Agri Business

Who will sow the seeds of growth for an organic India?

Indra Shekhar Singh | Updated on February 18, 2020 Published on February 18, 2020

The Union Budget 2020 on agriculture sends a clear message. That the Modi government is committed to sustainable agriculture (organic and javik kheti).

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman spelled out the plan to increase area under organic farming to 4 lakh hectares by 2020-21. Under the Green Revolution budget, Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (CSS) has been allotted ₹500 crore for increased coverage of area under organic certification and additionally have 0.51 lakh ha area brought under organic certification. This would increase the production of organic food for local consumption and exports. APEDA has estimated Indian organic exports at ₹5,151 crore in 2018-19, a 49 per cent jump from 2017-19.

Other commendable steps announced by the Finance Minister to ensure agro-ecological practices return to Indian farms were the creation of an online portal on jaivik kheti to bolster the organic market, and the village storage scheme to empower ‘Dhaanya Lakshmi’. These steps are consistent with Piyush Goyal’s budget speech of 2019 which made organic food production the eighth dimension of the Modi government’s vision for 2030. The current budget is also in line with the BJP’s election promise and comes as a relief to environmentally conscious consumers.

Meanwhile, as APEDA estimates organic exports to touch $50 billion by 2025, many veterans of the organic and seed sector wonder who will seed organic India? Do we even have enough certified organic seed? Exports of this magnitude can’t rely on land races or traditional varieties of seeds alone. We need more efficient mechanisms of breeding organic seeds to support this growth. Indian farmers need superior quality even in organic seeds to sustain this boom.

Untreated, not organic

Most people in India confuse untreated seeds (seed pre-soaked in fungicide or chemicals) as organic, but they are misinformed. A seed can only be called organic if it is grown in organic soils with agro-ecological practices and an organic certificate. And truth be told, the options of buying high-performing organic seeds are very limited as the organic seed industry in India is still nascent when compared with the competitive and R&D-based organic seed industry of the US or Germany.

With the emergence of the greater demand for organic food, regulations and standards will only become stricter. Consensus between all organic certification mechanisms is: all seed used to grow organic foods needs to be certified too. Current level of technology enables certifying agencies to trace residues in the seed. Going beyond it will be critical for the future of the organic trade, especially to EU and the US.

Seed Organic India

As per reports, the global organic seed market will be worth $5.4 billion by 2024. Hence, India needs to swerve towards not just more organic food yields, but also to become an organic seed production hub. The government and plant breeders should create a policy for organic seed production in consultation with global certifying agencies and etc. This may be followed by a push to create organic seed production clusters in Sikkim, Uttarakhand, Himachal and the North-Eastern States.

India, especially the biodiversity rich zones, is ideal for seed production. By harmoniously working with nature, farmers can produce greater yields and resistances in their seeds, while also conserving water and their habitats. National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), through a novel programme and perhaps some funding from the government, can encourage organic seed entrepreneurs in these zones.

To sum up, the Modi government must prepare to remove any impediments to make India the largest exporter of organic food. Organic seeds are not only vital for this vision, but if pursued with determination, may fulfil the government’s aim of increasing seed exports to 10 per cent. The question that remains is whether India can seize the moment and make it a success.

The writer is Programme Director- Policy and Outreach, National Seed Association of India

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Published on February 18, 2020
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