About this page:
The Better India has long since been a proponent of Organic Farming. A major part of our focus has been finding and reporting on stories of organic farming initiatives and what made them successful, so that we can spread the information and inspire others. We believe that it is an important aspect of making a better India.
But why organic farming?
In order to give context to our broader effort of promoting organic farming, we have created this section as a resource. It talks about what organic farming is and why we should even care about it.
Further, we aim to collect resources to help you learn as much as possible about organic farming. Because knowledge is power.
So, read this page, bookmark it, and share it with others to inform and spark a conversation! We will keep updating it with new information and content.
What is Organic Farming?
Organic farming is a holistic system of agriculture that takes into account the health of everything involved, form the soil microbes to the farmers to the distributors to the consumers to the ecosystem.
Essentially there are 2 main aspects that are must be fulfilled:
- Keep the soil alive and in good health.
- Use minimal to none synthetic inputs (fertilizers, pesticides) and no Genetically Modified (GM) crops.
It is important to note that organic farming alone may not be the ultimate solution. The purpose of this page is to inform about the benefits and inspire dialogue on this topic. People need food, that will not change. We must understand where our food comes from, and the connection between our food, us, and the environment.
To know more about Organic Certification Bodies, click on the link below:
To know more about where YOU can learn about organic farming, and even try your hand at it, check out this page:
To find out where you can get organic foods to support your farmers and eat healthier, check out our shop:
To get more context on what this Organic Farming page is all about and why we're doing it, read below:
Organic Citizens- Get Inspired!
This week’s Organic Video
Why should you care about Organic Farming?
The heavy use of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers is eliminated. Hence the produce we get is free of any residue from these things that might have been there.
FARMERS TAKEN CARE OF
Farmers tend to get a higher price for organic products, and this helps sustain a good income. Plus they can avoid expensive GM seeds and synthetic chemicals, as well as the risk associated with handling synthetic chemicals without sufficient training.
Organic farming inherently takes care of the land. Harmful elements are greatly reduced or eliminated, and the natural cycles of the soil and surrounding environment are kept balanced and healthy. There is no desertification of land because of balanced farming.
Conventional farming techniques have highly negative effects on the environment including pollution to due run off of chemicals, soil erosion, and the loss of biodiversity. Not only is all of this bad for the planet, but it makes the crops themselves more susceptible to pests and diseases. Further, many of the inputs into conventional farming are derived from fossil fuels.
The Earth will have to feed close to 10 billion by 2050 (according to estimates by the UN). With the rapidity of land degradation that conventional farming affects, we need to consider methods that will provide the necessary food and be sustainable.
The Aspects of Organic Farming
Organic matter levels are maintained and soil biological activity is encouraged. The soil needs certain microorganisms in abundance to allow plants to grow. They do all kinds of things, like breaking down molecules into ionic form which plants need. Organic matter in soil contributes to good soil structure and water-retention capacity. Mechanical intervention is limited to prevent soil compaction which negatively effects plant growth.
Organic farming by its very nature increases the biodiversity in a region, and needs the biodiversity to flourish. By growing many different crops in tandem and rotating them regularly, pests are kept at bay. Also, there are more natural predators of pests. The soil is kept crawling with good bacteria and other critters. High biodiversity enhances the performance of the ecological cycles that the crops depend on.
The plants are kept fed and the soil is kept healthy with natural fertilizers. Farmers use composting, mulching, animal manures, and other organic material available on the farm itself. Organic fertilizer doesn’t run off as hazardous waste. It keeps the soil alive, and it doesn’t require to be manufactured so it is far more sustainable than chemical fertilizers.
Good plant nutrition is the first key to the prevention of plant diseases. This is taken care through soil care and use of natural fertilizers. Natural pesticides are allowed; these are made from ingredients like cow urine, neem, jaggery, and so on. Another method is to plant things that are natural deterrents to certain pests among the crop and may attract beneficial insects, and rotate crops from field to field to that no pest can persist in an area. And finally, a healthy balance with the environment nurtures healthy biodiversity; in this case, the availability of natural predators of pests. The best way to control pests is to be in harmony with nature.
Organic farming is more energy efficient. This is because far less energy is spent manufacturing synthetic products for the farming itself. According to The Rodale Institute, which has been investigating this for more than 30 years, farming one hectare of organic corn requires 10,150 megajoules of energy, whereas conventionally grown corn requires 17,372 megajoules, 71% more than the organic crop. Conventional crop production has higher net energy production, whereas organic crop production has higher energy efficiency.” (Gomiero, Pimentel, and Paoletti 2011).
Farmers also plant legumes among their crops. Legumes naturally fix nitrogen in the soil, and they form a part of our diet (peas, beans, and other plants). Legumes along with organic fertilizer provide all the nitrogen the crops need. Thus the farm is completely self-sufficient of its nitrogen needs, and doesn’t need external fertilizer.
All agricultural practices must maintain balance with the larger environment. Organic farming aims to do this at all levels. By aligning with natural cycles, managing waste, and using as many resources as possible from within the farm, the overall use of resources and impact on the environment is kept low and manageable.
Some Common Questions about Organic Farming
According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition British Journal of Nutrition, organic food tastes better. The study consists of analysis 343 peer-reviewed publications by researchers from the United Kingdom with the help of American Charles Benbrook of Washington State University. They found that organic produce contains 18-69% higher concentrations of antioxidants than conventionally grown produce. Hence, you could get the equivalent of almost two produce protions every day by eating organic without changing your food intake.
The reason this happens is because of the way organic agriculture works.
Organic agriculture calls for minimal to no use of pesticides. Without pesticides to guard against harm, an organically farmed plant will produce more of its own compounds, called antioxidants, to fight damage. And when eaten by us, these antioxidants protect our bodies as well. Studies considered in the paper also show that higher antioxidant levels affect food’s organoleptic qualities—taste, aroma, and mouthfeel—and how the human senses detect a food’s unique flavor.
Charles Benbrook explains, “The concept of terroir can be traced to particular biological stresses in a region or soil types that impact how a plant responds to stress. The chemicals that a plant produces to respond to stress become part of that plant’s signature taste. People are yearning for more intense flavors, and there’s good news that organic farming accentuates flavor in fruits and vegetables.”
Production costs for organic foods are typically higher because of greater labour inputs per unit of output and because greater diversity of enterprises means economies of scale cannot be achieved.
However, prices of organic foods include not only the cost of the food production itself, but also a range of other factors that are not captured in the price of conventional food, such as environmental enhancement and protection.
There are several other benefits that the slightly higher cost accounts for. These include compensation to farmers for low financial returns of rotational periods that are necessary to build soil fertility; avoidance of health risks to farmers due to inappropriate handling of pesticides, rural development by generating employment, and so on.
However, as demand for organic food and products is increases, technological innovations and economies of scale will reduce costs of production, processing, distribution and marketing for organic produce.
First and foremost, conventional farming generally uses seeds that are engineer for high yield. Because of this, conventional farming yields are generally higher than with organic farming.
However, The Farming Systems Trial by the Rodale Institute (from 1981 to 2002) has shown that after an initial decline during the three-year transition, organic production has matched or exceed conventional production. Organic crops especially perform better during drought years, due to the increased capacity of the soil to retain water.
California-based Earthbound Farms, one of the biggest organic growers in the US, has similarly found that yields continue to increase over the years. The longer a piece of land has been organic, the more fertile the soil becomes, which increases productivity.
A study out of Washington State University, “Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century” which reviewed 40 years of science and hundreds of scientific studies comparing the long term prospects of organic and conventional farming has an answer.
The study was the first to compare the two farming practices across the four main metrics of sustainability identified by the US National Academy of Sciences: be productive, economically profitable, environmentally sound and socially just.
The study found that organic farming systems produce yields that average 10-20% less than conventional agriculture.
HOWEVER, they are more profitable and environmentally friendly. Environmental costs tend to be lower and the benefits greater.
Conventional agriculture generally focuses on increasing yields at the expense of the other three sustainability metrics.
In addition, organic farming produces equally or more nutritious foods. The produce contains less or no pesticide residues, and provide greater social benefits than their conventional counterparts.
The different coloured petals and the labels represent different sustainability metrics: production (orange), environment (blue), economics (red) and social wellbeing (green). The diagram illustrates that organic systems are more balanced in terms of sustainability.
Illustration: John Reganold and Jonathan Wachter
Intensive cultivation of land without conservation of soil fertility and soil structure would lead ultimately to the springing of deserts. Irrigation without arrangements for drainage would result in soil getting alkaline or saline. The indiscriminate use of pesticides, fungicide and herbicide could….lead to an increase in the incidence of cancer and other diseases through the toxic residue present in the grains or other edible parts.
Dr M.S. Swaminathan
To assume that the best farming practice is the one that produces the highest yield is like observing that a Lamborghini outraces a bicycle, and thus should be the world's only vehicle.
Organic farming appealed to me because it involved searching for and discovering nature's pathways, as opposed to the formulaic approach of chemical farming. The appeal of organic farming is boundless; this mountain has no top, this river has no end.
An organic farmer is the best peacemaker today, because there is more violence, more death, more destruction, more wars, through a violent industrial agricultural system. And to shift away from that into an agriculture of peace is what organic farming is doing.
Far from being a “luxury for the rich,” organic farming may turn out to be a necessity not just for the poor, but for everyone.
The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.
Sir Albert Howard
In nature's economy the currency is not money, it is life.