Examining Organic Farming in India

In a series of articles on Slate.com, Mira Kamdar (of the World Policy Institute and author of Planet India) discusses the challenges and outlook for organic farming in India based on her visit to Punjab farms.  After an introduction to her visit and the history of the Green Revolution, Ms Kamdar delves into the reality of the matter, derived from the insights of farmers and academics.

In “The Organic Farmer,” Ms Kamdar focuses on why organic farming is beneficial, yet difficult. The involved labor itself presents employment opportunities, but government policies discourage the growth of organic farming:

Abundant cheap labor is one of the potential advantages India can bring to expanding organic agriculture. Picking off pests by hand, harvesting inter-cropped fields with a mix of plants ready at different times, eliminating weeds by frequent hoeing between tight rows, preparing soil with organic fertilizers, deploying micro-irrigation lines positioned to release water at the roots of each plant-these are all labor-intensive tasks.

But organic farming in India faces significant disincentives. Most government policies favor industrial agriculture, with heavy subsidies for India’s chemical-fertilizer and pesticide industries. The focus, understandable in a developing country, is on maximizing yields and boosting exports. The mindset of the Green Revolution is well-entrenched, despite the widely acknowledged social and environmental damage those practices have wrought and the knowledge that they are simply not sustainable.

According to a farmer in her article, seventy percent of Indian farmers are organic producers, since chemical farming is expensive. And although there is a huge export market, the fact that they aren’t certified (the articles point out that it takes three years to receive certification – a lengthy period for farmers) means that they are missing out on lucrative opportunities for profit. Continue reading

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Evening Edition

Sunday evening headlines:

  • India is heading toward a food shortage crisis, with stagnating farm output, rising food prices, and import difficulties.
  • The University Grants Commission is focusing on improving enrollment and quality of higher education. Currently, the Gross Enrollment Rate is only 10 percent in India, and by 2012, the target is to reach 15 percent.
  • The Planning Commission will redefine what it means to be “poor,” and new standards will automatically list all Scheduled Castes/Schedule Tribes as below the poverty line. The panel will also discuss how to account for the “creamy layer” within the SC/ST communities.