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Eating Ecologically, Saving Sustainably

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Lush green fields filled with crops swirling thanks to the gentle breeze. The happy farmer who’s confident that he’ll get good money for his crops. A population consuming organic food that isn’t chock full of dangerous poisons. Agriculture turning humane and eco-friendly. Sounds idyllic, isn’t it? But it’s not something un-achievable.  

In fact, if one were to take India’s history into perspective, organic agriculture is something that was traditionally followed. But with a gargantuan population and low crop per acre yield, organic farming seems to have lost its charm. The difference between consuming pesticide rich vegetables and organic vegetables is quite stark and thankfully I did get to experience the same when I went to a small hamlet in Himachal Pradesh during an outstation trip last year.

The house we were staying in was that of the Sarpanch.  Located in the heart of a forest, the scenic beauty was amazing. The food,even more so. When I asked him about the different taste in the normal ‘aloo’ and ‘Gobhi’ that one usually consumes every day, he told me that what I was having was organic food. Not just the taste but upon consumption, the food got digested quickly.  And I had a real hearty meal. When I got back home, it got me thinking is organic farming really an expensive affair? If organic food that I just had was so nutritious and tasty, why isn’t it implemented on a pan-India level? I did a little digging and I got to understand the story behind organic farming in the country.

As mentioned earlier, organic farming was something that Indian farmers were quite intimate with. With the advent of the British, the agricultural sector in India took a huge hit. Post independence, we had to resort to importing even wheat under the PL-480 rule from the USA during the 1960s after two successive years of savage drought. It was only with the advent of the ‘Green Revolution’ (GR) led by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan that India became sufficient to an extent to produce its own wheat and rice.  High-yielding variety (HYV) seeds were made available to the farmers.

Though the import from US ended, self-sufficiency in food production still eludes India. And though the objective of GR was noble and in the right interests, it couldn’t be afforded by the average Indian farmer owing to the fact that the farmer didn’t possess the capital and know-how to undertake what was India’s first step towards a ‘scientific and modernized form of agriculture’.  

Fifty years down the line, the situation hasn’t changed much. Rain-dependent agricultural practices, depleting ground water resources, severe droughts, slow penetration of formal institutions that can advise the farmer on climate adaptable agro-practices & finance have led to a dire situation of sorts. Farmer suicides in Maharashtra and Karnataka brought forth the distressed condition of the nation’s food producers. Agitations led by farmers from Tamil Nadu in Delhi demanding loan waivers of almost Rs. 40,000 Crore have only worsened the scenario. Seeing all this, one might begin to not just wonder but accept that organic farming is nothing but a mere fantasy.

But that’s not the case. In December 2016, Sikkim became India’s first fully organic state. But the road to being organic hasn’t been an easy one. It took the state 13 years to fully implement organic farming since the idea was mooted in 2003. Around 75,000 hectares of agricultural land were gradually converted to certified organic land by implementing practices as per guidelines laid down in National Programme for Organic Production.

Nevertheless, without political and bureaucratic will, this would have been hard to achieve. Keeping in mind that the 1st GR led to increased water use, soil degradation and chemical run-off, Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling decided to go organic. Though farmers in the initial phase faced a lot of problems, with proper guidance & financial support Sikkim was able to achieve this objective.

Despite being completely organic, Sikkim’s farmers & ‘organic mandis’ face certain issues. The local population doesn’t opt for the organic produce owing to the fact that it’s small and more expensive than the non-organic bigger produce from neighboring Siliguri. Also, the initial cost of switching over to organic farming from non-organic farming is an expensive affair.

Scientists and leading agriculturalists assert the fact that the ‘Sikkim Phenomenon’ can be replicated on a pan-India provided the government is able to firstly, oversee the transition of farmers from non-sustainable to sustainable modes of farming by providing them logistical, financial and technical support systems at all levels & secondly by evolving a business model wherein both the organic seller and the consumer would be active participants in heralding an ‘Organic Revolution’ (OR).

Though companies like 24 Mantra Organic and Rapid Organic & startups like Farm2Kitchen & Isayorganic are actively pursuing ways to usher in OR, unless OR is institutionalized like the much-talked about ‘Pulse Polio Campaign’, ‘Organic Farming’ is going to be tricky, nigh-impossible endeavor. Yes, it’s going to take time, effort and money but it’s going to be ultimately rewarding in the end. After all, we’ve got just one planet to live and feed on so its time we kept it in the best possible condition till death takes us apart.      

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