Favouring Organic over Conventional
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a recent webinar, included ‘natural farming on mission mode’ as one of the seven ways to make farming in India modern and smart, it indicated the government’s intention to encourage natural farming.
This is not the only indication of the government’s intention. A little before that the PM had talked of bringing agriculture out of the chemical labs and taking it to the lab of nature. Niramala Sitharaman, the Union Finance Minister, in her 2022-23 budget speech, too, mentioned the government’s commitment to natural farming.
The possible reason for the stress on shifting from chemical to natural farming could be the exorbitant cost of subsidising fertilisers, which is constantly growing. It is estimated to be Rs 1.3 trillion in 2020-21. Shifting to natural farming may arrest this expenditure. Another likely reason for promoting the shift could have been the need to attain a net zero emissions target for 2070 as announced by India at the COP 26 meet in Glasgow in November 21. The FM has been talking about natural farming in her budget speeches even earlier also and this was the third time she mentioned it in her budget speech this year, but hasn't allocated funds for it, in this budget. A scheme was introduced last year to support natural farming.
Andhra Pradesh has taken a lead in promoting natural farming on a large scale and it has been promoting this since 2015. As a result, till 2020, 10.5 per cent of all farmers were enrolled in the natural farming programme and 7.5 per cent of those enrolled, started practicing natural farming on about 0.45 million hectare of land. Taking a cue from AP, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh have started promoting natural farming. In these states too, over two lakh farmers are estimated to have adopted natural farming. In all, 0.65 million hectare of land in 11 states is being cultivated using natural farming, with an expectation to reach 2 million hectare by 2025.
Farmers are adopting natural ways of farming to reverse the years of soil degradation and groundwater contamination due to unfettered use of chemical fertilisers and water.
Large-scale use of chemical fertilisers and water, in the case of some cash crops like sugarcane, began in India with the launch of the Green Revolution in the early 1970s. After five decades, there seems to be a realisation of the negative effects of the chemical fertilisers. However, the Green Revolution made India self-sufficient in food grain production and transformed the nation into a major exporter of several types of grains. That is the key issue in this whole debate of natural versus chemical farming.
Skeptics contend that natural farming falls short in terms of productivity. They believe natural farming will drastically reduce production and a populous country like India that's home to a large number of poor, will be doomed, in more ways than one.
They all cite Sri Lanka's tryst with the organic way, which aimed to be the world’s first totally organic farming country this year, but was forced to discontinue its chemical fertiliser ban due to food shortage and a subsequent price rise. In many areas of the island nation, harvest was just 60 per cent of normal and the government now will have to pay about $200 million in compensation to nearly a million farmers. Other experts claim that organic farming gives only 60-75 per cent of yield when compared with chemical based farming.
A proponent of Genetically Modified (GM) crops, demanding lifting of ban on GM crops in India, has reportedly released a paper claiming that the shift to natural farming will reduce production and 'starve' India.
Of course, this claim too will have to be carefully examined considering that the person is favouring GM crops. Nonetheless, production will remain a key issue (or an obstacle) in promoting natural farming, until an infallible solution is in place.