into a single, holistic effort. We have to create organic farming clusters, entire agricultural zones without any kind of chemical contamination. This will not happen if the policy makers don’t have regular dialogue and engagement with farmer communities because eventually the primary responsibility of making India organic again lies with the community.
- Shrivastava A., Kothari A., 2012, Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India, Penguin Random House.
- Harris, Stephen A., 2014, Grasses, Botanical Series, Reaktion Books