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Can organic agriculture provide food security to India?

Before the Green Revolution happened, Indian farmers were practising, organic agriculture by default as they had no access to modern seeds.

That condition resulted in massive famines and at that time India’s population was a mere  400 million.  Today at 1.2 billion, our population is thrice that number. The straight answer to the title rhetoric according to the mainstream agricultural scientists is a resounding ‘NO’. There has been a rallying, according to some a romantic cry, that organic agriculture, a form of agro-ecological way of doing agriculture, can provide sufficient food to feed the people, and also enhance the quality of the environment.  Even Prime Minister Modi extolled the virtues of organic farming citing the example of Sikkim, the only state to have officially declared to be a one hundred per cent organic state.  


Anything Indian is good…

Indian political parties show unrequited love towards organic agriculture, thanks to insistent campaign by the organic lobby in which they invoke false jingoism about the virtues of our ancient heritage and heirloom seeds and the power of panchagavya and other forms of organic manure based on animal waste.  The question is how come farmers abandoned those ‘virtuous’ seeds and organic manure for green revolution technologies?  Many politicians believe that all organic agriculture is truly Indian, just as they believe that ‘local anesthesia’ is made in India.   Politicians are taken in by phrases like desi or swadeshi, and they never ask a second question about its efficiency.  The organic lobby has cleverly cashed in on this gullibility of our ‘Swadeshi’ politicians to brainwash them into believing organic is Swadeshi.  

 

Organic farming constitutes just 2 per cent

The fact is that organic agriculture has just occupied about 2 per cent of the global agriculture and has been struggling to increase its market share.  However, its market value has gone up to $ 105 billion in recent times.  This niche agriculture has found fancy among people with deep pockets, most of whom do not understand how agriculture is done.  The moment they hear that no chemicals are used in organic, that is good enough for them.  For most organic lovers, chemicals simply mean poison.  But, the dictum is, dose makes poison.  Through hormesis, all animals and human bodies learn to cope with small doses of xenobiotics and toxins and no harm is done.  

To believe that organic farming does not use any chemical is fallacious.  Organic agriculture does use chemicals, but not synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.  However, it makes exception to certain copper based pesticides and antibiotics.  All organic inputs are also chemicals, but derived from biological sources.  For example, a cup of pure coffee has 52 known carcinogens, all derived even from organically grown coffee beans.  Another important point to note is that the fundamental plant metabolism dictates the way in which plant nutrients are absorbed by it.  All nutrients are absorbed in an inorganic form.  This point alone defeats the purpose of organic manure that is broken down by soil microbes into inorganic form.  

 

The organic drama…

Studies in the West by reputed scientific institutions have shown no superior nutritional advantage in organic foods and certainly no measurable health benefits.  There have been no scientifically rigorous studies on organic produce produced in India.  It is an industry secret that Indian organic growers most often use 20 to 30 per cent chemicals.  The organic foods cost an average 40 per cent more in retail markets.  There has never been any sustainably increased yield advantage in organic production.  It costs more because of low yields and increased costs of cultivation and leaves larger carbon footprint than conventional agriculture.  

With increasing population, decreasing arable land and the looming climate change, it is simply impossible to assure food security to all.  Modern technology alone can provide food security.  Organic farming has marginal environmental benefits due to low tilling but certainly not good enough to feed the nation in the long term. Before leaping headlong into organic agriculture, the country should hold comprehensive discussions and debates with all stakeholders.  Otherwise, it will be suicidal to launch organic agriculture in the nation.

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