Scaremongering over dip in productivity

Dr. A.K. Yadav, President, International Competence Centre on Organic Agriculture (ICCOA) and former Director, NCOF (Ministry of Agriculture) has done extensive work in the area of organic agriculture in the last decade. Krishi Jagran interacted with him on current issues relating to organic farming.

There is a myth about organic farming-whether it is feasible in the Indian context ? 
There are several myths prevalent on the subject of organic farming in India.  The first of these is that there can be a total switchover to organic farming in the country.  Organic farming is an important factor in quality produce, but it is just not possible to turn the country 100% organic.  There is, however, no debate on the subject that the quantum  of organic produce needs to be stepped up. 

The second myth relating to organic farming is that it leads to a considerable reduction in productivity.  Results from several trials and studies, including one initiated by IARI, reveal that  production stemming from organic farming is just about 5% below the level obtained from conventional farming, with the differences varying from crop to crop.  The yield from organic grain crops is however, low compared to vegetable crops.

 In the initial years of any organic farming venture, the yield is reduced.  First, there is the requirement to improve the quality of the soil with adequate organic content, micro-organisms etc.  When we come to a stage, where, optimum soil quality can be ensured, then possibly the yields from organic farming will match those from conventional farming. Another widespread misconception about organic farming is that those opting for it are reverting to an earlier era of farming.  This is wrong, as today's organic farming is as scientific as conventional farming, aided as  it is by the latest technologies. 

The Government has a vital role to play in the promotion of organic farming.  It has spent considerable  sums  on promoting chemical farming and still continues to subsidies fertilizers on a massive scale.  Now, if only 10% the sum involved in this was spent an organic farming, then the problems faced by it could all be ironed out. 

Does 'Organic' means no use of chemical ? 

It is true that organic farming implies no use of synthetic inputs directly or indirectly in other words, the practice has to be totally free from chemicals right from sowing to the processing of the produce.  Exceptionally, there can be a minuscule use  of chemicals, but this only to handle some deficiency in the soil and just to improve its organic content. Organic farming can be started on a modest scale initially, but after two to three years farmers can opt for it totally.  Farmers can utilize the total biomass produced from the land and convert it to compost or vermicompost, thereby giving a boost to the whole organic cycle. 

It has been observed by scientists that only 30% NPK is utilized by plants from soil in the case of chemical fertilizers.  If farmers add organic manure to the soil, then the plant use efficiency of NPK can be stepped up to 60%.  To this end, green manure serves as good a function as cattle manure.  There exist many sources for manure other than cow dung.  The farmers first priority  should be to return biomass to the soil. 

What are the new technologies in the area of organic farming ? 

Technologies relating to organic farming cover three areas:  (i)  seeds  (ii)  nutrient management and (iii) plant protection.  In the case of selection of seeds for Organic farming, GM varieties should be skipped.  Any seed variety which gives good yields can be used whether it is grown conventionally or organically.  Hybrid seeds can also be grown but there should be no use of chemicals in seed treatment before sowing. 

As far as organic nutrient management is concerned, at one time there was no option other than using the usual manure.  But now several technologies have been developed to fortify manure.  If, for example, a deficiency of microelements is recognized, then these are added to the manure.  Farmers can also resort to foliar spray with cow urine, 'Panchgavya', 'Jeevamrut' etc.  Foliar spray comes in very handy for top dressing.  Several plants also find special use in making  organic fertilizers, like soyabean khali and neem khali. 

Now to plant protection technology.  In conventional farming, suggests science if four types of crops are grown, then the chances of disease spreading are reduced considerably.  In the same way, multiple crops can be resorted to in organic farming.  Several scientists have been working over the past 20 years on replacement of toxic chemicals.  They have come up with several useful extracts from plants which have anti-insect qualities.  In organic farming, the aim also is not to kill useful insects, because they play a beneficial role in pollination. So several biological methods which result in useful botanical extracts help greatly in pest management.  This line of action needs to pursued further and persisted with.

How about certification ? Is the system satisfactory ? 

Apeda provides certification for organic produce and without this certification there can be no exports. In addition, to further organic certification, a third party system was launched in 2000 and this was followed by a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) in 2011.  PGS will take time to implement, but it is widely accepted and people are willing to opt for it. 

The third party certification procedure is good, but in this system there is no commitment from the farmer's side as he does not come through as the  'owner' of the product.  Moreover, the certification cost for a farmer is also very high.  If farmers resort to certification in a group then there is a requirement for a fourth agency to maintain all the documents.  In this instance, there are four elements, viz: consumer, grower, ICS (Internal Control System) and third party agency. As two institutional hierarchies come in to play here, so the farmer is not willing to take this route and opts to do things himself.  So commitment from the farmer's side is not so good and sometimes even after organic certification, test results prove the presence of chemical residue, leading to rejection of export consignments.  

As the present third party certification  procedure is unsatisfactory, a way should be found whereby costs are reduced for farmers so that better commitment is ensured on their part.  To solve this problem to an extent, the system of PGS certification was introduced.  In this system, there is no external agency to handle matters and farmers themselves make their own rules for farming and certification, with a group leader signing on behalf of the collective.  The National Centre of Organic Farming (NCOF) registers and certifies these groups for Institutional support.  Under PGS, there is a binding condition on farmers to practice only organic farming.

What are your recommendation for farmers going organic ? 

Farmers who are willing to go in for organic farming cannot do so instantly and completely.  First, they  need to check out their manure resources and build up the infrastructure for this.  Only then can they gradually move from conventional to organic farming.  After the resort to four years of organic farming, any crop can be grown.  The only thing that has to be kept in mind is that there should not be an opting for a select single crop. Instead, a multiple cropping system should be the rule.  In the Initial years, 30% of the crop should constitute legumes, because these help crops to biologically fix nitrogen in the soil.

  • Introduction of Participatory Guarantee System under the Government’s institutional mechanism is likely to give a further push to the organic movement and farmers will be able to access the market with an affordable guarantee system.
  • Interventions by Central and State agencies have provided a much needed push and strengthened the confidence and sentiment of growers and market promoters.
  • Research Institutions have also made significant strides and with multi-location and multi-dimensional experiments have proved that organic agriculture can also yield the comparable yields with no threat to food security of the Nation.
  • Besides area expansion and market development, country has also witnessed significant progress in development of organic input production industry, launching of various innovative inputs, rise in utilization of organic manures, improvement in manure qualities through mineral fortifications and introduction of regulatory framework for ensuring quality of commercialized organic inputs.

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