Alongside China, India is quickly taking the lead in the global movement to convert farmland to certified organic crops.
At an advantage
This will be a less daunting task for India than it will be for other countries as 60% of its arable land still falls under traditional agriculture—or what we have come to label ‘organic farming’. These swathes of traditional farmland have never been touched by synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, as many farmers have either decided against their use or simply have not been able to afford them. What once may have been considered a lack of development is now being turning into an advantage as India moves to enter the certified organic market.
These traditional farmers have the advantage when it comes to getting their crop certified organic, as most accredited certification agencies require a two year period before certification to allow time for petro-chemical residue from conventional fertilizers and pesticides to leach out of the soil.
Currently, there is a large export market for organic goods, as the Western world has started outsourcing its demand to developing nations—at a cheaper price.
India’s main organic exports include basmati rice, pulses, tea, spices, honey, coffee, oil seeds, fruits and cereals—along with non-edible organic goods such as cotton.
Despite the advantage that traditional farmers have, few will be able to enter this market as the price of organic certification is steep and the extensive documentation required inhibits many from certifying their crops—as many small rural farmers are illiterate.
The Green Revolution
The conventional agricultural system, which the majority of agricultural operations use today, was introduced to India in the 1970’s during the Green Revolution. Contrary to how we use the term 'green' today, the Green Revolution modernized the agricultural system with the advent of high yielding, disease resistant, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) which replaced traditional varieties—as well as the creation of chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides to hyper-stimulate crop growth.
India’s move back towards traditional land cultivation has not simply been a response to a rising market, but has come out of a growing concern over the effects of conventional agriculture on both the public’s health and the environment.
Recently, the southern Indian state Kerala has announced plans to change the state’s entire agricultural system to organic methods of farming over the next ten years—converting at least 10% of its crops to organic farming every year. The Kerala Organic Farming Policy, which details the state’s plan for conversion, states the motivations behind its conception.
“As a result of these 'modern' techniques, the air, water and soil were polluted; most food grains and farm products were contaminated by pesticides. The run off from the farm land contaminated the wetlands—rivers, tanks, ponds, reservoirs, lakes and all water bodies—and the life in them. Fishes carried high levels of pesticides and also heavy metals, the latter as a result of the many chemical industries that sprang up to provide chemical fertilizers.”
The policy’s goals are to make Kerala’s farming more sustainable and safe, providing its citizens “poison-free water, soil and food.”
The statewide movement
In order to implement this kind of large scale conversion, the policy encourages the creation of organic farmers groups and cooperatives to provide local support, as well as to make the change a communal effort. The state has proposed programs which will coach farmers on organic and biodiverse farming methods. The policy has also banned the use of all plastics in farming.
Other programs will be centered on the production of planting materials, traditional animal breeds, manure based fertilizer and seeds to create the resources required for organic farming. Local seed banks will also be constructed, providing traditional, organic seed varieties in order to replace genetically engineered ones.
To promote biodiversity and to develop sustainable farming methods suitable for the region, the Kerala Agricultural University and other researchers have been asked to work with farmers to develop crop combinations and farming technology that is adapted specifically for local use.
To encourage farmers to switch over to organic methods, the state plans on establishing local organic markets throughout the state so that organic producers have a domestic market and the people of Kerala have a local supply of clean, safe food.