Friday, June 25, 2010
Organic farming can be called as Eco Farming as it is a way of agriculture that preserves the ecosystem. It echews the use of harmful chemicals & fertilizers. Cultured are the Symbiotic life forms & weed & pest control ensured by this method & optimal soil biological activity maintains fertility.
Agriculture in Kerala is caught in between the devil and the deep blue sea. Kerala is going back to her traditional Organic Farming after her hundreds of farmers had learnt the bitter lessons of " Chemical Farming " and mono cropping hitherto practised as " Scientific Agriculture ". The Dept of Agriculture is now promoting the production of Organic Food by launching " Jaiva Kerala " ( The Organic Sustainability of Kerala ). The Confederation of Indian Industry & a few Tourism Groups are branding " Gods's Own Country", as the Tourism Industry calls Kerala, a " Safe Food Destination".
It is paradoxical that the United States , a world leader in transgenic technology, is the largest importer of organic foods, followed by the European Union. The " Organic Craze " is spreading worldwide. The global market for organic herbal plants ( $14 b ) is growing at 20% and will be a $ 5 trillion by 2050 according to the World Health Organisation ( http://www.who.org/ ). The global trade in food supplements and processed herbal medicines is $ 60 billion. Despite her immense potential, India has not benefited much from the export of herbal medicines or organic food. A meagre Rs 90 crores is India's export of organic food while her export of herbal medicine fetches Rs 2300 crores.
Use of bio-fertilisers instead of chemicals is the way of Organic Farming. In Marappanmoola village in Pulpally panchayat of Wayanad district , 454 small and medium farmers in the village owning on an average less than 2 hectares of land have organized themselves & they now cultivate a mixed variety of crops including pepper, coffee, cardamom, coconut, areacanut, tubers, vegetables, cashew nut, nutmeg, rice etc. From the poultry & piggery units, they now collect the wastes and turn them into Biogas for the kitchen and manure for the field. Use the sap of chrysanthemum and marigold for chemical insecticides have become the order of the day.
A Cooperative Society, Highland Farmers’ Cooperative Society, has been formed ( Hicos ) to take on the challenges of conversion from chemical to organic farming by the farmers of Marappanmoola. 500 hectares have been declard to be ‘Organic Farming Zone’. Even now the produce is sold at a hefty 25% premium prices in the domestic market through weekly markets and export enquriries are on the rise. This organic Farm Movement is market driven and the premium price obtainable in the external markets in the future is a major source of inspiration. A 50 grams pack of organic white pepper fetches $ 4 in the U S Market as against $ 1.5 in the domestic market.
Success in Marappanmoola
One of the pioneers of the Organic Farm Movement, Jose K, says that people derisively laughed at the Movement initially. The Movement is now spreading in Wayanad, the home of the famous Kerala spices, especially ginger and black pepper. The other major crops of the District are Tea & Coffee and over 80% of agriculture is dependent on the foreign markets.
Networking is the key to Success of the Movement, as 74% of the cultivated land in Kerala is owned by small farmers. The Self Help Groups now use vermicompost, organic manure and pest control solutions which are made by them. Earlier a shortage of these organic substitutes made them heavily dependent on chemical farming. Even the women engaged in the production and marketing of vegetables keep up the morale and insist on Safe Food in the kitchen.
Another drawback with Chemical Farming was that the soil was destroyed by heavy chemical inputs, when the prices of pepper perked up ( It had gone upto 260 per kilo ). Excessive application of chemicals during that boom reduced soil fertility and wiped out the insects beneficial from the farms so that the average yield of pepper nosedived to 80 kgs per hectare from 500 kg per hectare. Many a farmer committed suicide as a result. Dangerous indeed, in the long run, is chemical farming !
Jaivakeralam - The Organic Sustainability of Kerala
The State Agriculture Department has now conducted 300 training programms to setup Collection Centers for Organic Produce. Not only the farmers and consumers have to be educated but also the scientific "elite", the bureaucrats and the technologists, as " the indifferent attitude of the Scientific Community " has been recognised as a major impediment in the State Policy Document.
A Research Station at Aralam in Cannanore, 3 zonal sub-centers and regional labs with facilities for soil and produce residue analysis has been planned by the Government under the Jaivakerlam Programme. Development of the domestic market for Organic Foods through a chain of supermarkets and a gradual withdrawing of State support on chemical inputs etc has been planned. The Government's role is that of the faciliator, forming farmers' producing companies to manage the affairs by themselves. Three Districts, Wynad, Idukki and Palghat will be declared as Organic Farming Zones. Crops which will be highlighted will be the scented rice varieties of Wynad, Malabar spices and several types of tubers. More information can be gathered at Kerala Govt's official site http://www.kissankerala.net/
There are doubting Thomases who argue against the whole Movement. S Usha of Thana, a green ( environment group who had been in the forefront of combating against aerial spraying of Endosulphan in the cashew plantations of Kerala, doubt whether the thrust on export & international certification will reduce the whole exercise to contract farming for global agri businesses.
If the sale of chemical inputs through measures such as a prescription system is restricted legally, it will do a world of good for Organic Farming. Plants should be treated as human beings.
Organic versus Transgenic
It is Organic Farming vs Transgenic Technology which is the crucial issue in Kerala Agriculture. The Task Force on Application of Biotechnology has suggested conserving " Organic Farming Zones " and at the same time promotes Transgenic Tech ! This has attracted criticism from experts who argue that the two forms of Agriculture cannot coexist together.
Even though organic agriculture accounts for a negligible portion of the country's total farm produce, India's organic farm produce has already found markets abroad. The Indian Govt has declared only 5347 farms covering 37050 hectares as Organic, despite much of the country practising the traditional system of Organic Farming.
Research shows the Organic Farming ensures better yield and fetches more income. A paper by David Tilman in Nature 396 showed that not only were the yields of organic maize as high as those of maize grown with fertilizers & pesticides, but the soil quality in the organic fields improved dramatically. Field trials in Hertfordshire reported consistently higher yeilds of wheat with bio manure. Farmers in India, Kenya, Brazil & Gautemala have tripled yields by switing to Organic Farming, accordin to Prof Jules Pretty of Essex University.