By Dr Arun K Sharma
India’s calibre for greater organic production manifests itself in its production, research, marketing and policies
Termed “Default Organic” today, traditional Indian agriculture was designed to be in harmony with nature—eco friendly and sustainable—bereft of harmful chemicals and highly diversified to include crops, trees, animals and plants (it is common to have 10 to 30 trees/ha and 2 to 5 animals being reared by one farm family). Usage of local breeds and crop varieties coupled with their social structures to manage and conserve common resources further supports and consolidates stability in agriculture. This system is also scientifically efficient in nutrient recycling and restoration of soil fertility, and its overall effectiveness can be ascertained by the fact that the yield of rice was as high as 9.0 t/ha during the 17th century. Productivity declined somewhat during the British regime due to their exploitive policies, with production dropping to 700 kg/ha in 1947. Such a model still exists in a large part of India—the drylands, which constitute 60% of the agricultural area of the country—and thrives best in rain-fed conditions.
A number of stakeholders have joined hands to achieve the ‘Healthy Consumer – Wealthy Farmer’ concept through organic agriculture (OA). Organic farmers’ associations are becoming hubs for mobilising farmers for OA; agriculture universities are including OA in their syllabi and the government is lending support through various policies and programmes. Large corporate houses and exclusive corporations are entering the vestibule of contract farming, value addition and export of organic produce. Today, most supermarkets and malls display organic products for sale.
Traditional Indian Agriculture & Organic Agriculture
India’s ancient literature, most likely composed between 6,000 BC and 1,000 AC, contains a wealth of information on the subject. Kautilya’s Arthashastra describes the agricultural practices of his time and Surapala’s Vrikshayurveda provides vital information on how to combat plant problems through various traditional practices and available resources. India also has a vast treasure cove of tribal diversity and traditional indigenous knowledge, which can be integrated with modern eco technologies to drive organic agriculture. Traditional preparations like Panchgavya have been found very effective in Organic Agriculture (OA) while other technologies have been revalidated or re-invented by innovative farmers or groups –Jeevamruit, Beejamrut, Dashiparni extracts, cropping systems etc, and reach millions of farmers through demonstration by farmers themselves or by devoted workers.
The Green Future
Many different stakeholders have joined hands to achieve the goal of a ‘Healthy Consumer’ and ‘Wealthy Farmer’ through organic agriculture. Organic farmers’ associations are becoming hubs for mobilising farmers for OA, agriculture universities are including OA in their syllabi and the government is lending support through policies and programmes such as Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojna (PKVY), started in 2015-16 to provide all-round support to organic agriculture in India. Market demand for organic products is also one of the main factors boosting OA.
Meeting Future Challenges
Agriculture is going to face several trials due to the changing climatic and social environment which will affect the sector dramatically. OA can a good alternative for the following problems:
1] Substitute of low and reducing supply of fertilisers and burden of subsidy
2] Mitigating effects of climate change
3] Ensuring food security
4] Maintaining soil health
5] Conservation of water
6] Conservation of biodiversity
7] Conservation of energy
India’s Readiness For Organic Production
India’s preparedness for greater organic production is visible on four fronts—production, research, market and policy level. However, sustained efforts are required to maintain this momentum and a stronger policy support will help maximise OA at the soil and at market level.
Production: Strong support of traditional technologies and sufficient input availability are the major factors for successful OA. Farmers are transitioning to organics either due to failure of chemical based agriculture or the higher profitability in OA.
Research: Research related to organic farming began in 1950s and still continues today under the domain of ‘Eco Friendly Farming Technologies/Conservation of Natural Resources’. A large number of research institutions are working on the integrated use of eco technologies with chemicals.
In India, research in the organic sector can be categorised into three major groups:
1) Revalidation of Traditional Technologies/Systems
2) Development of Eco Friendly Inputs
3) Organic System Research
Marketing: A number of initiatives have been taken to promoting marketing of organic produce. APEDA has created a separate cell for organic import and export which regulates certification process and organises meetings based OA-related issues under National Programme of Organic Production (NPOP). Export-Import Bank of India, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) are also funding OA projects. Big programmes such as National Mission on Integrated Horticulture and National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture operated by the Ministry of Agriculture provide huge funds for organic inputs and soil health. In most parts of the country, National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) heads licensing and monitors laboratories that conduct food quality testing.
Corporate associations such as the Associated Chambers of Commerce of India (ASSOCHAM) and The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI) frequently organise workshops and business meets to discuss organic marketing. The Indian Competence Centre for Organic Agriculture (ICCOA), Bengaluru, annually organises international organic trade fair BIOFACH India. Large corporate houses and many exclusive corporations are entering the field of contract farming, value addition and export of organic produce. Today, most supermarkets and malls display organic products for sale.
The most important factor is the increasing number of small organic farmers’ groups and associations (Maharashtra Organic Farming Federation; Organic Farming Association of India) and NGOs such as Navdanya, Deccan Development Society, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, JATAN, and Institute for Cultural Research and Action (ICRA). These are facilitating marketing networks and selling organic produce at profitable prices to direct consumers, creating strong linkages between producers and consumers, which is the ultimate need of fair marketing. Several other advantages stem from the ‘Grow Seasonally, Eat Locally’ concept like saving energy.
Media is playing a great role in creating awareness about organic produce and pesticide residue in foods.
Many states are coming forward to promote OA. Till date, 11 states have enforced policies pertinent to OA. Sikkim in the north East, will become the first Indian organic state in 2016, with some other states to become fully organic by 2020.
The Way Forward
In 1999, only 40,000 ha of agricultural area was certified organic, which increased by six times within a decade to 2,40,000 ha in 2011(APEDA, 2013). If non certified organic areas (mainly drylands) are also included, this will be much higher figure. Therefore, the need of the hour is a multi-directional action plan for wider adoption and marketing of organic produce.
The author is Senior Scientist, Organic Farming, Central Arid Zone Research Institute, Jodhpur, India, and can also be contacted through this publication
This article appeared in the January 2016 issue of Pure & Eco India