Going Organic: Will consumers support the farmers
It is very encouraging to see an upsurge of interest among various classes of consumers about organically grown food products. However, lest this interest evaporates soon, it might be useful to understand little more deeply the way organic agriculture movement has emerged in different parts of the world and how we could strengthen it in our country.
There are a large number of farmers in dry or extremely humid region, mountains, forests and other marginal regions who are organic, more or less compulsively. That means, given a choice, many of them might start using chemical inputs. But, because of lack of irrigation or financial resources or technology suitable for their conditions, they continue to grow organic. They were also called as laggards of green revolution. The tragedy is that they will also become the laggard of the organic movement if the portrayal in a programme on television recently dominates the understanding of the masses. The gentlemen farmers who have taken to organic are most welcome and their contribution has to be encouraged. But, their proportion is miniscule. The real large numbers come from the regions where local varieties of crops are grown still in a heterogeneous ecological environment. How can we sustain agro biodiversity and incentivize majority of organic producers, in the process helping ourselves through better health and quality of life.
There should be a separate market yard in every major city for organic producers besides market outlets. It will help the consumers and also the producers. The organic food or vegetables are tastier not only for humans but also for pests and diseases. Storing them for longer duration is a real challenge. The common facilities for storage have also to be created. For pest management, one of the students, Astad Pastakia at IIMA had done a doctoral thesis in 1996 on sustainable pest management. This was based on the non-chemical pest control innovations by farmers scouted by Honey Bee Network in the previous decade. Even today, the larger database on the subject anywhere in the world is available at honeybee.org. We are interacting with the state department of agriculture to identify ways to diffuse low cost, extremely affordable and sustainable solutions to the farmers and livestock keepers.
In many countries, consumers supported agriculture [CSA] is a way of life. The consumers offer to contribute their labour at the fields of organic farmers and thus help in reducing the costs and experience the whole process. The farmers in turn, gain the confidence of the consumers and also reduce their costs. Both sides benefit in the process.
Like ever before, this year too there will be Sattvik 2012 in December third week. The Traditional Food Festival is perhaps the largest festival in the country where around 50000 people come and savour the traditional recipes and organic products. But once a year is not enough. Even here, consumers can play a role in random inspection visits to the claimed organic farms. This is another universal practice through which consumers and other knowledgeable people are trained to inspect voluntarily different farms at least two-three times during the season. Unless and until we develop robust mechanisms of inspection, record keeping and periodic testing, the organic agriculture movement will remain confined to a few inspired souls. The farmers in the disadvantaged regions may need procurement guarantees from the consumer associations. We sometimes forget that never before in the history of human civilization, so much of agro biodiversity and associated community knowledge was lost as is happening currently. Sadbhav – SRISTI Sanshodhan, a natural product lab at SRISTI has pooled many of the farmers innovations to develop herbal growth promoters, veterinary medicine and food products such as Nine Grain khakharas, biscuits made of buck wheat, etc. One needs to develop a whole value chain around organic agriculture to ensure that food based on such products is available in hospitals, schools and of course, to the consumers at their homes.
India had a whole treaties viz., Vriksha Ayurveda on the subject. Contemporary experiments by the farmers and in a few cases by the scientists have expanded, our understanding much wider. There is a need now for invigorated support from the consumers and policy makers to take this movement forward. I hope the readers will get engaged.
Anil K Gupta