With the increase in global health consciousness, organic food is set to knock every door and make its way in healthy kitchens worldwide.
People the world over use organic food as a hygiene factor rather than a product by itself. Organic food is a holistic approach in the Indian environment which starts at the farm and ends at the fork of the consumer. The main stakeholder is the source, and challenges faced during organic farming can be overcome with a smart strategy, scientific planning, responsible public activity and government support.
The Green Revolution took shape in India during the early 1960s, and with the introduction of modern chemical fertilisers, there was better management of the seeds, along with the introduction of new and modern techniques for farming. The food grain production in the country boosted up. The modern farming methods used chemical fertilisers, synthetic pesticides, germicides, herbicides and Genetically Engineered (GE) seeds as an integrated approach to harvesting.
Though the majority of the growth came because of the newer techniques, it was all attributed to the chemicals.
However, this use of chemicals became completely uncontrolled and started polluting the complete supply chain. Greed and minimal access to relevant information to the farmers have resulted in a scenario where there are areas in the country where newborns take birth with disabilities.
Because of the heavy use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, many areas of land reached a stage where they no longer produce anything.
As the consumers stood up and started embracing the non-poisons (organic) food, there came a need of supporting that demand authentically. Some areas are natively organic, but others that are large producers of pulses etc., have been farming with chemicals. Converting these into organic has many challenges, however, from a broader perspective, these challenges can be met with proper counter-measures and government policies.
Convince the farmer
Organic farming, as a whole, is quite an expensive process that involves constant expenditure. This keeps it away from the reaches of a nominalised farmer on the grounds of affordability. One can easily bring up the instance of fertilisers and maintenance. Sewage sludge and chemical fertilisers might not be something one envisions in his produce, but conventional farmers find constant companions, owing to their cost-friendliness.
Organic farmers abhor these inexpensive solutions, and to keep their crops natural, opt for compost and animal manure. Ethically-sourced products come hard on the pocket for farmers, leading to slower results over a tiresome period. Post-produce, storage takes up another set of expenses that is difficult for the farmers to cover.
So the challenge is convincing farmers to shift to organic, which might result in an immediate commercial impact on their income. The solution is to support the change in a gradual manner. A holistic and community-driven approach, similar to the “Swachh Bharat” for “Swachh Food” needs to be undertaken.
Private players in the industry give the assurance in form of financial aids and confidence in form of apt organic farming training to the farmers that their losses will be compensated and their produce will be taken care of. However, the government involvement is a must to provide the security at a greater level. Like the MSP for the normal crop, Government could come out with MSP for the organic crop, store it and sell to the willing buyers.
Supply-Demand Disparity of Organic Food
There is a demand-supply disparity. Grains can be grown anywhere and can be transported, as these are not perishable. This is how it happens in the case of conventional grains as well.
In the case of fruits and vegetables, the produce has to be local otherwise most of the organic food doesn’t reach the retailer’s shelf in time, and even if it reaches, the marketability reduces. For the produce to be local, there have to be willing companies, aggregators and farmers around that particular area from where the demand is coming.
Generally, the demand comes from the big metros, and these are exactly the areas where you would not find clean farmland to produce organic fruits and vegetables. This is the main reason for this disparity.
The government has made a certain framework to boost organic farming and to promote the same through fairs and exhibitions, but that does not help on the ground until there is a steady and sustainable market for organic produce.
However, smart transport and dedicated channels of supply are the solutions to fill this gap. Ultimately, when you start having the pull from the market, the local growers also start taking note and shift towards organic. Once the local demand is fulfilled by local supplies, the supply-demand disparity is taken care of.
Shortage of organic seeds and inputs
Seeds and inputs are the main ingredients of agriculture. Both are highly regulated and governed by government policies. While the government provides subsidies for chemical fertilisers and pesticides, there is no such provision for organic inputs. Farmers are mainly dependent on their resources and the traditional methods and so, often use half-baked information.
This may lead to heavy losses of crops and financial burdens on the farmers. The same is the situation is with seeds. The certification programme is available for the seeds, but there is no recognition for certified seeds.
In fact, availability of certified organic seeds is a major issue in organic farming, hence most of the times the farmers are forced and advised to use the conventional seeds only, as they could be treated with chemicals.
The government has to clear the policy path. It cannot continue to expand with the dealers in the untouched areas (natural, organic) for distribution of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and at the same time, encourage organic farming, without any dealer/distributor network or subsidy for organic inputs and seeds. A separate policy framework is needed for organic farming, covering seeds production and input supplies.
Confused certification framework
With the advent of technology and health awareness throughout the world, Indians are also getting into the habits of healthy living, and that is responsible for the popularity of organic produce.
Any agricultural product is consumer-centric. If consumers want something, the farmers will grow it. Consumer’s trust is the key to organic produce as there is no straightforward method for the consumers to acknowledge if the product is genuine organic or not. The trust is developed with a proper regulatory framework, compliance with the requirements and communication of the same to the consumers. This is exactly what is missing in India.
Until a few days ago, there was no policy or framework for organic food products to be sold in India. Anyone could sell anything, under the label of ‘organic’. This created a lot of trust-deficit among the consumers.
Now that the FSSAI has come out with the Jaivik Bharat framework, it seems more like a knee-jerk reaction. The globally recognised third-party certification process is controlled by APEDA, whose mandate is about exports while FSSAI also recognises PGS which is valid only for the domestic market.
Rightly, certification has been made mandatory for anyone who claims their products as organic but has created a huge confusion among the farmers as well as the consumers.
Farmers are agitated that they are being forced into the certification process, which they claim is costly. While in reality, most of the certification cost is taken care of by the private players.
Government also provides various programmes through which the costs could be covered. Brands are confused on the regulations and the applicability of the same.
Consumers are confused about which certification is the right one.
The only answer is communication. Clear and frequent communication from the regulatory authority to all the stakeholders is a must.
It is advised that the certification cost for organic produce should be waived off for marginal and small farmers. The government can regulate it at the centre and state levels as almost all the states have their own certification agencies accredited by APEDA.
The high price of organic produce in a price-sensitive nation
Because of some influencing factors, the final prices of organic produce is higher than the conventional products. In the Indian perspective, customers usually opt for cheaper options and this factor hugely impacts the organic produce market.
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Right from expensive organic farming methods, limited production, supply chain irregularity, storage and preservation to market competition, organic produce stays on a higher side of the cost factor, but with government support and proper supply chain mechanism, the prices can be reduced. Apart from this, public awareness and knowledge are also important for people to understand the benefits of organic food in the long run.
(Feature image credits – Wikipedia)
(Written by Pankaj Agarwal, MD and Co-Founder, Just Organik. Edited by Shruti Singhal)