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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Organic farming is essential to upgrade the general environmental condition:

Organic farming is essential to upgrade the general environmental condition:

In the rapid pace of development we have inflicted serious damage to the natural resources, agriculture etc., and consequently we are now faced with shortage of healthy crop, clean water, and clean air – essential to keep our environment healthy for our good living. Now the serious questions have arisen towards safeguarding the environment and providing quality of natural resources for sustainability. As a result more and more emphasis is being given towards returning to nature and adoption of organic agriculture and farming.

A. Organic farming is a form of agriculture which excludes the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms. In general, process of organic farming relies on crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and controlling pests. Organic farming is often contrasted with conventional chemical fertilizer farming.

B. In both developed and developing countries, several forms of organic farming are being successfully practiced in diverse climate, particularly in rain-fed, tribal, mountains and hilly areas. Much of the forest produce of economic importance like herbs, medicinal plants, etc., by default come under this category. Among all farming systems, organic farming is gaining wide attention worldwide. Farmers, entrepreneurs, policy makers and agricultural scientists have started taking interest in organic farming. The benefits organic farming are many - for varied reasons such as, it minimizes the dependence on chemical inputs (fertilizers; pesticides; herbicides and other agro-chemicals) thus it safeguards / improves quality of resources, and environment; for developing countries it is labour intensive and provides an opportunity to increase rural employment and achieve long term improvements in the quality of resource base. Organic production systems are based on specific standards precisely formulated for food production and aim at achieving agro ecosystems, which are socially and ecologically sustainable.

C. There is a lot of debate between the proponents of organic farming and a section of the community who questioned the scientific validity and feasibility of organic farming. The most often debated issues on organic agriculture are: (i) Can organic farming produce enough food for everybody? (ii) Is it possible to meet the nutrient requirements of crops entirely from organic sources? (iii) Are there any significant environmental benefits of organic farming? (iv) Is the food produced by organic farming superior in quality? (v) Is organic agriculture economically feasible? (vi) Is it possible to manage pests and diseases in organic farming?

D. Organic agricultural methods are internationally regulated and legally enforced by many nations. The goal of organic farming is defined as

(a) Economics - The economics of organic farming studies the process and effects of organic farming on human society, specifically in terms of yields, benefits, costs, and employment effects. Currently studies suggest that converted organic farms have lower yields than their conventional counterparts in developed countries but equal or greater yields in developing countries. While organic farms have lower yields, organic methods require no synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. The decreased cost on these inputs, along with the premiums which consumers pay for organic produce, creates comparable profits for organic farmers. Some of the governments in developed countries subsidize organic farming, in large part because of increased biodiversity, reduced soil erosion, and reduced water contamination by pesticides and nutrients. Organic farming is highly labor and knowledge-intensive whereas conventional farming is capital-intensive, requiring more energy and manufactured inputs. Organic farming generally produces somewhat lower yields than conventional farming, but sustains better yields during drought years.

(b) Productivity and Profitability – The yield in organic farms is on average 10-15% less than conventional farms, but the lower yields are balanced by lower input costs such as fertilizer, pesticides etc., and hence higher profit margins. Crop management practices such as crop rotations, green manuring, crops residue recycling, water management, efficient plant types etc., are adopted through a combination of structural and tactical management options to ensure farm produce of sufficient quantity and quality for livestock and human consumption. Normally, a crop rotation involving a leguminous crop is preferred over others. Organic farmer preferably grow locally adopted varieties having some quality traits for the premium markets.

Some studies have shown that, yields in developing world could "double or triple" with organic methods, mainly because the developing world lacks access to cheap pesticides and fertilizer. The issue of profitability is more complex than a summary of yield (production per land area). Social benefits in developing world are more as organic methods require more labor, providing rural jobs.

(c) Externalities - Agriculture in general imposes external costs upon society through pesticides, nutrient runoff, excessive water usage, and assorted other problems. As organic methods minimize some of these factors, organic farming is believed to impose fewer external costs upon society.

(d) Health Risks - Organic farms use few synthetic pesticides although they are allowed to use some natural ones. On the other hand, conventional farming uses large quantities of pesticides through techniques such as crop dusting (aerial application of pesticides). Studies have shown that people who work with pesticides have an increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

(e) Children's health – People’s concerned about the potential neurological health risks posed to children by trace pesticide residues in food can not be ruled out, although more number of medical studies are required.

(f) Pesticide runoff - Pesticide runoff to rivers, water steam and other water bodies is one of the most significant effects of pesticide use. The environmental risk posed by pesticide water contamination from farms has been documented in many countries. The risk levels for protection of drinking water, fish, algae and crustaceans remain quite high because of use of pesticides in farming.

(g) Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) - A key characteristic of organic farming are rejection of genetically engineered products, including plants and animals. Although GMOs are excluded from use in organic farming, there is concern that the pollen from genetically modified crops is increasingly contaminating organic and heirloom genetics making it difficult, to keep these genetics from entering the organic food supply. For achieving successful results in organic farming, it is important to look into this aspect carefully.

(h) Food quality - In the case of milk and meat, the fatty acid profile organic products are often better from nutritional point of view. As regards carbohydrates and minerals, organic products are no different from conventional products. As regards undesirable substances such as nitrate and pesticide residues, organic products have a clear advantage.

(i) Soil conservation - Organic farming systems rely on the management of soil organic matter to enhance the chemical, biological and physical properties of the soil. One of the basic principles of soil fertility management in organic systems is that plant nutrition depends on ‘biologically-derived nutrients’ instead of using readily soluble forms of nutrients; less available forms of nutrients such as those in bulky organic materials are used. This requires release of nutrients to the plant via the activity of soil microbes and soil animals. Improved soil biological activity is also known to play a key role in suppressing weeds, pests and diseases. Animal dung, crop residues, green manure, bio-fertilizers and bio-solids from agro-industries and food processing wastes are some of the potential sources of nutrients of organic farming. Moreover, repeated use of herbicides (to kill weeds) may disturb the soil microorganisms that contribute to the decomposition of the plant residues that help rebuild the soil organic matter content. It can also encourage the build-up of resistances in weeds. Latest studies have found that organic farming is better at building up the soil.

(j) Nutrient Leaching - Excess nutrients in lakes, rivers, and groundwater can cause algal blooms, and subsequent dead zones. In addition, nitrates are harmful to aquatic organisms. The main contributor to this pollution is nitrate fertilizers whose use is increasing day by day. Studies have found that that organically fertilizing field significantly reduces harmful nitrate leaching over conventionally fertilized field.

E. Thus, organic farming and organic agriculture is a holistic food production management system, which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It emphasizes the use of management practices in preference to the use of off-farm inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems. This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfil any specific function within the system.

The market for organic products is growing, not only in Europe and North America but also in many other countries. The demand for organic food is steadily increasing both in developed and developing countries, with annual average growth rate of 20-25%.

The impact of organic agriculture on natural resources favours interactions within the agro-ecosystem those are vital for both agricultural production and nature conservation. Ecological services derived include soil forming and conditioning, soil stabilization through buffering and structural improvement, waste recycling, carbon sequestration, nutrient cycling, predation, pollination and habitats. The environmental costs of conventional agriculture are substantial, and the evidence for significant environmental amelioration via conversion to organic agriculture is over-whelming.

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