Problems of using chemical fertilisers
The Green Revolution in India led to an increase in food grain production. The introduction of High Yielding Variety (HYV) of seeds and the enhanced quality of fertilisers augmented agricultural production.
However, excessive and inappropriate use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides increased soil and water pollution and rapidly depleted the natural nutrients present in soil. Rampant and reckless irrigation practices have also led to soil degradation and depletion of groundwater levels. Using too much of fertilisers has altered the fertility of the soil and increased the acid levels. In addition to altering the pH levels, synthetic fertilisers also tend to kill the beneficial micro-organisms present in soil. This makes agricultural production highly dependent on fertilisers as the natural fertility of the soil gets compromised by repeated use of chemical fertilisers. Fertiliser usage has also been associated with the decrease in nutritional value in many food items.
Organic farming as an alternative in India
The benefits of the Green Revolution have now been nearly exhausted and with its diminishing returns, it is now necessary to devise alternate agrarian techniques and practices. Organic farming can be a sustainable alternative. However, it would require focused policy intervention to make it a viable alternative to ordinary farming. Organic farming is a holistic agricultural production management system and is one way to promote self-sufficiency and food security in addition to combatting soil pollution.
Organic farming builds up organic soil matter better than conventional farming. According to research, one teaspoon of compost-rich organic soil may host as many as 600 million to 1 billion helpful bacteria from 15,000 different species. Not only does organic farming build healthy soil, but it also helps to combat serious soil and land issues such as erosion. A study comparing adjoining organic and chemically treated wheat fields showed that the organic field featured eight more inches of top soil as compared to the chemically treated field and also had only one-third erosion loss as compared to the chemically treated field. Organic farming system relies heavily on crop rotations, use of crop residues, animal manures, legumes, green manures, off farm organic wastes, bio-fertilizers, mineral bearing rocks and aspects of biological control to maintain soil productivity.
Problems of organic farming
Organic farming is not without its share of problems. For one, organic manure is not abundantly available and they may be more expensive as compared to chemical fertilizers. Agricultural production in organic farming declines especially during first few years, so the farmer should be given premium prices for organic produce. Additionally, the guidelines for organic production, processing, transportation and certification are beyond the understanding of most agriculturalists in India.
How feasible is organic farming in India?
India is home to 30% of the total organic producers in the world, but accounts for just 2.59% (1.5 million hectares) of the total organic cultivation area of 57.8 million hectares, according to the World of Organic Agriculture, 2018, report. At the same time, most organic farmers are struggling due to poor policy measures, rising input costs and limited market.
According to a recent report, nearly 98% farmers in Rajasthan are aware of the ecological hazards of conventional chemical-based farming, but the fear of decline in production and unavailability of organic inputs discourage them from switching to organic farming.
Problems are evident even in Sikkim, which was recognised as the country’s first organic state in 2018. A survey by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment found that the phasing out of chemicals in Sikkim were not complemented by a simultaneous increase in availability of organic manure.
According to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, productivity on an average dips by 6.7% in the first year of organic farming and the government needs to have a plan in place to support farmers during the transition. To ensure marketing of organic produce, connecting farmers with the domestic and global supply chain is extremely important. Organic products cost 20% to 100% more than their conventionally produced equivalents. The high prices of organic produce are a major deterrent.
Steps needed for an 'Organic India'
Organic farming is essential to combat rising levels of soil pollution in India. The government, meanwhile, has not done enough. Since soil is a living entity, it must be enriched to the maximum extent. The golden rule is to circulate crop residues, cattle droppings, and every other biological waste back to the field. Every biological waste taken away must be replaced in the field. In case of soils deficient in nutrients, mineral grade rock phosphate and lime must be added through composting or directly to enhance the richness of the soil.
The challenge lies in prompting the farmers to shift to organic farming. In the Indian perspective, customers usually opt for cheaper options. There is need to initially subsidise organic farming and organic produce in India. In West Bengal, the state government has set a target to prepare 32 organic villages across Bengal — especially in the districts of North and South 24 Parganas, Howrah and Hooghly. It has set up 120 clusters of 50 acres each, where organic farming is being practised. Such steps need to be reciprocated across India to combat soil pollution and promote organic farming.