NE leads in organic farming

Sikkim and Mizoram are leading the country in organic farming while Meghalaya is weaning out chemical fertilisers and pesticides and providing free bio-pesticides and bio-agents to farmers.

The two states – Sikkim and Mizoram – found special mention at the meeting of the parliamentary consultative committee of agriculture ministry, chaired by Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, in New Delhi where a threadbare discussion on organic farming took place.

Singh said the total organic production in the country was 1.24 million tonnes while the total area under organic farming was 0.723 million hectares under certification.

At present, organic farming is practised mainly in 12 states, of which two states of the Northeast – Sikkim and Mizoram – are likely to become fully organic in the next few years.

The Sikkim government had advocated the idea of making it an organic state in 2003. It was part of a larger concept of making the entire Northeast a wholly organic zone of India. Sikkim Organic Mission 2015 aims to convert 50,000 hectares of farmland by next year. In 2010-2011 and in 2011-2012, the target was 18,000 hectares each while in 2012-2013 it was 14,000 hectares.

The decision to go organic was based on the premise that farming in Sikkim was traditionally organic and it would benefit not only the 62,000 farming families of the state who own an average of 1.9 hectares of farmland, but also maintain the quality of environment of the state.

Mizoram’s agriculture department had introduced organic farming in 1996 and ran a trial at Lungmuat village. To promote organic farming vigorously, the Mizoram Assembly unanimously passed the Mizoram Organic Farming Bill in July 2004.

At today’s meeting, Singh assured the committee members that all necessary efforts would be made towards simplification of the certification process for organic farming, to encourage research on organic farming at Krishi Vigyan Kendras, agriculture universities and ICAR and proper utilisation of crop residue.

To mitigate the negative effects of chemicals and pesticides, the Meghalaya agriculture department has taken up alternative methods through the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Nutrient Management (INM). These are being popularised through an integrated plant health management system, which will produce food that are safer, nutritionally more acceptable and that adhere to the National Programme of Organic Production standards.

Under the IPM, the department promotes the use of bio-pesticides and bio-agents, which are safer for consumers and the eco-system. Under the INM, farmers are trained in the production of on-farm compost, vermi-compost and green manures and the use of bio-fertilisers to improve soil health.

Moreover, the government has substituted the subsidy sale of chemical fertilisers and pesticides by providing free distribution of bio-pesticides and bio-agents through various demonstration programmes to create awareness and acceptability among farmers.

To capitalise on the inherent advantages that organic farming brings, the state government has taken up a policy to introduce a safe system of organic production, certification and marketing.

Earlier this week, a two-day conclave under the Integrated Basin Development and Livelihood Programme on the theme, Promising an Organic Revolution for the Transformation of Meghalaya, was held at Ampati in South West Garo Hills.

It was organised by the Basin Development Unit, Ampati, in collaboration with Clover Organic Pvt Ltd, a Dehradun-based NGO, and C&C Mission Organic, a Tura-based NGO. It was aimed at creating awareness and training agro and other allied-based farmers of the region on organic farming. There were 180 participants, including farmers from 15 villages and several NGOs.

Chief minister Mukul Sangma, who attended the conclave, said after such trainings are completed, the farmers’ plot of lands, where synthetic fertilisers and pesticides have not been used, will be assessed, accredited and certified as organic farms after three years. He urged upon the people to compete to make the district the first one to be officially declared 100 per cent organic.

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A burgeoning organic market beckons to India’s rural farmers

Indian farmers have started to reap dividends from their budding interest in organic farming. It wasn’t long back, around seven years ago, when Indian farmers started to go organic.

In 2006-07, around 4.32 lakh ha reported organic produce — a large portion came from wild and non-agricultural land — which has now reached around 11 lakh ha, as per the recent report ‘The World of Organic Agriculture, 2013’ by FiBL and IFOAM (Research Institute of Organic Agriculture and International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements).

“The growth rate has reached around 20% per year, much higher than early expectations,” says Krishan Chandra, director, National Centre of Organic Farming. The government is promoting organic farming in a big way as a result of which India exported agri-organic products of total volume of 160276.95 MT and realization was around Rs.1155.81 crore in year 2012-13.

The current market for organic foods in India is pegged at Rs.2,500 crore, which according to ASSOCHAM, is expected to reach Rs.6,000 crore by 2015.

It’ll still leave us at 1% of the global market. Thus, a huge potential is seen in the nascent Indian organic sector.

“Apart from states like Sikkim or MP, we’re seeing a rising interest in Gujarat, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, UP and Bihar”, says Chandra.

India outnumbers every other country in terms of organic producers — with an estimated 5,47,591.

Organic products, which until now were mainly being exported, are now finding consumers in the domestic market.

“Even Tier II cities like Nagpur, Allahabad, Gorakhpur and Bhatinda show an increase in organic consumption,” says Sunil Kumar, AGM at Morarka Rural Research Foundation.

According to a survey of 1,000 consumers in ten cities done by Morarka Organic Foods, around 30% of Indian consumers preferred organic products and were even prepared to pay 10 to 20% more for them.

“Soil abused by chemical fertiliser excesses takes more time to produce comparable yields. Although, the cost of organic cultivation is much less, reducing cost incurred in purchasing costly inputs,” says Rohitashwa Ghakar, Project Head, International Competence Centre for Organic Agriculture.

* Regions reap their rewards

North East India
Growth: 30.92 lakh ha out of the net cultivated area of 43 lakh ha in the region have never seen the use of chemical fertilisers.

Almost 89% of farmland is categorised as organic in Mizoram, which passed an Organic Act in 2004. Whereas Meghalaya, a major strawberry producer, eyes a turnout of 500 MT from the current 250 MT a year.

Popular organic crops: Much of the area in the region is taken up by paddy, vegetables and fruits such as grapes.

The more prosperous farmers are into cultivation of medicinal plants, rose and anthurium, primarily for export.

“Mizoram has become the largest anthurium flower producer in India, owing to almost 98% of women anthurium growers,” said Samuel Rosanglura of Mizoram’s horticulture department.

Challenges: Most state governments promote vermi-compost and manure in the region since bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides are difficult to access. (By Rahul Karmakar)

North India
Growth: In UP, organic certification has gone up 36 fold in the last six years. The area under organic cultivation rose from 3,034 to 111,644 ha.

However, most of the organic farming  is under a corporate-farmer contract. In Haryana, with hardly any takers till 2008, organic crops today are produced in more than 10,000 ha.

However, Punajb farmers have shown little interest. Of the total 4046 lakh ha of land under cultivation, only a minuscule portion 2104 ha is under organic farming.

Popular organic crops: Nearly 40,000 farmers in UP are growing organic wheat, rice, pulses, maize, and numerous herbs like Tulsi, Ashwagandh, Aloe Vera.

Haryana grows mostly vegetables like tomato, beans, or fruits like summer-squash, melons and mangoes.

“Although I sell the produce in Delhi, most of it goes to retail chains”, says Kanwal Chauhan, a farmer in Sonepat.

Challenges: Punjab State Farmers’ Commission consultant Dr PS Rangi feels that organic farming cannot feed the entire country. “One can grow vegetables or some wheat for personal use, but it can’t be grown on a large scale.” (By Pankaj Jaiswal, Rajesh Moudgil and Gurpreet Nibber)

South India
Growth: In Kerala, at least 40 % of the farming is organic and the state is set to become the second fully organic state after Sikkim in 2016.

From 7,000 ha in 2007, the state has spread organic cultivation to 16,000 ha. In Andhra Pradesh another 11,500 ha would be added to the current 4273.54 ha this year.

In Karnataka, under the organic programmes of the state, an area of 1,18,676 ha has seen organic farming benefiting around one lakh farmers, said R Anuradha, agriculture department.

Popular organic crops: More than grains and pulses in Kerala organic farming is prevalent in cash crops, rice and vegetables.

In Andhra’s smaller towns and villages, people are slowly shifting to organically grown rice, ragi and other millets.

In Karnataka, crops like pepper, vanilla, coffee, nutmeg — which are not available in other parts of India — are a popular choice.

Challenges: In large tracts of the state’s tribal belt like Karnataka and AP, the farmers have engaged in slash/burn farming for generations and do not use any pesticide or fertilizer.

There have been no efforts to take this into account. (By Ramesh Babu, Ashok Das and Naveen Ammembala)

West India

Growth: Gujarat has seen substantial growth in organic farming. It currently utilises around 42,000 ha under organic farming.

Maharashtra has been a front runner in organic farming with around 6.5 lakh ha under it, a huge rise from 18,786 ha in 2005-06.

In Rajasthan, there has been a ten-fold increase. From around 22,000 ha in 2005-06, the state has taken a leap to 2,17,712 ha.

Popular organic crops: Gujarat grows organic wheat, pulses and fruits like mango, chikoo and papaya. While cotton, turmeric, ginger are some crops grown in Rajasthan.

In Maharashtra, cotton, cereals, fruits dominate the organic farming scene. The state has initiated  a pilot project to grow grapes that will produce organic wine.

Challenges: “Tribals who hardly use chemical fertilisers are left out of organic benefits,” says Kapil Shah of Jatan Trust that promotes organic farming. (By Mahesh Langa)

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Cultivable land continues to shrink

Cultivable land in India continues to shrink. It may not pose an immediate problem for the nation’s food security but its long-term effect could be disastrous with the country needing more and more foodgrains to support its growing population.

Latest data from the agriculture ministry shows that as many as 20 states reported decrease in cultivable land to the extent of 790,000 hectares in four years from 2007-08 to 2010-11.

The decrease is mainly attributed to diversion of cultivable land for non-agricultural purposes, including construction, industries and other development activities.

Since such diversion is inevitable, the government had in its National Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy (NRRP), 2007 recommended several measures to keep a tab on ever-decreasing cultivable land in the country.

But the data, shared by the agriculture ministry in response to a question in Lok Sabha on Tuesday, shows that only five states have taken some steps to increase the areas under cultivation and three others ( Assam, Goa and Sikkim) have adhered to the policy of not tinkering with land which can be used for farming.

Gujarat is the only big state which increased the area of cultivable land during four years from 2007-08 to 2010-11. Manipur, Mizoram, Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh are the other states which reported increase during the period.

Haryana showed the sharpest decline in area under cultivation. The small state, which has seen diversion of huge tracts of cultivable land due to boom in real estate, reported decrease of 65,000 hectares of agricultural land between 2007-08 and 2010-11.

Since land falls under the purview of states as per the seventh Schedule of the Constitution, it is for states to bring in suitable policy to prevent diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural purposes. The Centre had under its 2007 policy advised states to allow development projects to come up on wastelands.

Under NRRP, states were advised that acquisition of agricultural land for non-agricultural use should be kept to the minimum, multi-cropped land should be avoided to the extent possible for such purposes and acquisition of irrigated land, if unavoidable, may be kept to the minimum.

But it seems most states have not followed the norms, leading to overall decrease of nearly 406,000 hectares of cultivable land in the country during the four-year period.

Though the shrinkage did not have adverse impact on foodgrain production as the country reported increase from 230.8 million tonnes in 2007-08 to 255.4 million tonnes in 2012-13, the ever declining trend of cultivable land may pose a serious challenge in the long run.

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