Organic Farming Needs Balanced Approach
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his recent Independence Day speech, reiterated that natural and organic farming are important in making India Atma Nirbhar (self-reliant) since they can help reduce costly fertiliser imports. Earlier in May, he asked farmers in Gujarat to take up organic farming as India’s dependence on imported fertilisers was a cause for concern. In December 2021, the PM highlighted the illeffects of chemical-based farming and appealed to the farmers to make natural farming a mass movement.
The PM’S concern is right as we import 25 per cent of our requirement of urea. In the case of potash and phosphate, it is 100 per cent. The prices have been increasing and the Russia-ukraine war has worsened the situation. As a result, the government had to pay farmers a subsidy of Rs
1.60 lakh crore in the last fiscal. As per the industry estimates the subsidy for the current year can reach up to Rs 2.10 lakh crore.
The appeal by the PM last December to make natural farming a mass movement is also significant considering the very slow progress made in this direction. The government passed the first policy for organic farming in 2005 and in 2015 introduced the ‘Paramparagat (Traditional) Krishi Vikas Yojana’ (PKVY). Over 90,000 clusters have been created in the country under the PKVY.
Despite this and other efforts only 3.8 million hectares – just 2.7 per cent of the country’s net sown area – is under organic and natural farming. However, it is also important for the policymakers to decide how much maximum area should be allowed to be brought under natural and organic cultivation and which crops should be grown using these methods. Though several benefits of natural and organic farming are listed – such as increased
yield, higher farmer incomes due to better prices, better soil health and food quality, and lower environmental impact – the Sri Lankan experience has shown how disastrous it could be to turn to total organic cultivation.
A non-profit organisation Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), in its analysis of 89 scientific studies in India and those of the government’s All India Network Project on Organic Farming in 16 states, found the yield was the highest with organic cultivation 41 per cent of the times, followed by 33 per cent with the integrated – organic and inorganic – cultivation method.
But experts are divided over these claims. Wherever the productivity is higher it is likely because the cultivation was done in ideal conditions created by researchers and
scientists. Some experts claim that organic farming leads to decreased crop productivity. A study showed 25 per cent less average yield. With a large number of farmers switching to organic farming, more land would need to be brought under agriculture.
The recent disastrous experience in Sri Lanka is still fresh in our memories. A total switch to organic farming resulted in drastically lower agricultural production. Rice production dropped by 20 per cent in six months compelling the country to import rice at a cost of $450 million.
Tea production dropped by 18 per cent affecting exports. The country has now turned to intensified application of chemical fertilisers. Prices of organic products are another concern. Though some sections claim that the cost of cultivation using the organic methods is less, this does not seem to reflect in the prices of organic products on market shelves. The prices are very high and unaffordable to most. While chemical fertilisers cause environmental damage and health problems, it must also be acknowledged that they help grow more food on less land. That is probably why the PM, in his Independence Day speech, also spoke about nano fertilisers, to give a balanced view.
No doubt that organic and natural systems are needed. But a balanced approach needs to be formulated that incorporates the requirements and wisdom of all stakeholders.