As India’s reliance on agriculture is not small, it is interesting to note that ‘Sikkim’ is the only Indian state to have become completely organic. It suggests that a majority of the other states are still practising conventional farming methods. What does it mean to be ‘Organic’? Is it important, or just being used for marketing purposes by farmers and businesses? Why should one be aware of it? Let’s find out!
Organic farming was practised in India decades ago under civilisations until the British colonised us. It might be a pleasant surprise to some of us that, the first scientific approach towards organic farming in India can be traced back to the Vedas. They are seen to be emphasising the essence of living in harmony with mother nature rather than exploiting her.
For instance, in the Ramayana, all dead things; rotting corpses or stinking garbage are returned to Earth. Eventually, these are transformed into wholesome things that nourish life, as interpreted by C. Rajagopalachari. Besides, in the Mahabharata, Kamadhenu the celestial cow is being mentioned, and its role in human life and soil fertility. Moreover, the Brihad-Sanhita (by Varahmihir) describes how to choose between different manures for various crops and even methods of manuring. In traditional India (before the British reign), organic techniques were vastly practised. Fertilisers and pesticides used in farmlands were obtained from plant and animal products. For example, cows not only provided milk, but also bullocks for ploughing and dung for manure.
The decline of traditional farming practices
During the 1950s – 1960s increased population and natural calamities led to severe food scarcity in India. The government was forced to increase imports of food grains and domestic food production. This led to the ‘Green Revolution’ in India, guided by M.S. Swaminathan (former member of Rajya Sabha) in 1960. Eventually, large areas of land were brought under cultivation and hybrid seeds were introduced into farmlands. Organic fertilisers and pesticides were replaced with chemicals. Chemical factories, including the ‘Rashtriya Chemical Fertilizers’, were established during that time.
As this method increased food production and seemed to be more efficient in keeping away pests, more and more farmers started adopting it. By ignoring the physical ailments that chemicals are sure to bring, the profit motive forced farmers to choose chemicals and toxins over organic and natural methods.
How do consumers perceive Organic Farming?
Organic foods are slightly more expensive, and this might, in theory, decrease their demand. Domestic organic cultivators might suffer as common people may not be able to afford the food products at high prices. But studies prove that consumer demand for organic food items has only increased, primarily due to the increased awareness among people about how organic farming helps reduce exposure of toxic materials to humans, animals, and the environment.
Conversely, critics state that the marketing and distribution of organic foods are not efficient because they are usually prepared in small amounts. The BBC says that, “A new study suggests that a switch to 100% organic food production in England and Wales would see an overall increase in greenhouse gas emissions. While going fully organic would produce fewer direct emissions than conventional farming, researchers say it would limit food production.” Their shelf lives are said to be shorter, as they are chemical-free.
Besides, organic cultivation methods are more labour intensive compared to mechanical agriculture. It also requires immense patience and considerable skills to earn a living from it. Moreover, it can take a long time and require a lot of help for a conventional farmer when converting to an organic farmer. Fortunately, statistics produced by different research groups including, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (Fibl), suggest that organic farming has been seeing growth since the early organic movement.
Is Organic Farming a promising idea for developing countries like India?
As a negative side-effect of the ‘Green Revolution’, the farmlands are losing their fertility, further demanding larger quantities of fertilisers. Pests are becoming immune to the current chemicals, forcing farmers to invest in more potent and costlier pesticides. Due to these increased costs, farmers often fall into the trap of money lenders, who exploit them.
Apart from its environmental benefits, organic farming has economic impacts too. For instance, it helps safeguard jobs in the agriculture sector, food processing and marketing. It
The products and foodstuff produced from these organic farmlands, neither contain artificial flavours/ preservatives nor any harmful chemicals. This helps preserve the original nutritional content of the food items due to the absence of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. Furthermore, organic farming plays a vital role in minimising the risk of physical ailments such as heart attacks, cancer, and strokes.
While the health benefits of organic food are yet to be scientifically proven, due to social awareness, consumers are willing to pay higher prices for these. Many Indian farmers are shifting to organic farming, as the domestic and international demand for organic food increases.
Besides, government policies and schemes encourage organic farming in India. They include The Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region, National Project on Organic Farming, to name a few.
Based on a March 2020 Report by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, 2.78 million hectares of farmland in India were under organic cultivation. Moreover, being one of the most important suppliers of organic food products for developed countries, India has more than 15,000 certified organic farms.
My Contribution to Mother Nature
I am proud to say that my family owns a small farmland where practice organic farming. There are a lot of varieties of fruit-bearing trees, including different types of Rambutan, Mango, Starfruit, Bell fruit and even plants like Yam and Taro Root. We have been practising organic farming since 2006 (I was only born back then) and we still maintain it very well. Initially, it was difficult to drive away the pests and insects because we weren’t using any chemical pesticides. Eventually, when we learned about organic pesticides, we bought them from shops (Jalamrutham) and made some at home as well.
Finally, we started earning from the sale of the products from our farmland. Organic products have higher market value than conventional food products, and this helped us cover the initial investment we had made in the farm. Now we have almost all of the native seasonal fruits of Kerala, such as varieties of Jackfruits, Mangoes, Guava, Bananas, Custard Apple, Sapodilla, Nutmeg Papaya and even Cashew nuts. This has made me more conscious of the need to prevent the depletion of natural resources and brought about a sense of awareness in my healthy eating habits.
Contributor: Nithya AS
About our Writing Program Student
Nithya is a grade 10 student studying at Greenvalley International School, Trivandrum, Kerala. She loves reading, painting, gardening and is also a Kalaripayattu practitioner. Besides, she enjoys spending time with nature and is always keen to contribute something to the environment.