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Why Organic Agriculture Is Critical

A bold push to Indian organic farming can be a unique selling proposition for our agriculture

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Green products not only reduce the carbon footprint, they come in alluring cachets and command a higher price. India is uniquely positioned to exploit this opportunity as 60 per cent of  the population is dependent on traditional agriculture and is naturally and historically conversant with organic techniques.

The global organic movement has its roots in India. Sir Albert Howard, who wrote An Agricultural Testament and Waste Products of Agriculture, their utilization as humus when he was Director of  the Institute of Plant Industry in Indore,  started out by teaching Western agricultural techniques in India. He soon found that Indians were in many ways more advanced. His refrain: “the health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible,” is the underlying leitmotif of the organic process.

Albert Einstein drew our attention to the importance of preserving natural processes when he forecast that should the bee disappear from the earth’s surface, man would have no more than a few years to live. Thanks to the overdependence on chemical pesticides and fertilisers, the world is on the verge of what environmentalists call the second silent spring.  In 2006  the USA was stumped by a mysterious disease that caused disarray in the ranks of  bees. Scientists believe the drop in the population of  these natural bio-pollinators by as much as 33 per cent then could have been because of chemical pesticides, especially those that contained neo-nicotinoids. Scientists called it the Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). In her book,  The Beekeeper’s Lament: how one man and a half  billion bees help feed America, Hannah Nordhaus warns that honeybees are: “the glue that holds our agricultural system together.”

Thinking organic is critical for sustainable agriculture. Diverse species are integrated within organic farms: honeybees, birds, soil microbes, earthworms, spiders and vegetation. Nutrient and pest management and biodiversity helps mitigate the effects of climate change.  Organic agriculture decreases fossil fuel emissions and sequesters carbon in the soil. Soil-bound organisms benefit because of increased bacteria populations in natural manure. Besides, organic farming involves the local community more, in contrast to modern farming which requires constant chemical inputs, ultimately leading to genetic polarity.

Besides being labour-intensive, organic agriculture sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people by relying on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions. It combines tradition and innovation  rejecting petrochemical fertilisers and synthetic pesticides that are a threat to the natural sanctity of the food chain, and embraces naturally devised herbicides/fungicides/ insecticides and techniques that rely on crop-rotation/green manures/compost/biological pest-control.

In India organic farming takes up only about five per cent of the total cultivated area. Sikkim has earned for itself  the sobriquet of  being “India’s only Organic State”. It leads in organic tea, organic large cardamom, cymbidium orchids and organic ginger. Today, there are people like Patanjali Jha, who passionately  advocate organic. Jha, now Chief Commissioner in Bhopal, prescribes herbal cures of an organic nature.  

The global market for organic food produce is today about $90 billion, growing at 25 per cent annualy. A bold push to Indian organic farming can be a unique selling proposition for our agriculture.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Raghav Chandra

The author is Former Chairman, NHAI

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