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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Organic farming and green revolution – conversion to organic is need-of-the-day:



Organic farming and green revolution – conversion to organic is need-of-the-day:

In many of the developing nation, because of tremendous benefits on environmental, social and health front, organic agriculture seems to be emerging as an alternative to ‘green revolution technology’. This is evident from the recent trend among an increasing number of farmers in developing nations voluntarily switch over to organic agriculture from the 'hybrid seeds-agrochemicals and irrigation' based conventional farming technologies.

A. The reason of this switch over may be of three fold –

(a) Farmers who adopted organic agriculture because of their general environmental, ideological or philosophical underpinning. This category of agriculturists' reasons to go organic were certainly not financial incentives.

(b) Farmers who wanted predominantly to tap the lucrative export markets for organic products, particularly in the developed countries.

(c) The third category of organic farmers are also emerging specially in the green revolution areas, are the ones who are switching over to organic management techniques out of compulsions rather than by choice. In these areas the land & water deterioration is maximum (may be beyond repair), because of prolonged use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the yield has affected considerably – so the earnings.

B. In fact a switch-over to organic farming can go a long way in improving the economic well-being of these impoverished cultivators if they can take advantage of the rapidly growing global markets for organic products which offer handsome premiums. The criteria of such conversion process would be:

(i) Change in attitude of farmers - First, the conversion process demands a significant change in the attitude of the farmer. This is a crucial step because the approach to farming problems in an organic system is essentially different from its conventional counterpart. While the latter handles a farming problem in a piecemeal manner with a linear 'input-output' approach, the organic farming relies on a holistic view in order to work with and alongside natural processes.

(ii) Second, the conversion process necessitates major changes at the farm level, particularly within the soil. A healthy and fertile soil is the foundation of any organic agricultural system. The focus of the management under this approach is on maintenance and improvement of the overall health of the individual farm's soil-microbe-plant-animal system. This contrasts sharply with agro-chemical based conventional farming systems that leave devastating impacts on soil life and soil biological activities, e.g., elimination of natural enemies, pest resurgence, genetic resistance to pesticides, destruction of natural control mechanisms, and so on.

(iii) Conversion period is the intermediate phase when attempts are being made to rebuild the soil ecosystems that have been destroyed by the conventional agriculture over the years, to make it suitable for organic management. During this phase of soil rebuilding the converting farmer takes recourse to several organic management techniques, such as, planting of legumes and green manures, use of crop residues, application of animal manures, composts and other organic wastes, carbon-based organic fertilizers etc. These techniques are aimed at creating an optimal soil condition for an enhanced biological activity in the soil so that plants get fed through the soil ecosystem and not through synthetic fertilizers added to the soil.

The process of soil rebuilding invariably demands some time. In fact, these time-consuming changes at the soil level are among the prime reasons for requiring an interim period for conversion prior to the certification as an organic unit. The conversion period may turn out to be a difficult phase for the farmer owing to several direct and indirect costs involved in the whole process of conversion.

C. The mechanism of organic marketing is quite different from that of regular marketing of the products produce by conventional farming. Organic markets are still a niche segment in which specific buyers are targeted. Such marketing requires different skills and may call for additional costs in the initial stages. Furthermore, as required in any marketing job, reliable market information - which is very often difficult to obtain. The process of conversion may also be hindered due to other transaction costs as well, such as

(i) Lack of access to relevant knowledge and information;

(ii) Dearth of training facilities and the non-existence of an adequate extension system;

(iii) Enormous amount of mandatory documentation involved in the process of inspection and certification, which is too cumbersome to maintain for those small farmers, who are illiterate;

(iv) Difficulties in obtaining reliable information on domestic and international market;

(v) Lack of demand in the domestic markets;

(vi) Constraints on access to international markets;

(vii) Institutional barriers, such as, scarcity of professional institutions capable of assisting the farmers throughout production, post-production and marketing processes;

(viii) Inadequate availability of different organic inputs, such as organic seeds, bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides etc.

D. In fact, organic agriculture does not require huge investments in irrigation, energy and external inputs. Rather, it demands substantial investments in capacity building through research, training and extension. Appropriate networks should also be created in the country for dissemination of information among the farmers about international as well as local markets for organic produce. Apart, a well-thought-out subsidy and other support schemes from govt. are essential, especially, for farmers of developing nations to make conversion to organic agriculture easier and cheaper, as has been done in some of the developed nations earlier.

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