By Armin Rosencranz
Organic farming is a method of farming that does not use pesticides and fertilisers. Instead, it relies on organic manure. It strives for sustainability, enhancement of soil fertility and biological diversity. On February 29th, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presented the budget in the Parliament. He announced that five lakh farm ponds and dug wells (in rain-fed areas) and 10 lakh compost pits (for the production of organic manure) would be taken up under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005. This was a boon to India’s organic farmers.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has encouraged other states to follow the Sikkim Model of organic farming. When the idea of organic farming was introduced a decade ago, most people opposed it. But, Sikkim farmers have shown the way. In Sikkim, 75000 acres of farmland has been devoted to organic farming. This is the land where farmers had previously used synthetic fertilisers. Thus, the state proved to be a successful testing ground for the anti-green revolution movement. Activist Vandana Shiva acknowledges that organic farming is a solution to the conventional mode of farming. With the Green Revolution in the 1960s, the traditional method of farming caught on. However today, it adds up to $1.2 trillion a year in environmental and social costs in India.
Reception by the Farmers
Farmers have taken to innovative techniques, like medicinal leaves and cow urine, to repel pests. In addition to that, the soil is nourished by using composted cow manure, combined with other organic materials. For colder months, plastic is used to cover the fields and create a greenhouse. The plastic traps the heat and moisture, and sprinklers are fitted for irrigation. The rewards from organic farming aren’t just monetary, says Lepcha, a farmer in Lower Nandok who adopted organic and natural cultivation 20 years ago. He further adds, “This field has given us enough of the best-quality food for my family and enabled me to provide higher education for three of my children. We all are in good health and stamina. I don’t remember when we last purchased medicines.”
The story wasn’t always of success. S. Anbalagan, executive director of the Sikkim Organic Mission, recalls, “The start was not smooth, we struggled to provide farmers with the necessary knowledge and infrastructure”. He pointed out that only after the state banned the use of fertilisers and pesticides, did the farmers fully resort to organic farming.
Initially, the crop yields fell when conventional fertilisers and chemicals were not used.
However, after a few seasons, the yields increased as the fertility of the soil improved. These days, Lepcha, just like other farmers, earns more than 400,000 rupees ($6,000) a year. The reason for such a turnover lies in the fact that organic farming has very low input costs. All requisites are readily available on the farm itself. This, combined with high yields, increases revenues, reduces cost and thus, increases the profit margins.
The Organic Takeover
Today, India has about 650,000 organic producers. A parliamentary committee report acknowledged that an increase in the range of organic farming could boost employment by at least 30 percent. States like Kerala, Karnataka and Gujarat have started implementing this method of farming. Another example of success in implementing organic farming is Bhutan. Appachanda Thimmaiah, Bhutan’s agricultural advisor from 2008 to 2013, observed that applying chemical fertilisers and pesticides to crops is harmful to, both, the crops and the soil. In Asia, organic agriculture takes up 3.3 million hectares of land, which comprises 9% of world agriculture. The leading countries in Asia that practice organic agriculture are China and India. Markandya, a former scientific director of the Basque Centre for Climate Change in Spain, has said that the benefits of organic farming are much more than we anticipated. Improved household nutrition and abridgment of the gender gap are a few examples.
India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) came into existence in 1982 by special act of the Parliament. It took over agricultural credit functions of the Reserve Bank of India. NABARD has started training programmes for organic farming in India.
Lately, people all over the world have realised that conventional agriculture causes significant damage to watercourses, food crops, soil, drinking water and the environment. Pesticide use degrades food grains, fodder, vegetables, milk and milk products. Pesticide poisoning also hastens death among human beings. Even some NGOs, such as Navdanya and the Organic Farming Association of India, have been supporting organic farming in India. Navdanya trains over 400,000 men and women farmers, senior government officials, representatives of national and international voluntary organisations on biodiversity conservation and organic farming.
The Organic Farming Association of India, founded in 2002, has been set up by the senior-most members of India’s organic farming community. It aims to promote not only the concept of this new approach of farming, but also the importance of sustainable agriculture. Canada Organic Growers supported the idea of organic farming because it protects animals and insects, builds healthy soil structures and protects water streams from harmful chemicals.
Chemical sprays used in conventional farming only hits an estimated one percent; the rest drifts into the air and water.
In the small Chhaya Paschim village of Madhya Pradesh, a group of farmers showed the way to sustainability by adopting organic farming. Their barren land has been converted into a rich and fertile area by adopting soil and water conservation techniques. They carried out tillage of their land without fertilisers and pesticides. Consequently, the switch to organic farming has increased their level of income.
Challenges That Lie Ahead
The message is clear. If Indian farmers switch to organic farming, they will have better incomes and the issue of farmer suicide would, potentially, disappear. In India, organisations like Navdanya and states like Sikkim, have shown the way in organic farming. In order to make the dream of organic farming a reality in India, we first need to overcome several obstacles. Poor road infrastructure, especially in hilly states, results in poor connectivity to farmer markets. In order for organic products to reach markets on time, there needs to be an overall improvement in road infrastructure and affordable refrigerated trucks. Reasonably priced cold storage needs to be made available to allow organic farming to succeed. India, as a country, should pledge to adopt organic farming to better the lives of farmers, increase their income and end farmer suicides.
Armin Rosencranz is a lawyer and political scientist. He is the founder of Pacific Environment, an international environmental NGO. He was formerly a trustee at Stanford University.