By Athar P
In May this year, a Task Force constituted by India’s Ministry of Agriculture, to give recommendations on expansion of organic farming in the country, presented its report. The report, according to its convenor, Anil Kumar Singh (vice chancellor of Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Gwalior), has recommended to the Ministry that it should adopt an ambitious but realistic target of converting at least 10 percent of cultivated area into organic farmlands across all states by year 2025.
The Ministry of Agriculture had constituted the seven-member Task Force on Organic and Non Chemical Farming in June 2015 to come up with expert views and recommendations after conducting research and consultations with all stakeholders. Spearheaded by Singh, with its member-secretary as Krishan Chandra (director, National Centre of Organic Farming), other members of the Task Force included Anand Achar, Umendra Dutt, Kavitha Kuruganti, Kapil Shah and Ashok Kumar Singh.
“India should be 100% organic and not just 10%. In the process we can avoid an expenditure of USD 1.2 tn (which goes into fertilisers, fuel, etc) and save the social and ecological destruction of India—not to forget, save another trillion in damages to health. The biggest impediment to an organic and poison free India is the influence of poison-making corporations and the Genetically Modified crop industry. We have started a ‘Poison Makers Quit India’ campaign to ensure these corporations don’t exploit Indian farmers and consumers”
Vandana Shiva, Environmental Activist & Founder, Navdanya
The Task Force has given a number of recommendations to achieve the targets it has set for institutionalising organic farming in India. According to the report, organic farming does not need to be scaled up just because India has great potential for organic farming but also due to growing threats to environmental resources and overall food safety, with toxins increasingly becoming part of the country’s food production system. The other reasons for increasing the percentage of organic farming in India’s agricultural production according to the report are: international trade issues as some export consignments are being rejected due to chemical residues; doing away with increasing public financing for chemical farming; utilisation of organic farming for reduction of carbon emission; improving self reliance and sovereignty as it will reduce dependence on other countries for chemical fertilisers.
Some key recommendations in the report include setting up of a Central Organic Farming Research Institute; research stations and farms in states, with model organic farms and demo farms (one per block); separate departments for organic farming in all agriculture universities; incorporation of organic farming as a subject in school curricula; allocation of 30 percent of agricultural research budget for organic farming, and offering tax waivers to organic input production units.
“We are impressed by (the success of organic farming in) Sikkim and other regions. From a global perspective it is impressive to see the very high number of organic farmers in India and also the big commitment of the present Indian government particularly to Participatory Guarantee Systems. I am personally quite optimistic we will see strong market development and that the number of organic farmers (uncertified, PGS or certified), land and consumer purchases will increase”
Markus Arbenz, Executive Director, IFOAM – Organics International
For reduction of prices of organic products, the report has recommended that separate organic market yards and marketing outlets be set up extensively, since the lack of integrated supply chains is a major reason for the high price of organic produce at the retail end, which often makes organic products unaffordable to consumers in the lower economic strata. There are scores of other recommendations on promotion and extension of organic farming besides suggestions on institutionalising incentives and approaches towards the overall expansion of organic farming in India.
India’s Stance towards Organic Farming
Organic agriculture in India is one of the fastest growing systems of agricultural production and the last two decades have shown a sharp increase in organic products consumption and market demand with regards to expansion in area under organic cultivation, as well as, diversity of products. With increasing awareness about health, changing lifestyles and increased GDP, the organic food market is expected to have a bright future, with the domestic market expected to touch USD 1.36 bn by 2020.
“India produces more organic food than any other country in the world. It is the government’s failure that this is not recognised. For instance, the value of a single organic crop— jackfruit— is more than the value of the entire certified export of organic food from India. If we could find to ensure that what we grow organically today remains organic and is not brought under the sway of the chemical industry, this would be more effective than trying to shift farmers from chemical to organic farming. This conservation can be achieved through a system of rewards and incentives”
Claude Alvares, Director, Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI)
Markus Arbenz, executive director of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) says he’s impressed with India’s progress. “We are impressed by (the success of organic farming in) Sikkim and other regions. Their commitment to strive for true sustainability and develop the organic sector is commendable. We recognise the contribution from many stakeholders, including the farmers, the civil society, the private sector and the government on national, state and local levels,” he says.
“From a global perspective it is impressive to see the very high number of organic farmers in India (one third of organic farmers globally) and also the big commitment of the present Indian government particularly to Participatory Guarantee Systems. I am personally quite optimistic we will see strong market development and that the number of organic farmers (uncertified, PGS or certified), land and consumer purchases will increase,” he adds.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, cultivated area under certified organic farming has grown almost 17 fold in the last decade, from 42,000 ha in 2003-04 to 7,23,000 ha in 2013-14. But the huge potential of this sector remains almost entirely untapped, as suggested by the Task Force report. The report says that India, despite being historically organic by default before the green revolution, has presently less than 1 percent of its net cultivated area under organic farming.
However, experts like Claude Alvares, director, Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI), believe the 1 percent figure quoted in the report to be erroneous. “If the Task Force report thinks that organic food production in India is just 1 percent of all production (and therefore this should be raised to 10 percent), then it has not represented reality,” he observes. “The 1 percent food grown organically is almost wholly the ‘certified’ organic food. The problem is that much more is grown organically in India than just 1 percent. Almost all of it does not get “certified” organic. But this is a failure of the certification system,” Alvares adds.
Environmental activist and founder of non profit Navdanya, Vandana Shiva, who promotes the Jaivik Kranti (Living Revolution) for Anna Swaraj (Food Sovereignty) 2020 campaign, also is not entirely convinced with the report’s recommendations. She believes India should be 100 percent organic and not just 10 percent. “Navdanya’s efforts over the last 30 years have shown that through biodiversity and organic farming we can feed two Indias, which I have explained in my book, Health Per Acre,” Shiva says. “In the process of doing so we can avoid an expenditure of USD 1.2 tn (which goes into buying fertilisers, fuel, etc) and save the social and ecological destruction of India—not to forget, save another trillion in damages to health,” she adds.
- Conversion of 10% of cultivated area into organic by 2025
- Setting up Central Organic Farming Research Institute
- Setting up research stations and farms across states, with model organic farms and demo farms (one per block)
- Separate Departments for organic farming in all agriculture universities
- Incorporation of organic farming as a subject in school curricula
- Allocation of 30% of agricultural research budget to organic farming
- Tax waivers for organic input production units
- Dedicated organic market yards and marketing outlets
According to Alvares, India produces more organic food than any other country in the world. “It is the government’s failure that this is not recognised. For instance, the value of a single organic crop— jackfruit— is more than the value of the entire certified export of organic food from India. No one uses chemicals or pesticides for jackfruit,” he informs. “If we could find ways and means to ensure that what we grow organically today remains organic, and is not brought under the sway of the chemical industry, this would be more effective than trying to shift farmers from chemical to organic farming. This conservation can be achieved by a good system of rewards and incentives,” he emphasises.
Shiva says organic farmers with their own seeds earn 10 times more than commodity-producing farmers using pesticides. In organic farming, she believes, lies the solution to climate change and water scarcity: “Organic farming increases climate resilience by putting more organic matter and carbon in the soil, which holds more water, thus addressing drought.” According to her the biggest impediment to an organic and poison free India is the influence of poison-making corporations and the Genetically Modified crop industry. “They influence government policies to sell their products and increase their markets. We have started a ‘Poison Makers Quit India’ campaign to ensure these corporations don’t exploit Indian farmers and consumers,” she says.
India, Arbenz observes, has an organic regulation that is accepted by big markets such as the European Union. In fact, the Organic World Congress 2017 will take place in India in November 2017, wherein various regions commit collectively to 100 percent Organic farming. However, he believes further development is required. “I think a major challenge is to build a comprehensive, well marketed and well available offer of organic products in the market place. For this I see two key priorities: first, the collaboration of stakeholders and institutions. Second, communication of a well understood narrative about the story of organic farming, processing and consumption to everybody including people with low income, as well as, those belonging to the wealthier segments,” he says.