It is very encouraging to see an upsurge of interest among various classes of consumers about organically grown food products. However, lest this interest evaporates soon, it might be useful to understand little more deeply the way organic agriculture movement has emerged in different parts of the world and how we can strengthen it in our country.
There are a large number of farmers in dry or extremely humid region, mountains, forests and other marginal regions who are doing organic farming more or less compulsively. That means, given a choice, many of them might start using chemical inputs. But, because of lack of irrigation or financial resources or technology suitable for their conditions, they continue to grow organic. They were also called laggards of Green Revolution. The tragedy is that they will also become the laggard of the organic movement if the portrayal in a programme on television recently dominates the understanding of the masses.
The gentlemen farmers who have taken up organic farming are most welcome and their contribution has to be encouraged. But their proportion is miniscule. The real large numbers come from the regions where local varieties of crops are grown still in a heterogeneous ecological environment.
How can we sustain agro-biodiversity and incentivise majority of organic producers, while in the process helping ourselves through better health and quality of life?
There should be a separate market yard in every major city, besides market outlets, for organic producers. It will help consumers and also producers. The organic food and vegetables are tastier not only for humans but also for pests and diseases. Storing them for longer duration is a real challenge. The common facilities for storage have also to be created.
As for pest management, Astad Pastakia, an IIMA student, had done a doctoral thesis in 1996 on sustainable pest management. This was based on the non-chemical pest control innovations by farmers scouted by Honey Bee Network in the previous decade. Even today, the larger database on the subject anywhere in the world is available at honeybee.org. We are interacting with Gujarat’s agriculture department to identify ways to diffuse low-cost, extremely affordable and sustainable solutions to the farmers and livestock keepers.
In many countries, ‘consumer supported agriculture’ (CSA) is a way of life. Consumers offer to contribute their labour at the fields of organic farmers and thus help in reducing the costs and get to experience the whole process. The farmers, in turn, gain the confidence of the consumers and also reduce their costs. Both sides benefit in the process.
Like recent years, this year too we will organize Sattvik at IIMA in the third week of December. The traditional food festival is perhaps the largest of its kind in the country where around 50,000 people come and savour traditional recipes and organic products.
But once a year is not enough. Even here, consumers can play a role in random inspection visits to the claimed organic farms. This is another universal practice through which consumers and other knowledgeable people are trained to inspect voluntarily different farms at least two-three times during the season. Unless and until we develop robust mechanisms of inspection, record keeping and periodic testing, the organic agriculture movement will remain confined to a few inspired souls.
The farmers in the disadvantaged regions may need procurement guarantees from consumer associations. We sometimes forget that never before in the history of human civilisation, so much of agro-biodiversity and associated community knowledge was lost as is happening currently.
Sadbhav – SRISTI Sanshodhan, a natural product lab at SRISTI (), has pooled many farmers’ innovations to develop herbal growth promoters, veterinary medicine and food products such as nine-grain khakharas and biscuits made of buck wheat.
One needs to develop a whole value chain around organic agriculture to ensure that food based on such products is available in hospitals, schools and course to consumers at their homes.
India had a whole treatise on the subject, called Vriksha Ayurveda. Contemporary experiments by farmers and in a few cases by scientists have expanded our understanding much wider. There is a need now for invigorated support from consumers and policy-makers to take this movement forward. I hope the readers will get engaged.
Gupta is a professor at IIM Ahmedabad and founder of the Honey Bee Network.