Agriculture sector in India is in distress. Farming is increasingly becoming unprofitable and small and marginal farmers which constitute the bulk of peasants in India, are living under a perpetual state of impoverishment. Whether it is a normal monsoon year or a drought year, seldom do the farmers realise appropriate prices for their produce. Despite various promises and reform measures that have been adopted, free and fair market place continue to remain a myth and distant dream for farmers. Amid all this gloom, very few practical solutions have been suggested to qualitatively improve the health of Indian farm sector. One such alternative is – Organic farming.
The Indian government has taken various steps to promote organic farming in the country, with the aim of improving overall soil fertility and to help double the farmer’s income by 2022. At present, Organic farming accounts for a meagre 1% of the total agricultural production and is expected to grow to 20% in the next five years. Sikkim has shown the way by becoming India’s first organic state. Hence, several other states have also been encouraged to replicate what is being called the “Sikkim Model”.
Benefits of Organic Farming
One of the biggest reason why farmers are getting attracted towards organic farming is because of the high price that such produce fetches. With the rising awareness in society regarding the benefits of healthy and pure diet, the demand for organic foodstuff has increased manifolds in the recent years. Consequently, the relatively well-off farmers who could afford to use organic inputs are switching over to organic farming. Given the commitment of the current political dispensation to double the farmers’ income by 2022, this trend is likely to become stronger in the coming years. Another major advantage that organic farming offers to the state is the reduction of the burden of chemical fertilizer subsidy. A large chunk of government budget (around one lakh crore every year) is spent on giving fertilizer subsidy to farmers. Therefore investments in promoting organic farming is an economically viable prospective for all the states. Besides, organic farming has also several inherent benefits such as, it addresses the problem of soil contamination (caused due to over-use of fertilizers and pesticides), improvement in the soil biological diversity, reduction in ground water contamination etc.
Despite of the above mentioned advantages, organic farming in India has not grown at an expected pace. The primary reason for this has been the continued neglect by the states as well as the Central government. The first and the biggest challenge has been that the lack of government support for organic farming. It is surprising that till date no official policy on organic farming for the domestic markets and import exists in India. This institutional neglect has led to fraudulent practices as genuine players are not getting the premium. For instance, the issue of low yields during the conversion period from conventional chemical-based farming to organic farming, in countries like UK, have been met by providing state subsidies to compensate for the yield loss during the conversion period. However, in India no such subsidy exists. This has discouraged farmers to make the desirable shift. Also, there is a dire shortage of good quality organic input such as organic seeds, organic fertilizers etc., which further exacerbates the risk of loss of yield. The allocation of budget is also skewed in favour of chemical based farming. Apart from this, several supply side bottlenecks such as, poor access to market especially for small farmers of hilly and tribal areas, underdeveloped supply chain also have adversely effected the growth of organic farming.
Another major issue that plagues not only organic farming but the entire agriculture sector in India has been the continued relevance of the role of middleman. The APMC Mandis, where agriculture produce is bought and sold, are dominated by middlemen and influential cartels. It is only through them that a farmer is compelled to sell his produce. This is the also the reason why despite of customers paying inflated prices for foodstuff, benefit does not reach the farmers and is rather accrued by middleman.
In order to boost organic farming in India, it is imperative for the government to introduce a comprehensive “National Policy On Organic Farming”. Although agriculture is a state-list subject but the Central government must take the lead to build national consensus around such a policy by involving all stake-holders. Also, consumers need to be made aware of benefits of consuming organic stuff and finally the various supply side bottlenecks that plague farming sector must be addressed in a time bound manner.
-Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh
Picture Credits: food.ndtv.com