Monday, 2 January 2017

Organic Farming and Environment

In conventional agriculture , we use  chemical fertilizers  and pesticides  to improve productivity. But it has its   adverse impacts on environment , quality of food and health of consumers. Organic agriculture, on the other hand ,  has environmental sustainability at its core , in addition to concerns for  healthy soil , healthy food and  healthy people. In organic agriculture , farmers use  compost and manure  and use  non-synthetic pesticides  ,often only when  other pest control measures fail.          Practices  such as  crop rotations , inter-cropping , organic fertilizers  and pesticides, minimum tillage , returning crop residues to the soil  ,the use of cover crops and the greater  integration of  nitrogen –fixing legumes   are central to organic  practices. These practices  improve soil formation, control soil erosion  and  encourage soil flaura and fauna  to grow  .Nutrient losses are reduced , helping to  maintain and enhance soil productivity.
                   Many doubts and questions have been raised from time to time  , whether organic farm products are really  more nutritious than the products of conventional agriculture  and also  whether  organic agriculture has really substantial benefits  for environment.
                      According to a study published in British Journal of Nutrition (BJN) in July , 2014, organic products contain  18 to 69 percent higher  concentration of antioxidants .This BJN study  had carried an  analysis of  343  peer-reviewed  publications, and was done by the   researchers from  the UK  with the help of  an  American  Charles Benbrook. The study also said that when a plant grows organically  without pesticides , its taste ,flavour , aroma  and mouth feeling  are enhanced as well. . The study also found  a contaminant cadmium  to be about 50% lower in organic  crops  than in conventional foods.
        Organic agriculture  contributes to mitigating  the green house gases effect and global warming through its ability to sequester carbon in the soil. The   management practices used by  organic agriculture  increase the return of carbon to the soil , raising the productivity and  and favouring  carbon storage. The more organic carbon is retained in the soil ,the lower the emissions  leading to climate change  the more the mitigation potential of  agriculture  against climate change .
                           A recent study reporting on  a meta-analysis  of 766  Scientific Papers  concluded that  organic farming  produces more biodiversity  than other farming systems. Practices like rotation of crops  reduces erosion of agro-biodiversity.Lack of pesticide use  attracts new species  including wild flora and fauna ( eg birds) and organisms beneficial to  the organic system  such as pollinators  and pest predators.  The use of GMOs (Genetically  Modified Organisms )  is not permitted during  any stage of organic food production , processing or handling .Organic agriculture is choosing to encourage natural biodiversity , in stead of GMOs.
                       In many areas , pollution of ground water  due to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides , is a major problem .Organic agricultural practices  greatly reduce the risk of  ground water pollution.
                              Certified organic products are those  which have been produced , stored , processed , handled and marketed  in accordance with  precise technical specifications or standards , and certified as “Organic”  by a Certification Body. The product is then afforded a label by the Certification body .The organic label  is a production process claim  as opposed to a product quality claim.   National governments can use international guidelines  to develop  national organic agriculture programmes .To  specify  national standards in India  and develop   regulations which are legally binding ,the Government of India  has implemented the  National Programme  for Organic Production (NPOP).It involves  the accreditation  programme  for Certification Bodies , standards for organic production , and promotion of organic farming.   National accreditation bodies  accredit certification agencies operating in the country and adhere to the International  Organization for  Standardization  basic standards for  accreditation  of certfiers(ISO65), in addition to their specific requirements. India has thirty accredited Certification agencies to facilitate the certification  to growers. The NPOP  standards for production and accreditation system have been  recognized by  European Commission and Switzerland  for unprocessed  plant products  as equivalent to their  country standards. With  these recognitions , Indian organic  products duly certified by  the accreditation certification bodies  of India are  accepted  by the importing countries.
                                       Organic food is more expensive than  conventional food. The reasons are  as follows:
1.Organic food supply is limited as compared to  demand.
2. Organic farming involves greater  labour input per unit of output.
3.  Economies of scale  are not  achieved.
4.  Post harvest handling of organic foods  has higher costs.
5.  Because of relatively small volumes , marketing and distribution chain for organic  products is  relatively inefficient. As a result , costs are higher.
6.  Low financial returns of  rotational periods (necessary to build soil fertility.)
7.  Higher standards required for animal welfare result in higher costs.
But organic farming has several benefits apart from its contribution to environment , biodiversity, soil quality, nutrition and health.
1.Avoidance of future medical expenses  due to avoidance of health risks to  farmers due to inappropriate handling of pesticides.( Malwa region in Punjab  was dubbed as the  Cancer  Belt of India  due to unusually high incidence of  cancer cases  linked to the  excessive use of pesticides by cotton farmers.)
2. Generation of additional farm employment.
3.. Organic farming supports animal health and welfare.
                                 Organic agriculture is still a small  part of the over-all agriculture.  In the world , nearly 43.1 million ha  land is being certified  as organic  in 170 countries, constituting 1% of  the total agricultural  land of the countries under study.The countries with the most  organic agricultural land are :
Australia: 17.2 million  ha.
Argentina: 3.2 million ha.
USA : 2.2 million  ha.
As in March , 2014 , India had brought  4.72  million ha area  under certification process  which includes  0.6 million ha of cultivated  agricultural land  and 4.12  million ha of wild harvest collection area  in forests.
               So far , 11 states  of India , namely Andhra Pradesh ,  Karnataka , Kerala, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh ,Tamil Nadu ,Himachal Pradesh , Sikkim,  Nagaland and Mizoram  have drafted the organic agricultural  promotion policies.Sikkim had taken up the task of  converting the entire state  into organic  by 2015 and has already brought  more than 65000 ha  area under organic  certification process.Sikkim has transformed into  an organic state  and set an example for the rest of India.
                  India exported  165,262 MT of organic products  belonging to 135 commodities  valuing about 1900 crore rupees.Domestic market is also growing at an annual growth rate of 15-25%.
                    Organic agriculture  has many environmental and health benefits.The movement for organic agriculture is slowly building up , and in near future is likely to take major leaps.  India will host the  19th Organic World Congress (OWC) from November 9 to November 13 , 2017 .This event will take place in  India Exposition Mart in Greater Noida.OWC is held every three years to  promote and celebrate  the turning of global agriculture  to organic farming methods and to measure progress.
(This article was published in Tree Take magazine, Lucknow ,India in its December 15,2016 issue).