Govt plans to boost organic farming by doubling allocation, but experts say it's anti Swadeshi

In a major push to organic farming in the country, the Agriculture Ministry has proposed to double the allocation for the sector to Rs 1,300 crore annually. The Centre has provided Rs 660 crore to support the sector in its budget estimate (BE) for FY21. In a presentation to the Fifteenth Finance Commission, the Agriculture Ministry has proposed to bring additional 25 lakh hectares under organic farming in the next 5 years. The current organic farming coverage of 28 lakh hectares is a measly 2% of the total farm land.

The government has been promoting organic farming in the country through various central schemes. The move is aimed at reducing the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and growth regulators. States such as Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Sikkim have boosted organic farming by providing various incentives and support.

In January 2016, Sikkim was declared India's first 100% organic state. Despite the government's push for organic farming, its adoption has been slow. Compared to some of the European countries, the total acreage under organic farming is much lower. As per Eurostat, the total area under organic farming in the European Union (EU) has been increasing over the years. In 2018, the total area under organic farming was 13.4 million hectares of the agricultural land.

This made up about 7.5% of total EU agricultural land in that year. Besides motivating farmers to take up organic farming, India has been pushing for exports of organic products especially fruits and vegetables. As per Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), total exports of organic products in value terms recorded a 50 per cent jump in 2018-19 to Rs 5,151 crore. Among the major food items that were shipped out from the country included flax seeds, sesame, soybean, arhar (red gram), rice and tea. The US and European Union (EU) member-countries were the biggest buyers of these organic products.

But not everyone is excited about organic farming. Subhash Palekar -  the pioneer of Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) - said that organic farming is a foreign method and should not be encouraged when the government is stressing on Atmanirbhar Bharat.

"Atmanirbhar Bharat means Swadeshi. Organic farming is not Swadeshi and it destroys the fertility of the land. It is far more expensive than conventional farming using chemical fertilisers. The input cost is far higher in case of organic farming. It's beyond my understanding that while the government is talking about Atmanirbhar Bharat it has decided to promote organic farming. This policy is not right," Palekar said.

Agriculture policy expert Vijay Sardana said that there was no reliable data to conclude that productivity goes up in organic farming. "There is no issue in pushing for organic farming but the government should also spell out its food security plan. Then, the other issue is organic products are sold at a premium so only the rich can afford to buy," Sardana said.

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