Yesterday's  Economic Times carries an article that brings to light that in the FY07, the actual fertilizer subsidy expense of  $12 billion was double that budgeted by the state. The article goes on to suggest that it's probably time to look at the much talked about organic farming which can potentially lower the subsidy bill to its one-fourth. If this claim is even partially true, then this definitely calls for policy stances favoring organic farming. But, is this one of those tall claims about organic farming's potential?

Many reputed organizations such as CAPSA, UN's subsidiary agency, claim that organic farming can reduce rural poverty. It seems to be an ideal solution for poverty especially in Asia Pacific region because it is labor intensive, uses no chemical and has higher return on investment, with a price premium of 25-30% that it can command. However, with 85% of the organic production in India exported due not so attractive domestic demand, the paradox is, it is mainly the rich farmers who are already producing for export who are benefiting from this booming sector. In a global market where certification is needed to show and guarantee the consumer that the product has been produced in consistency with organic standards, small farmers, who are often denied government's assistance in storing, processing, certifying and exporting their produce, fail to realize the potential benefits of organic farming.

The sad irony however is the need for certification given that most of India's farms are organic by default. Traditional agriculture which dates back to 7500-6500 BC in India has relied on scientific approach to organic farming. The seminal works of Vedic period (1000-600 BC) such as Vrksayurveda and Krishisastra , have a corpus of textual knowledge on organic agriculture practices. Sadly, in the last five decades, with our traditional knowledge and organic practices eroded with the influx of modern practices, small farmers have to pay extra to certify their produce.

The strong proponents of organic farming's potential to cure poverty claim that if the state comes up with a policy that supports these small farmers by say subsidizing the certification cost, then majority of the farming community would switch to organic farming to pocket the extra premium. However, what about those consumers, either below or just above poverty line, who cannot even afford to pay for the subsidized ration? Can those who struggle to pay even 4 Rupees for a Kilogram of Rice be expected to pay for the "organic premium" for the claimed extra health advantage? Would majority of households in the low and low-middle income class categories be able to afford the near 25% rise in her shopping bill?

Well, for now,  it evades my comprehension as to who are the true beneficiaries of organic farming.

~ Santosh

Abhishek
01/05/2008 06:16

is this report silent on 'yield'. if i am not wrong, urea use can increase the yields by 200-300%. so how does a poor farmer reap the better revenue?

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Santosh
01/05/2008 07:36

I'm not sure about the yield claim that you have made Abhishek.

As per the University of Michigan's study,in developing countries the yield from organic farm could be 3 times that of conventional farm. Check the link - http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=5936

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malika
01/08/2008 03:10

Hi! Good stuff with eye-opening facts & figures!!!

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Santosh
01/09/2008 10:34

Thanks a lot Malika!

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