Going the eco-friendly way

Organic farming is essential for the sustainability of agriculture and environment. Research institutes and extension workers need the government’s support to remove misconceptions about such farm practices, says SS Chhina

Before the 1960s, agriculture in India was either natural or organic. There was little use of chemicals. About 75 per cent of the population was dependent on agriculture. However, the country was compelled to import foodgrains from other countries. The use of chemicals on new varieties of seeds was a key factor that led to the Green Revolution. The adequate supply of irrigation was an prerequisite to use the chemicals; that is why the Green Revolution was more successful in the states that had an abundant supply of surface or underground water. Punjab has shown staggering results in terms of yield. The state is known as the food bowl of India, contributing 12 per cent of rice and 18 per cent of wheat.

But a heavy price has been paid for this escalating use of chemicals. In 1960, the per-hectare consumption of chemicals was only 2 kg; it increased to 143 kg in 2017. In 1960, the total use of chemicals was only 2,900 tonnes; it rose to 26.71 million tonnes in 2016-17. With the multi-cropping pattern, the cropping intensity that was only 105 in 1960 rose to 205 and food production increased from 31.62 million tonnes to 307.64 million tonnes during this period. 

But these results were obtained at the cost of environmental degradation and sustainability of agricultural growth. The ever-increasing volume of chemicals was necessitated by the law of diminishing marginal returns — if six bags of fertilisers were used this year, seven would be utilised the next year. The rising quantity of chemicals was seen as the best option to maintain the level of production. Where would this practice lead to is a big question. The proponents of chemical use have no answer. Experience has shown that fertility of soil cannot be restored by factory-made chemicals. Technology cannot replace nature; to bypass the natural ecological process is not possible without affecting the very basis of production.

The impact of chemicals was so drastic that even micro-organisms and birds favourable for agricultural yield vanished from the atmosphere. These chemicals have penetrated air, water and soil, and ultimately food. The exacerbated impact of chemicals is quite palpable, but the country has depended on them to feed the billions.

In the past decade, there has been growing concern over environmental degradation caused by the perpetual application of chemicals. More and more countries have started discouraging the use of  chemicals in agriculture. The IFOAM (International Forum of Organic Agricultural Management), a Germany-based organisation, is working to remove misconceptions about organic farming, including a possible decline in yield. The new organic inputs, along with new methods, have been developed after intensive research to obtain better results in this field.

Organic farming is chemical-free agriculture that excludes the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals. It is based on the concept of feeding the soil and giving back to nature what has been taken from it. It is holistic production management which promotes and enhanced the agro-ecosystem’s health, including biological activities. Being chemical-free, it maintains the environmental balance so that humans may live healthily by discarding chemical inputs.

Organic manures not only supply nutrients to crops, but also improve the soil texture. These manures protect crops from adverse temperature, improve seed germination, increase the water retention capacity of soil and create the right micro-climate for the development of beneficial soil microbes. Animal husbandry has been an integral part of farming and it has a profound influence on sustainability. Organic farming constitutes the best-fit management system that sustains the atmosphere.

Organic products are selling in 141 countries, where over 57 million hectares (till 2016) are under this farming. The regions with the largest areas of organic agricultural land are Oceania (27.3 million hectares) and Europe (13.5 million hectares), followed by Latin America (7.1 million) and Asia (4.9 million). India accounts for about 3 per cent of the total area under organic cultivation in the world. The area is rising because of the results achieved by removing misconceptions. Sikkim and Uttarakhand have been declared organic states. Though some of the organic farms in Punjab have shown encouraging outcomes because of cost-effectiveness, there is a dire need to diversify the state’s agriculture. Only 8,000 acres of 2,100 farmers are registered under certified production.

There is no alternative but to adopt organic farming for the sustainability of agriculture and environment. Research institutes and extension workers need the patronage of the government to develop new inputs and methods to obtain greater yield and encourage the use of inputs with demonstration of successful organic farms.

— The writer is Senior Fellow,  Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi

National Programme for Organic Production

  • India’s rank in terms of organic agricultural land in the world was 9th; in terms of total number of producers, it was 1st as per 2018 data (Source: FIBL & IFOAM Year Book 2018).

  • The Central Government has implemented the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP). It features an accreditation programme for certification bodies, standards for organic production, promotion of organic farming etc. The NPOP standards for production and accreditation system have been recognised by the European Commission and Switzerland for unprocessed plant products as equivalent to their country’s standards. Similarly, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has recognised NPOP conformity assessment procedures of accreditation as equivalent to that of US. With these recognitions, Indian organic products duly certified by the accredited bodies of India are accepted by importing countries.

  • As on March 31, 2018, the total area under organic certification process (registered under NPOP) was 3.56 million hectares (2017-18). This includes 1.78 million hectares cultivable area and another 1.78 million hectares for wild harvest collection.

  • Madhya Pradesh has largest area under organic certification, followed by Rajasthan, Maharashtra and UP.

  • During 2016, Sikkim converted its entire cultivable land (more than 76,000 hectares) under organic certification.

  • India produced 17 lakh MT (2017-18) of certified organic products, including oilseeds, sugarcane, cereals, millets, cotton, pulses, medicinal plants, tea, fruits, spices, dry fruits, vegetables, coffee etc. 

  • Madhya Pradesh is the largest producer, followed by Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. In terms of commodities, oilseeds are the single largest category, followed by sugar crops, cereals and millets, fibre crops, pulses, medicinal, herbal and aromatic plants, and spices and condiments.

  • Total volume of exports (2017-18) was 4.58 lakh MT. Organic food export realisation was around Rs 3,453.48 crore. Organic products are exported to the US, EU, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Israel, South Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand, Japan etc.

  • In terms of export value realisation, oilseeds (47.6%) lead among products, followed by cereals and millets (10.4%).

Source: Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA)

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