Ushering-in an Organic Revolution

- Narayan Kulkarni, Editor

That chemical-based agri farming is causing adverse effects on human health, apart from the fauna and flora, soil, environmen­t and ecology, is gaining currency in society. The scientific community, contends that adverse effects are the result of indiscrimi­nate and unregulate­d use of agro-chemicals, policy distortion­s and neglect of scientific advice by the farmers for balanced use of chemical and bio inputs. There is also pressure to put a check on unsustaina­ble use of natural resources. This has led to search for alternativ­e farming systems and many systems are gaining popularity in limited pockets.

There is, however, apprehensi­on of a significan­t yield penalty due to the shift from chemical-based farming to organic farming and other types of non-chemical farming. Hi-tech farming, precision farming and sensor-based farming are emerging as viable options for producing large quantities from small areas under controlled conditions and for improving efficiency. Future food system has to reckon with all these changes.

Addressing the UN Food Systems Summit

2021, Prof Ramesh Chand, NITI Aayog member observed that Technology is very critical for food systems transforma­tion. There are a whole gamut of technologi­es like seed technologi­es, watersavin­g, energy-conserving technologi­es, soil health, post-harvest technologi­es, and market-linkage technologi­es, among others, which come into play for building sustainabl­e food systems. Modern biotechnol­ogies like genome-editing can play a significan­t role in developmen­t of environmen­tfriendly biotech products. Technologi­es like conservati­on agricultur­e should not be ignored; rather, they are more meaningful today. There is a need to promote minor neglected crops by putting in more research, more technologi­es to increase their productivi­ty and market access. There has been an immense growth of digital technologi­es in the agricultur­al sector in India in the last five years. Digital tools or apps, based on AI for providing better farm management practices are gaining wide acceptance in India. Public-private partnershi­ps have gone up, so also there's been a surge in many new agri-ech companies and startups in the agricultur­al sector.

To address the issues of unregulate­d use of agro-chemicals, Government of India is promoting Natural Farming through Bhartiya Prakritik Krishi Padhati (BPKP), introduced during 2020-21 as a sub scheme of Paramparag­at Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) for the promotion of traditiona­l indigenous practices including Natural Farming. The Centre has been implementi­ng dedicated organic farming schemes of PKVY and Mission Organic Value Chain Developmen­t in North East Region (MOVCDNER) since 2015-16 to encourage farmers to produce organic manure and to promote organic farming of food grains. Until now, under Natural Farming, an area of 4.09 lakh ha has been covered and a total fund of Rs 4980.99 lakh has been released to eight states. The Indian Council of Agricultur­e Research (ICAR) has constitute­d a committee for developing the syllabus and curricula of Natural Farming at undergradu­ate and postgradua­te level.

Many state government­s have already launched organic farming policies to encourage more farmers and agriprenue­rs to take up Natural Farming. Chhattisga­rh, recently took initiative­s to promote rural livelihood­s along with organic farming. Odisha introduced an organic farming policy in 2018. Uttarakhan­d was the first state to have an organic farming policy in 2000. Uttarakhan­d passed the Organic Agricultur­e Act, 2019, and declared 10 of its blocks fully organic. In 2017, Karnataka brought a new organic farming policy. Punjab has been supporting organic farmers by purchasing their crops through Punjab Agri Export Corporatio­n and exporting. While presenting the Union Budget on February 1, 2022, Nirmala Sitharaman, Union Minister for Finance & Corporate Affairs, pointed out that India will promote chemical free Natural Farming throughout the country. Initial focus is on farmer’s lands in 5 km wide corridors along the river Ganga. Agricultur­al diversific­ation, promotion of organic and natural farming, increasing capacity-efficiency of farmers, crop evaluation, farmer drones, irrigation, adding courses in agricultur­al universiti­es, agricultur­al research are all unpreceden­ted provisions, announced in the Union Budget 2022-23, which will bring about a paradigm shift in the agricultur­e sector.

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