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Organic agriculture: Why Modi's 'advise' overlooks disastrous Sri Lankan experience

By NS Venkataraman* 

Addressing a conclave virtually in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the farmers to adopt natural farming (organic farming) to protect the soil from the harmful impact of chemicals. Further, the Prime Minister said that crop produced from a chemical free process will fetch higher prices in the international market due to the growing demand for organic products.
The Prime minister pointed out that 90,000 clusters have been created all over India under the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and the target is to cover 10 lakh hectares under the scheme for organic farming.
The above statement of the Prime Minister clearly indicates his target and hope to promote organic farming in a massive way in India . All the information that he gave are factually correct.
However, a careful study of the ground conditions and considering the need to sustain and promote the production of food grains in a massive way and the agricultural productivity issues in organic farming, one has to keep the fingers crossed as to whether large scale organic farming would happen at any time in the near future.
The recent experience of Sri Lanka in suspending the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and opting for organic farming and consequent fall in the agricultural production is fresh in memory. As a matter of fact, due to the total switch over to organic farming in Sri Lanka, the production of tea, paddy and other agricultural products declined steeply , driving Sri Lanka into a state of severe food crisis.
The Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board has said that Sri Lanka is now focusing on intensified application of synthetic fertilizer and synthetic pesticide, which is creating hope of increasing the production of tea to make up on the earlier year’s losses due to organic farming.
As it is well known, in organic farming, inputs like vermi compost, green manure, bio-pesticides, oil cakes and bio-digester liquids, bio-fertilisers are used , instead of synthetic fertilisers and synthetic pesticides.
In the use of bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides, there are also practical issues due to low shelf life
In the use of bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides, there are also practical issues due to low shelf life, need for controlled temperature conditions etc.
The arguments in favour of organic farming is that it is eco-friendly, saves Mother Earth by protecting the quality of the soil and fetch higher price in the market compared to the product produced using synthetic material.
The question is about the agricultural productivity and yield in organic farming. While some organic farms operated under ideal conditions by researchers and investigators are said to have given yield comparable to the yield using synthetic material, the farmers are not convinced that yield in organic farming would be on par with that of the farming done, using synthetic material in commercial agricultural operations , also due to various factors like different climatic conditions, soil conditions in different locations.
The ground reality is that nowhere in the world, there are takers for 100% organic farming based agricultural operations. Obviously, organic farming is good enough for selected crops in less acreage to cater to the requirement of consumers willing to pay higher price for organically produced products.
In such situation, considering that organic farming should be considered the be all and end all of agricultural operations is misleading and is likely to be counter productive.
The disastrous Sri Lanka experiment with total organic farming can be ignored only at the risk of facing national food shortage.
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*Trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, Chennai

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