Agriculture sector contributes a major portion in gross production of India. In spite of this, the adverse impact of agriculture based on chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides is visible in the degradation of soil fertility, quality of food, taste of food and so on. In general our food has become a commodity and is no longer a vibrant, live source of nutrients and energy that is essential for physical and mental well being. Organic agriculture may prove to be a boon to curb these adverse effects.
Organic farming system in India is not new and is being followed from ancient time. Organic farming methods obey the universal ‘Law of Return’, which is that whatever is taken out of the soil is put back in equal measure. Every time weeds are removed, products are harvested, and pruning is done, the nutrients that those plants mined from the earth are removed. To maintain soil health and balance, to obey the Law of Return, and to ensure that there are nutrients available for the new crops/plants to absorb, those nutrients need to be returned to the soil.
The aim of organic farming is to practice stewardship, maintain a healthy environment and eco-system, whilst producing food that is full of nutrients and gives vibrant health to the animals and humans that consume it.
The key characteristics of organic farming includes:
The International Federation for Organic Agriculture Movement’s (IFOAM) definition of Organic agriculture is based on 4 principles. Each principle is articulated through a statement followed by an explanation. The principles are to be used as a whole. They are composed as ethical principles to inspire action.
1. Principle of health
Organic Agriculture should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible. This principle points out that the health of individuals and communities cannot be separated from the health of ecosystems - healthy soils produce healthy crops that foster the health of animals and people.
Health is the wholeness and integrity of living systems. It is not simply the absence of illness, but the maintenance of physical, mental, social and ecological well-being. Immunity, resilience and regeneration are key characteristics of health. The role of organic agriculture, whether in farming, processing, distribution, or consumption, is to sustain and enhance the health of ecosystems and organisms from the smallest in the soil to human beings. In particular, organic agriculture is intended to produce high quality, nutritious food that contributes to preventive health care and well-being. In view of this it should avoid the use of fertilizers, pesticides, animal drugs and food additives that may have adverse health effects.
2. Principle of ecology
Organic Agriculture should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them. This principle roots organic agriculture within living ecological systems. It states that production is to be based on ecological processes, and recycling. Nourishment and well-being are achieved through the ecology of the specific production environment. For example, in the case of crops this is the living soil; for animals it is the farm ecosystem; for fish and marine organisms, the aquatic environment. Organic farming, pastoral and wild harvest systems should fit the cycles and ecological balances in nature. These cycles are universal but their operation is site-specific.
Organic management must be adapted to local conditions, ecology, culture and scale. Inputs should be reduced by reuse, recycling and efficient management of materials and energy in order to maintain and improve environmental quality and conserve resources. Organic agriculture should attain ecological balance through the design of farming systems, establishment of habitats and maintenance of genetic and agricultural diversity. Those who produce, process, trade, or consume organic products should protect and benefit the common environment including landscapes, climate, habitats, biodiversity, air and water.
3. Principle of fairness
Organic Agriculture should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities. Fairness is characterized by equity, respect, justice and stewardship of the shared world, both among people and in their relations to other living beings. This principle emphasizes that those involved in organic agriculture should conduct human relationships in a manner that ensures fairness at all levels and to all parties - farmers, workers, processors, distributors, traders and consumers. Organic agriculture should provide everyone involved with a good quality of life, and contribute to food sovereignty and reduction of poverty. It aims to produce a sufficient supply of good quality food and other products.
This principle insists that animals should be provided with the conditions and opportunities of life that accord with their physiology, natural behaviour and well being. Natural and environmental resources that are used for production and consumption should be managed in a way that is socially and ecologically just and should be held in trust for future generations. Fairness requires systems of production, distribution and trade that are open and equitable and account for real environmental and social costs.
4. Principle of care
Organic Agriculture should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment. Organic agriculture is a living and dynamic system that responds to internal and external demands and conditions. Practitioners of organic agriculture can enhance efficiency and increase productivity, but this should not be at the risk of jeopardizing health and well-being. Consequently, new technologies need to be assessed and existing methods reviewed. Given the incomplete understanding of ecosystems and agriculture, care must be taken.
This principle states that precaution and responsibility are the key concerns in management, development and technology choices in organic agriculture. Science is necessary to ensure that organic agriculture is healthy, safe and ecologically sound. However, scientific knowledge alone is not sufficient. Practical experience, accumulated wisdom and traditional and indigenous knowledge offer valid solutions, tested by time. Organic agriculture should prevent significant risks by adopting appropriate technologies and rejecting unpredictable ones, such as genetic engineering. Decisions should reflect the values and needs of all who might be affected, through transparent and participatory processes.
Organic farming is very much native to this land. Whosoever tries to write a history of organic farming will have to refer India and China. The farmers of these two countries are farmers of 40 centuries and it is organic farming that sustained them.
The buzz around organic food in INDIA is heating up, with an increasing number of farmers turning to growing food without chemicals or pesticides. Coupled with a grass root social movements by young and old alike to demand organic food, and a proactive base making access to organics possible, it seems that we are only in the beginning of India’s move towards a modern organic marketplace.
A recent TechSci report forecasts that India’s organic food market is set to grow by 25% over the next 4 years, with a Yes Bank report stating that India’s organic food sector will increase from a current estimate of Euro 370 million to Euro 10 billion by 2025. Essentially, from the start, it has been fringe actors and social movements that have been driving for food to be grown naturally, while government policy was still pushing for industrialised farming post-independence. The progress that has been made since that time has been taken forward primarily by civil society organisations, entrepreneurs, and individuals. Through independent businesses, farmers’ markets, informal education, and infrastructure building, Indian citizens have been supplying and meeting the demands of the domestic organic market without any strong, substantial and holistic national certification or policies towards the sector. The Indian government has taken steps recently in bringing organic farming closer to policy with the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP).
This is a far-sighted and far-reaching approach which proposes that organic farming be taught in all educational institutions, throughout relevant government departments, and that providing education and raising awareness is a priority.