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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Preparing for the future by reaching back into the past

Here is an interesting story of a farmer’s decision to utilize the ancestor of an indigenous strain of wheat that was used in Malwa before the Green Revolution. The impetus for the change? — the fact that the newer variety of grain actually demanded more water than the older one.

Time was when Malwa, a region spanning central India, grew wheat that required no irrigation. What it required instead was careful nurturing of the soil to retain its moisture. That was then. Soil preparation began months in advance; chemical fertilizers were unknown and green mulch was the principal soil nutrient.

Now, however, most farmers crops require five to seven rounds of water plus costly chemical fertilizers. One farmer, recognizing the unsustainable nature of farming wheat in this way, chose to instead turn back the clock and utilize those trade secrets of prior generations.

Soji Ram sowed Amrita wheat in the beginning of rabi season last year; it is a contemporary version of the indigenous Malwi strand, over 0.3-hectare (ha) last rabi season. Amrita has been developed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (icar) at its Indore wheat research station. Amrita does not need much soil preparation; what it needs is only two rounds of irrigation.

Undeterred by naysayers, Ram’s crop production actually bested his fellow farmers’ including his own siblings’ harvests. You can read the entire article here.