If there’s one subject that has garnered the maximum interest in the agriculture community in the last decade, it is organic farming. Simply put, organic farming is a cultivation method that avoids synthetic chemicals, uses organic manures and sprays and does not harm the ecosystem.
Organic farming involves crop rotation, composting, and the use of organic manure with an emphasis on maintaining ecological balance. It offers safer and healthier food for consumers, as it avoids residues of synthetic chemicals.
Apart from reduced environmental pollution and preservation of biodiversity, it provides farmers with higher prices for organic produce. Organic farming in India is considered more profitable for several reasons, and it offers various benefits both in the short and the long term.
Also Read: Seven tips for switching to organic farming
Here are some key factors contributing to the profitability and advantages of organic farming in India:
Premium Prices: Organic produce, which has been certified by agencies like the NPOP (National Programme for Organic Production), PGS or Participatory Guarantee Systems, EU Organic logo for exporting to Europe, or Bio Suisse for exports to Switzerland, commands 35 percent to 50 percent higher prices in the market.
In some cases, farmers sell the produce at double or three times the market rates. Like Diwakar Channappa, a Master’s in Social Work, who practices organic date farming at Saganahalli village in Chikkaballapura (Karnataka), sells his produce at Rs310 per kg while the market rate for non-organic dates is under Rs100 per kg.
Similarly, Santosh Devi, the eighth-pass farmer from Sikar in Rajasthan, has been selling her organic pomegranates, apples, lemons and other fruits above market rates for many years now.
Engineer-MBA farmer Sankalp Sharma sells his Sharbati wheat at Rs70 per kg. So farmers can command premium rates due to increased consumer demand for chemical-free and environmentally friendly products if they receive the necessary certifications.
Reduced Input Costs: While the initial transition to organic farming may involve some costs, overall, organic farmers can experience reduced input costs by avoiding expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
A case in point is that of Uttar Pradesh’s wheat farmers, some of whom have shifted from chemicals to organic fertilizers. Compared to traditional (chemical-based) farming, which costs Rs 6500 per acre for wheat (including urea, pesticides, and frequent watering), organic fertilizers reduce the cost to Rs 3500 per acre.
Government Support: Both Central and State governments provide support and subsidies for organic farming practices, including financial incentives and technical assistance. This helps farmers adopt organic methods more easily.
The Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) promotes cluster-based organic farming and provides training, certification and marketing. It also gives an assistance of Rs 50,000 per ha for three years out of which 62 percent (Rs 31,000) is given as an incentive to a farmer towards organic inputs.
Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region (MOVCDNER), Capital Investment Subsidy Scheme (CISS) under the Soil Health Management Scheme, National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP) and National Food Security Mission (NFSM) are the other government schemes promoting organic farming.
Healthier Work Environment: By avoiding the use of harmful chemicals, organic farmers and farmworkers are exposed to a healthier and safer working environment. This is seen from the rising number of farmers who have witnessed cancer in their families and among friends and then switched to organic farming.
Soil Health Improvement: Soil health is the key to the success of any agriculture operation and organic farming addresses this aspect first and foremost.
Organic agriculture focuses on enhancing soil health through the use of organic matter, cow dung, cow urine, cover crops, and crop rotations. This leads to improvement in soil structure, water retention, and overall fertility in the long term.
Biodiversity Conservation: Organic farming practices promote biodiversity by avoiding the use of synthetic chemicals that can harm beneficial insects, birds, earthworms and soil microorganisms. This helps maintain a more balanced ecosystem on the farm. So there are natural bees and birds which help in cross-pollination, resulting in healthier crops and better yields.
In fact, many farmers are now opting for paid bee-keeping services to ensure pollination and good crops. The need to spend money on these measures can be avoided by opting for organic farming, which lets biodiversity thrive naturally.
Water Conservation: Organic farming typically involves better water management practices, such as mulching and cover cropping, leading to improved water retention in the soil and reduced water runoff. Since soil retains moisture for a longer time, it reduces the frequency of watering the crops.
When water requirement is less, electricity usage (read pumps and borewells) goes down and results in cost savings.
Climate Change Mitigation: Organic farming can mitigate climate change by promoting carbon sequestration in the soil. Healthy soils act as a carbon sink, helping to offset greenhouse gas emissions.
Requirements for success of organic farming in India
Education and Training: Farmers must take training programmes and educational resources to understand organic farming practices, including crop rotation, composting, and pest management.
Infrastructure Support: Adequate infrastructure, such as organic certification facilities, storage facilities, and transportation networks, is essential to support the organic farming supply chain.
Access to Markets: Connecting organic farmers with markets that value and pay a premium for organic produce is crucial for the success of organic farming. Improved market linkages ensure that farmers can sell their products profitably.
Research and Development: Continued research and development in organic farming techniques tailored to Indian agro-climatic conditions can enhance productivity and efficiency.
Policy Support: Supportive government policies, including subsidies, incentives, and regulatory frameworks, play a vital role in encouraging farmers to adopt organic practices. India already has a supportive framework in place. It’s time farmers make use of this support system.
By addressing these factors, organic farming in India can continue to thrive, providing economic, environmental, and health benefits to farmers and consumers alike.
(Riya Singh is a Ranchi-based journalist who writes on environment, sustainability, education & women empowerment)