Toxicity and residues of the agrochemicals in farm production are the main problems facing mankind today. Nowadays consumers all over the world are concerned about the presence of toxic residues of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the food items including cereals, pulses, oilseeds, vegetables, fruits, milk and milk products etc.
There is also growing concern for safe and healthy food by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other such agencies. Application of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and synthetic substances over a long period resulted in poor soil fertility, human and animal health hazards, disturbed ecosystem- all leading to decrease productivity and reduced profitability. Use of harmful chemicals and artificial treatments in crop production have changed the soil structure, texture and biological health leading to problems like salinity and alkalinity. The fertility and quality of soil have deteriorated over a period of time due to blind use of agro-inputs. Pesticides and nitrates from chemical fertilizers are being leached down in groundwater in many agricultural regions, particularly wetland rice growing areas of West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and North-east states. High concentration of nitrates in drinking water affects human health, particularly in infants and caused the blue baby syndrome in these areas. The most urgent concern is to make radical adjustments in such faulty agricultural practices so as to ensure minimal damage to human health and the environment with any reduction in crop productivity.
Organic farming appears to be a viable alternative which can solve most of the problems arising due to traditional input intensive cultivation. The past few decades have shown the importance of organic farming in taking care of the environment. It can protect the ecosystem which sustains life, water and soil which offer nourishment. It exhausts less energy and offers greater benefits to both the environment and human health. Simultaneously, trends of rising consumer demand for organically produced food items are becoming popular worldwide as well as sustainability in the production of crops is to be concerned with agricultural development. “Organic farming is a system of farming which largely avoids the use of toxic chemicals such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides and synthetic chemical and use of natural resources such as organic manures, minerals, crop residues and bio-fertilizers to maintain the environment clean, ecological balance and to provide stability to the production level without polluting soil, water and air”. The basic principles of organic farming are that the natural inputs are to be applied and synthetic inputs are prohibited. The organic farming system relies on the application of organic manures, green manures, bio-fertilizers, green leaf manuring, crop rotation, growing trap crops, biological control of insect-pest, herbal pesticides and organic plant growth substances etc, and strive for sustainability and biodiversity. Hence, there is a great need for organic cultivation of important cereals, pulses, oilseed, vegetables and fruit crops.
It is well-versed fact that well-balanced soil grows strong and healthy crops that are nutritious and taste great. The soil is the foundation of the food chain. Organic farming lays thrust on the protection of soil too. The presence of a sufficient quantity of organic carbon and efficient microorganisms in the soil is essential for its fertility and good quality and also for the healthy growth of crop plant. The productivity of organic farming may be less in initial years but the yield increases progressively under organic farming equating the yields under inorganic farming by the sixth year. Furthermore, organic produce contains more vitamins, minerals, enzymes, trace elements and even cancer-fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown food. Nowadays organic farming in agriculture is becoming increasingly due to its environmental and economic benefits over conventional farming. Consumer’s demand for organically produced food product and society’s demand for more sustainable development which provide new opportunities for farming and business in many countries.
Why is organic farming necessary?
The intensification of agricultural production has led to widespread use of concentrated fertilizers and pesticides resulted in manifold increases in the productivity of crops. However, the ill effects of these agrochemicals are clearly visible on soil health, soil microbes, and the quality of groundwater, food, fodder, and food materials. Thus organic farming is certainly becoming necessary for the following reasons:-
- It is a sustainable and eco-friendly technology.
- It improves the quality and nutritive value of the farm produce.
- Encourage sustainable livelihood of the producers as well as the safeguard of the consumer’s health.
- It improves the physical, chemical and biological health of the soil.
- Enhances and sustain biological diversity within the system.
- Promote healthy use of natural resources and minimize all forms of pollution.
- It reduces the debts of the farmers to purchase costly unsustainable inputs.
- Emission of greenhouse gas (nitrous oxide) from fertilizers on soil damages the ozone layer.
The scope of organic farming
Consumers in many countries willingly pay a premium price for organically farmed fruits, vegetables and other food products.
The government launched a scheme involving an investment of Rs. 363 crore to promote organic farming across the country. As told these projects would cover 53 products, including spices and horticulture crops. Organic products would not find mass consumption in India, but the world offers a higher return to the farmers as it has good export potential. Organic products enjoy 25-30 per cent premium over non-organic products in the international market. The commodities produced under organic farming, such as vegetables, fruits and flowers have much better lustre and fetch better prices in the market. Coffee farmers in Mexico by avoiding pesticides and chemical fertilizers can sell their beans for 25-30 per cent higher price than non-organic beans. In India also, particularly in metropolitan cities, organic products are available in the market and the farmers are getting a much higher price for their produce. Currently, India has 1.7 million hectares under certified organic farming, while export markets in the United States and Europe bring in heavy premiums. Some organic products are sold at a 100 per cent premium with rising organic production in medicinal plants, coffee, tea, spices, vegetables and cotton. This technology is becoming popular among the farming community as its input cost is lower but the return it fetches is higher. The time had come to popularize the slogan ‘no pesticide, no suicide” for giving better value to farmers for their produce. Export of organic farm products may certainly increase the foreign exchange in a big way. There should be many certifying agencies in the country for export purposes in the entire value chain of organic products so as to bring more beneficiaries under the organic food.
Demand for the organic product in the International market is expected to go up. In view of the growing demand for the organically produced food items worldwide, the natural advantages in this regard need to be fully exploited. Farmers are also increasingly looking at organic farming to save costs of cultivation and preserve soil fertility. In order to help the farmers obtain the required certification for organically produced items, awareness has to be generated through training and distribution of information literature. Organic products need to be certified by the accredited certifying agency so that farmers do not face a hurdle in the export market. Organic farming will also help us to avoid the dumping off of thousands of tonnes of pesticides on the soil every year and give us chemical-free food and eco-friendly environment for better living.
Article by Prerna Singh