Seeds of change

| Updated on March 06, 2019

Organic farming needs state support to become the norm rather than exception

A BusinessLine report (March 5) features Rahibai Popere, an adivasi farmer of Ahmadnagar district, who has conserved about 43 varieties in the case of 17 crops (paddy, hyacinth, millets, pulses, oilseeds, among others) by establishing a germplasm conservation centre. Having resisted hybrid seeds for two decades, she has emerged as an ambassador for organic farming in her State and beyond, observing that traditional varieties are better able to cope with pests and the vagaries of weather. Rahibai exemplifies not just the immense value of traditional knowledge, but also the potential of India to become a major organic producer and exporter. India’s gene pool with respect to crops is extraordinary owing to its agro-climatic diversity; in the 1960s and 1970s RH Richharia of the Central Rice Research Institute had created a gene bank of nearly 20,000 varieties of rice alone and resisted the introduction of Green Revolution hybrids. Today, the wheel has come full circle, with organic farming finding its way into policy. This is because the introduction of hybrids on a large scale has led to increased dependency on fertiliser, pesticides and water, contaminating the food chain.

According to a study by ICRIER, a number of companies and start-ups have entered the scene since 2006. They perceive better returns in the organic than conventional food business. India’s export of organic products has been rising at above 15 per cent in volume terms in recent years and is expected to touch 20 per cent in the next five years, given the global shift in dietary preferences. However, there are regulatory and logistical challenges that need to be overcome. A major hurdle is the loss of yield in the two or three years of transition from conventional to organic cultivation, for which the State needs to step in. A certification system that meets global standards without being expensive or cumbersome is called for. At present, a multiplicity of agencies and authorities are involved in this process. Despite the growth of FPOs and other groups to pool in marketing and input resources, processing cost can be brought down. Karnataka, with its arid tracts, has promoted organic farming through FPOs, with many of them growing millets and value-added products.

According to researchers, India accounts for 30 per cent of the world’s organic producers but just 2.6 per cent of the global area under organic cultivation, which is about 58 million hectares. The Centre’s free organic certification programme — the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana — has not picked up as most States have failed to utilise the funds set aside for the scheme. Innovators like Rahibai cannot be let down. Trained scientists and civil engineers need to learn from such farmers and age-old water conservation practices in Rajasthan. They should tap into the ingenuity of farmers in Bagalkot district who made a dam to deal with water shortage. The future of farming lies in harvesting these energies.

Published on March 06, 2019

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