The Second World War caused mass casualties, famine like situation, crop failures across Europe. In 1944, just before the war ended, International Green Revolution was launched in Mexico and it encouraged development of hybrid plants, chemical controls, large scale irrigation and heavy mechanization of agriculture for food security and survival. These processes proved to be short term solutions with long term damages. Heavy chemical use in agriculture gradually resulted in soil fertility loss, soil erosion, exposure of human and animals to toxic materials and an everlasting impact on environment and biodiversity. Organic farming, as a process of agriculture promised a better future to human and the ecosystem, when it was introduced to the world by Sir Albert Howard-father of modern organic agriculture. His philosophy echoes in his line, “The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible”.
According to World of Organic Agriculture 2018 report, India has 30% of total organic produces in world but accounts for 2.59% of total organic cultivation. This data inherently proposes the potential of organic farming in India while also clearly validating the fact that it is highly underutilized in India. Farmers’ suicide in India is a serious issue faced by the government in India. These suicides are rapidly increasing and the farmers’ distress seems to be an everlasting recluse. Inorder to introduce the farmers to hope and solutions, it is essential to explore new alternatives. Organic farming at the least displays some potential to address farmers’ issues and agricultural slack.
Having said that, it is imminent to explore the potential and threats of this farming practice. Firstly, as highlighted earlier, due to the increasing demand of organic produce it has potential markets which are only expanding naturally. These demands have created new export opportunities for developing countries. Example-tropical fruit to the European baby food industry, Zimbabwean herbs to South Africa, six South African nations export cotton to the European community. Domestic markets also may be exploited, example- China has growing market for ‘green food’ while also exporting tea to Netherlands and soybean to Japan. Furthermore, organic produces is sold at premium price thus the price advantage can add leverage to farmers’ incomes. Price competition is still negligible in this industry owing to its early years of yet establishing into a full blown industry. Only 2.4 million producers engage or produce organically, out of which more than three quarters are in developing countries.
India is one of the ten countries with highest agricultural land, yet it does not feature on the top ten organic farming countries. Organic farming is at a very nascent stage in India. Thus, the potentiality of the sector is immense.
As organic farming is the form of agriculture that relies on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, organically approved pesticide application and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests, excluding or strictly limiting the use of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock antibiotics, food additives etc. Hence, it immensely contributes to elimination of chemicals from the food web. In addition to this, organic farming also contributes to soil erosion control. Practices like crop rotation, inter-cropping, symbiotic associations, encourage soil flora and fauna, improve soil formation and structure, creating more stable systems. In turn, nutrient and energy cycling is increased and the retentive abilities of the soil for nutrients and water are enhanced, thus contributing to control of soil erosion. Additionally, it also boosts water conservation and water health. The run-off from non-organic farms such as harmful pesticides, toxic fertilizers and animal waste causes major water pollution. Also, cotton like crops require excess water when grown conventionally, however, organic farming also needs less irrigation and thus conserves water. It controls algal bloom caused by run-off from petroleum based fertilizers often used in conventional farming. Besides these, it also helps preserve the natural habitat areas especially in farmlands and assists the involvement of natural pest control.
Other than the number of benefits of organic farming, there are also equally good number of challenges in adopting organic farming. Though, states like Sikkim and Andhra Pradesh have shown the way forward yet for most states it is a challenge to adopt and transform agricultural practices because of the uncertainty of results and lack of confidence in farmers for a new agricultural method in view of lack of structured assistance from government. The first challenge that lies is that organic produce certification process creates barriers for farmers without certificates to sell their produce. Illiteracy being very high in farmers, process fear and ignorance makes them apprehensive. Secondly, as per Indian Council of Agricultural Research, productivity on an average dips by 6.7% in first year of transition to organic farming. This has also been the experience of some farmers themselves because contrary to conventional farming lesser pesticides are used so in the intermittent phase the adaptability of soil is less hence productivity declines temporarily. Thirdly, the pricing of organic products is higher which on a superficial level seems to be attractive to farmers but at the ground level it is itself a factor that is seen as hindrance to buyers and consequent roadblock to market expansion which is motivating enough for farmers to refrain from producing organically.
The immediate solutions to some of the problems can be found in right implementation and policy modification of schemes like Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana wherein the certification programmes have not addressed the farmers’ issues completely. Secondly, adequate support system should be provided for facilitating easier certification process. Additionally, organic farming must be supported by initiatives like Organic Cotton Project by Worldwide Fund for Nature India (WWF India) which in Chhindwara district covered 72 villages and 4000 farmers through the project. Moreover, given fact that Sikkim is world’s first fully organic state, the potential in Northeastern region must also be provided aggressive support with Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region (MOVCDNER). Additionally, a shift towards Zero Budget Natural Farming to phase out chemical use in farming can further boost sustainable farming to enhance health and livelihood quality in addition to environment protection and ecosystem conservation.