Organic is all the rage. Organic food, cosmetics, clothes and even organic medicines. But mostly it is food. There are speciality stores that sell only such items, while supermarket chains are stocking more of these products which are sold at a premium and come with certification that it is grown without chemical inputs and synthetic additives. But as Middle India discovers the virtues of naturally grown food, thanks to increasing awareness about the dangers of high pesticide use in conventional farming, it raises fundamental questions about Indian agriculture and the path it needs to take, especially in view of climate change concerns. Latha Jishnu and Jyotika Sood go to the roots of the organic phenomenon to understand the changes taking place in farmers’ fields and the policies that are driving organic agriculture, or holding it back.
It is a universe of its own—an expanding universe that has its own producers and consumers, its entrepreneurs, its markets, its passionate aficionados of scientists and evangelists. It is a universe that is governed by a different set of regulations and plays strictly by the rules, for the most part. In the politics of agriculture, its ideology is controversial since it goes against mainstream wisdom, almost heretical since it sets out to disprove the dominant chemical-driven theology of the past 60 years. We are talking about organic farming.
Why is organic farming controversial? At a fundamental level, it sets out to prove that you do not need chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilisers to produce adequate quantities of food. Organic farming works in harmony with nature by using simple techniques and material: recycled and composted crop waste and animal manure; crop rotation; legumes to fix soil nitrogen; encouraging useful predators that eat pests and natural pesticides; and a careful husbanding of water resources. The bottom line: increasing genetic diversity and conservation. It also means that no genetically modified crop is part of this ecosystem. The result: healthier farmers and risk-free food.