Organic Farming: A Revolution that was Waiting to Happen

Organic Farming

Kochi: Agriculture has always been the mainstay of Kerala’s economy. The State accounts for 88 per cent of the country’s export earnings from pepper, 92 per cent from rubber, 72 per cent from cardamom, 54 per cent from cashew kernels and 56 per cent from ginger. There was a time when Kerala was self-sufficient in vegetable production and paddy cultivation, but shift of focus to cash crops made the State eventually dependent on Tamil Nadu and Karnataka for vegetables and Andhra Pradesh for rice.

The alarming reports of large-scale use of pesticides and insecticides in neighbouring states forced Kerala to take a relook at organic farming or natural farming

However, the alarming reports of large-scale use of pesticides and insecticides in Tamil Nadu farms forced God’s Own Country to take a relook at organic farming or natural farming. The unlawful use of pesticides and insecticides in fields has also led to soil and water contamination. A fundamental shift from indiscriminate dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides to a scientific farming practice was the need of the hour. During the 90s, the State realised the fact at last and started chemical-free cultivation on a small scale.

Transition from conventional farming to organic farming is time consuming. An organic farm is incubated gradually by keeping it fallow and completely discouraging the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Farmers who wish to switch to organic cultivation will have to suffer financial losses during the transition period, which most of them in the State cannot bear. On the other end, there is a high demand for organic produce, which often results in adulteration.
Around 1.26 per cent of agricultural land in Kerala is under organic cultivation. While Madhya Pradesh leads with 4.16 lakh hectares, Tamil Nadu ranks last on the list. A total 14.89 lakh hectares in the country is under organic farming. What started as a minor initiative in the 90s on terraces, roadsides and small plots has now flourished into a large-scale enterprise.

The government has also taken several steps to promote organic farming. For Onam, the state has ensured that it has produced around 81,000 metric tonnes of vegetables which can meet the demand of the festive season. Vegetables collected from organic farms are sold under the brand ‘Farm Fresh Kerala’. “The government is bound to bring in a policy for which would focus on organic farming, increased income for farmers and enhanced productivity. It would contain measures to attract youth to agriculture,” says V S Sunil Kumar, Kerala’s Agriculture Minister.

“Existing regulations and tests to prevent vegetables with harmful pesticides from reaching the State will be strengthened. The state-of-the-art laboratory of Cashew Corporation in Kollam will be utilised for the purpose. Four modern laboratories will also be started to enhance the efficiency of the tests,” says the Agriculture Minister.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan recently launched ‘Onathinu oru muram pachakkari’ the Agriculture Department’s latest initiative to promote homestead organic farming during this Onam. Around 63 lakh seed packets, 45 lakh vegetable saplings and more than a lakh growbags have been distributed. The department is aiming to sustain the scheme even after the Onam season. The government has also announced cash awards for the homemakers promoting organic farming in the best possible way: Rs. 1 lakh for the winner and Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 25,000 for the first two runners-up at the State level. District-level cash awards will also be presented.

In addition to government, political parties as well as social organisations like CPI(M) and RSS are throwing their weight behind the campagin to promote organic farming in Kerala. The student community is also taking part in various such activities. In Ernakulam, Rajagiri Engineering College and Sacred Heart College had a good harvest last year. The role of Kudumbashree is also laudable. It farms around 50,000 hectares of land in Kerala.

Surprisingly, there are a good number of businessmen showing genuine interest in organic farming. ‘Mafarm’ brand is the most recent, green initiative of Manappuram Group. It was launched by Manappuram Agro Farms Limited with the aim of providing quality food and beverages to consumers at affordable prices. “I am passionate about eco-farming and keep trying out new ideas in my farm at Valapad in Thrissur,” V P Nandakumar, MD and CEO of Manappuram Finance, said once. Porinju Veliyath of Equity Intelligence also has a farm at Potta in Thrissur where he cultivates paddy and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

Supporting the government’s initiative, Cochin Devaswom Board (CDB) has decided to promote organic farming at temples. Around 400 acres of land in the possession of 403 temples under the Board is available for farming.
Way Farm, a farmer producer company in Wayanad, is all set to export organic vegetables in a big way. It has signed an MoU with a firm in Kochi to export 15 types of vegetables to UAE, Qatar and Oman. The farm also has plans to send its produce to Australia and Germany.

Sponsored by NABARD, Way Farm was launched in June 2014 by 52 farmers’ clubs functioning under various public sector banks and NGOs. Vegetable cultivation was started in September 2014 with its 100 members on nearly 45 hectares. Now, it has 500 organic farmers as members under 60 farmer clubs. They are cultivating different crops on around 200 hectares, including 10 hectares in Karnataka. It is selling the produce through its eight outlets in the district as well as supplying to consumers in Kozhikode, Ernakulam and Kannur.

Recently, Kerala Agriculture University (KAU) released an exclusive package of practices enabling organic cultivation of crops. The initiative will help instill standardised practices in organic farming across the State. The package of practices acts as a guide, conventionally assigned to individual crops, detailing the most efficient methods for cultivation. “There are about 73 agricultural universities including deemed universities in the country out of which KAU is the first to prepare such a package,” says P Rajendran, Vice-Chancellor, KAU.

India holds a unique position among 172 countries practising organic agriculture; it has 6,50,000 organic producers, 699 processors, 669 exporters and 7,20,000 hectares under cultivation. But, with merely 0.4 per cent of total agricultural land under organic cultivation, the industry has a long journey ahead. India ranks second globally in agricultural production at USD 367 billion and the country has the potential to double farmer income and increase exports to USD 100 billion by 2022. At present, Sikkim is an organic state with 75,000 hectares under organic cultivation based on an initiative that started in 2003. Meghalaya aims to convert 200,000 hectares under organic farming by 2020. Kerala has more than 100,000 farmers practising organic farming and 10 cooperatives promoting the method. With growing awareness about health, changing lifestyles and increased spending capacity, there is certainly no looking back for the State’s organic food market.