Organic farming is beginning to find favour again, as awareness on the negative impact of pesticides and chemical fertilisers draws people towards naturally grown products.
Modern farming practices have ruined many fertile lands beyond repair, leaving farmers more dependent on expensive chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and turning them into perennial borrowers. In an attempt to promote toxin-free organic farming, the central government has taken a series of measures by providing subsidies and sops to farmers.
Less expensive organic farming
Organic products are sold at a premium price simply because they are not abundantly available. Organic farming is not expensive as it does not require chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides and crop stimulators.
It depends purely on leaf mulch, cow and goat dung besides nature. In the name of green revolution, we have totally erased our traditional agricultural practices and organic farming. When production does not match market demand, the price of even an ordinary product becomes exorbitant. For example, Jersey cows’ milk is being sold at Rs 40 while that of a country cow is sold at Rs 80. While rice produced using chemical fertilisers is being sold at Rs 40, rice produced organically is being sold in the price range of Rs 80 to Rs 100 and in some cases even higher.
Although awareness on the benefits of organic products has increased, consumers are not able to afford them. G Sither, organic farmer and naturopath, says, “Agricultural produce grown using chemical fertilisers and harmful pesticides are sure to contain organo chlorine and organo phosphate. Consuming them is said to lead to high sugar, hypertension, cancer, infertility and heart attacks. Use of glyphosates to kill weeds can lead to miscarriages in pregnant women and even causes infertility in some cases.”
On the other hand, farmers are now keen to shift to organic methods of cultivation, but cannot do so immediately because years of overuse of chemical fertilisers has rendered the land infertile.
Sops from the Centre
From 2015, the Centre through the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana is subsidising farmers who change over to organic farming, since it would take time for the soil to recover its fertility. Under the scheme, farmers have to form a group, in which there should be at least 10 members, each possessing one acre to five acres of land. Each group would get Rs 14.95 lakh as subsidy for a three-year period.
Each farmer would get Rs 4,858 per acre of land in the first year, Rs 4,000 in the second year and Rs 3,644 in the third year, as subsidy. Also each group would get the scope, certificate for the organic produce. The scheme particularly encourages cultivation of millets and traditional paddy varieties.
Use of hybrid crops and seeds
The use of hybrid varieties of crops and seeds first produced during the food shortage of the 1950s and 60s, when rice and wheat became a rare commodity, prompted their rationing.
To tackle the problem, the then Finance Minister C Subramaniam sought the help of US President Lyndon B Johnson. After that, one crore tonnes of wheat was sent to India on BL480 ship. The US took advantage of the situation and forced India to import certain types of grain. The country imported 1,800 tonnes of semi-dwarf wheat created by Norman Borlaug from Mexico for Rs 25 lakh as first instalment. Similarly, the International Rice Research Institute, Manila rice varieties IR 8 and IR 20 were thrust upon India. These hybrid crops engulfed half of the country’s agricultural landmass within three years. Traditional crop varieties vanished in 10 years. Only produce from hybrid crops and seeds were available in the market.
Millets and traditional crops, which were cultivated in six lakh hectares of land in the 1960s, are now cultivated on only 2.5 lakh hectares. The hybrid crop and seed varieties were said to be disease resistant with a high fertiliser responsive strain. Also, at the end of the second World War, raw materials meant for making explosives, were used as fertilisers. These were also exported to India. This affected soil fertility and killed the micro nutrients and worms in the soil, leaving the land barren. The yield naturally dipped and at one point of time, the land became a wasteland.
Thus, 50 million hectares of land have become a wasteland. Of 266 million hectares under cultivation, 175 million hectares are slowly turning barren. Annually, 30 lakh acres of land are turning into wasteland in the country.
In Tamil Nadu alone, 40 lakh hectares have turned into a wasteland in the last 50 years. If this trend continues for 50 years, the country would become unfit for agriculture.
At present, 310 lakh tonnes of urea are being imported every year. In addition, 110 tonnes of phosphate, 100 tonnes of NPK and muriate of potassium are being imported.
Pesticides were introduced in 1958. Then, 5,000 tonnes of less dangerous BHC and DDT were only used. But over the period, since new pests evolved because of use of chemical fertilisers the requirement for pesticides increased.
In 1998, pesticides requirement was 1.2 lakh tonnes but it has grown to 7.8 lakh tonnes in 2018. At present, 234 different pesticides are in use including 18 different Class-1, Class-1A and Class-1B pesticides that are banned in foreign countries. Farmers also complain of vomiting, giddiness, burning of eyes, headache and itching. Across the world, farmers are now turning their attention to organic farming. Today, in the world, over 30 lakh farmers are cultivating organically around seven crore acres of land.
Even countries which promoted and thrust chemical fertilisers upon India are now moving to organic farming. The top three countries involved in organic farming in terms of area of cultivation are Australia, Argentina and the United States. Top three countries in terms of number of small farmers involved in organic farming are India, Ethiopia and Mexico.
Organic farming in India
In the last 20 years, attention towards organic farming has increased, thanks to relentless campaigning by Subhash Palekar in North India and Nammalvar in South India.
Certified lands under organic cultivation have increased to 15 lakh hectares now from 73,000 hectares in 2003. Then only two lakh farmers were involved in organic farming but today 8,35,200 farmers are into organic farming. Sikkim practises cent percent organic farming. Madhya Pradesh with 46,413 hectares of land, Maharashtra (20,012 hectares) and Uttarakhand (19,572) are the top three States in organic farming. Kerala, Mizoram, Goa, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Chattisgarh and Gujarat have declared that they would be shifting to organic farming totally.
Tamil Nadu has 12,675 hectares of land certified under organic farming. At present, there are 10,000 farmers who practice organic farming. Many of them are, however, functioning without certification.
Marketing chances for organic produce in the world
Organic agricultural produce has a market of $97 billion world over. India has produced 1.7 million tonnes of certified organic produce during 2017-18. There are a number of uncertified organic products which the small farmers produce for the use of their family and friends. The country has exported 4,58,000 tonnes of organic produce worth Rs 3,453 crore. It only shows the growing reception for organic farming.
- Cuba has totally shifted to organic farming
- 181 countries practise organic farming, but only 11 countries are using more than 10 per cent of their land mass for organic farming
- Only 1.5 per cent of the total land mass in the world is being used for organic farming
- Japanese farmer and philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka is hailed as the father of organic farming
- Radhelal Herlal Richharia was the first one to raise a voice against chemical fertilisers, hybrid crops and seeds. He was the Director of the Central Rice Research Institute. He preserved 22,972 traditional paddy varieties. Now less than 200 varieties exist