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Organic farming is here to stay

Rana Kapoor
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Organic farming has thrived in India since ancient times, with the Indian cow – “ Kamadhenu”, providing the natural fertilisers and other inputs.

In the decades post-independence however, the soaring population increased dependency on food imports. A self reliance policy propagated in the Third Five-Year Plan (1961-66) heralded a thrust on domestic farm production and our scientists rose to the occasion by introducing high-yielding varieties which were heavily dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

However this shift also brought along with it many ill-effects, resulting in many farming communities across India, shifting back to the traditional organic farming and promoting organic and health foods. The Government of India also recognised this and has initiated norms for organic production and farming known as the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), which are now accepted worldwide.

Organic Agriculture

According to Codex Alimentarius (FAO/ WHO), organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity.

The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to encourage soil and water conservation and reduce pollution. Farmers who grow organic produce and meat do not use conventional methods to fertilise, control weeds or prevent livestock disease. For example, rather than using chemical herbicides, organic farmers may conduct more sophisticated crop rotations and spread mulch or manure to keep weeds at bay.

International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) is the worldwide umbrella organisation for the organic movement. The Principles of Organic Agriculture serve to inspire the organic movement in its full diversity. They guide IFOAM’s development of positions, programmes and standards. The principles are ethical statements and formulated to inspire action.

Organic agriculture is based on the principle of health, ecology, fairness and care. In particular, organic agriculture is intended to produce high quality, nutritious food that contributes to preventive health care and well-being. In view of this it should avoid the use of fertilisers, pesticides, animal drugs and food additives that may have adverse health effects.

GLOBAL ORGANIC MARKET

The growth in global organic food and beverages market is driven by increasing awareness about health benefits of organic foods which has led to increased organic farming in the world. The global organic food and beverages market is expected to grow from $ 57.2 billion in 2010 to $ 104.5 billion in 2015 at an estimated CAGR of 12.8 per cent.

In 2010, Europe had the largest share in the global organic food and beverages market with revenue of $ 27.8 billion. Germany is the biggest consumer in Europe with a share of 32 per cent of organic food and beverages in the region. Asian organic food market is expected to grow at an estimated CAGR of 20.6 per cent from 2010 to 2015.

Japan leads the Asian countries in terms of organic food consumption with nearly 54 per cent of the share in 2010. Fresh produces (fruits and vegetables) are the highest selling organic food categories with 37 per cent of the organic foods segment in terms of revenue. In 2014, the global organic food market is forecast to have a value of USD 100 billion, an increase of 60 per cent since 2009.

Indian organic market

It is estimated that 65 per cent of the country’s cropped area is organic by default, as small farmers have no choice but to farm without chemical fertilisers and pesticides which they cannot afford.

According to ICCOA (International Competence Centre for Organic Agriculture) estimates approx 1.5 per cent of all agricultural acreage in India is expected to be organic certified by 2012 and through its strong organic export programme, India will hold 2.5 per cent of the global market.

The off-shore demand for organic food market is one of the major drivers of organic agriculture in India, due to relatively increased returns with lesser input costs.

The current size of the market for organic foods in India is pegged at about Rs 1,000 crore with a huge untapped potential, as per a recent article in the ‘Down to Earth’ magazine.

HEALTHY INDIA

Organic products, which until now were mainly being exported, are now finding more consumers in the domestic market. Awareness of the nutritional benefit of these products has resulted in more land coming under organic farming. Although health is the key reason for growing demand, other incidental benefits such as better taste and better environment are also driving growth. There is also a growing awareness of the dangers of consumable food grown with the aid of chemicals. Food contaminated by chemicals or grown from genetically-modified seeds and planting material is unhealthy as compared with naturally grown food. Organic farming does away with these unhealthy, short-term “production boosters” and brings into picture a diverse, healthy and sustainable crop production system.

While certification is mandatory for exports, products for domestic consumption are mostly uncertified. This is because most producers are either small or marginal farmers, small co-operatives or trade fair companies. The small farmers, scattered across the country, offer an incomplete product range that are mostly available as a small or local brand.

Conclusion

Notwithstanding the fact that high-yielding varieties of seeds will need chemical fertilisers for increasing farm output; and agrochemicals will be needed in abundant quantities to protect the crop output; thus helping in food security and providing food to the growing million across the globe; naysayers of organic farming would also collude to the fact that given a choice any consumer would definitely like to eat pure, chemical-free food.

Similarly, prolonged and continuous use of organic products will result in the human body developing a natural immune system to fight disease. Some of this is given in the famous agriculture treatise by Sir Albert Howard at www.journeytoforever.org . A recent episode of the serial “Satyamev Jayate” aptly raked up the issue of harmful effects of agrochemicals usage and emphasised the use of organic foods and its healthy effects on human body

The fact that a large number of stock keeping units available in retail are available in organic option is a compliment to the fact that organic segment is here to stay and is booming by the day.

The wheel, as they say is turning a full circle……to organic products; and to a healthy India!!!


The off-shore demand for organic food market is one of the major drivers of organic agriculture in India, due to relatively increased returns with lesser input costs.


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 20, 2012)
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