Sunday, July 8, 2007

PUNJAB State Policy on Organic Farming

By Umendra Dutt

Punjab is going to have a state policy on organic farming very soon. The Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh has announced this in current session of the assembly. However, announcements made are always political but policies are always drafted without any political will and vision. This lack of vision takes policies always away from the very people on whose name and welfare the policies are declared.
Organic farming is gaining growing importance in the agriculture sector of a number of countries, irrespective of their stage of development. In several developed countries, organic agriculture has come to represent a significant portion of the food system (10% in Australia, 7.8% in Switzerland) and many others are experiencing growth rates that exceed 20% annually (e.g. USA, France, Japan, Singapore). Some of the developing countries have small domestic organic markets (e.g. Egypt) and a few have begun to seize the lucrative export opportunities presented by organic agriculture (e.g. exports of Mexican coffee, Ugandan cotton.)
India had historically practiced organic farming. Sir Albert Howard, who was sent to India as an Imperial Economic Botanist to work at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute in the year 1905 to improve Indian agriculture, soon concluded that agriculture, as practiced by the India peasants, was rooted on the sound principles of sustainability. Howard, who was elected President of Indian Science Congress in 1926, observed that agriculture research should not be misused to make the farmer exploit the soil reserves but to teach him the knowledge to transfer capital in the shape of soil fertility and the reserves of his livestock to his profit and loss account.
The Indian peasant, for Howard, epitomized 'good farming' by faithfully copying Nature in their agriculture. Livestock were not merely source of nutrition in the form of milk and meat, or of energy in the form of draught animals, their urine and dung was a crucial cog in the progress of growth. So were growing leguminous crops, ploughing back crop residues and the extensive use of green manure. Howard's research proved the improved efficacy of humus for crop yield and resistance to pests and diseases, as compared to chemical fertilizers. He developed the Indore process of composting, which is even today being practiced widely by organic farmers.
Since the era of Howard, many changes and, that too, fast changes have taken place in the growth of agriculture both in India and in the world.
The pesticide centric agriculture had taken centre stage in country's planning and perception and Punjab has become most vital component of this chemical-based agriculture system. Since then, the Punjab was projected as the model state for the success of green revolution; it has become the centre of intensive agriculture practices from 50's. During last five decades, India has increased the consumption of pesticides from 154 MT in 1953-54 to 80,000 MT in 1994-95. Therefore, Punjab is leader in the high use of pesticides. Consumption of grade pesticides in Punjab is highest in country. Punjab is consuming 7100 MT of pesticides for its 7693 hectares with the percentage of 923 grammes per ha. Punjab has highest pesticide load among the Indian states. More over the cotton belt of Malwa is consuming highest pesticide density in country. Punjab is just 2.5% area of total agriculture land in India and it consumers near 18% pesticides of the country, where as the cotton belt comprises only 15% area of Punjab and it consumes nearly 70% pesticide of the state, thus making the equation more dangerous. Malwa's cotton belt is less then 0.5 % geographical area of country but almost 10 % pesticides of country are used here.

From last five years there are number of documents brought up by various government agencies and institutions. In 2001 Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperation, Government of India had formed a Task Force on Organic Farming headed by Dr.Kunwarji Bhai Jadav that brought out its report in November 2001. In September 2001, the Working Group on Organic and Biodynamic Farming, constituted by Planning Commission submitted another report.
The Task Force on Organic Farming had made several recommendations, few are very important, as:
i) Economic value of chemical fertilizers and organic manures may be equated in terms of their overall effect on soil productivity, crop production and then Government may provide the support accordingly.
ii) The technology packages on organic farming as developed by farmers, NGOs and others may be evaluated and the successful technology may be expanded in larger areas.
iii) Bullock drawn implements should be encouraged.
iv) Bankable model schemes on organic farming may be prepared and circulated among the States for its adoption and popularization.
v) Each of the agricultural universities in the country may start a course at the Post-Graduation level on organic farming.
vi) Each KVK may set up a vermin-compost unit and a biological control unit for demonstration and dissemination of the techniques. These centres may also provide bioagents / antagonist and earthworms to the farmers after their training.
vii) Each KVK may lay out one demonstration on organic farming by taking major crops of that area as test crops.
viii) Farmers training about cost-benefit relationship in organic farming and about export of organic produce may be organised through some designated institutions specialized in this area. The Government may support such institutions, which may include NGOs.
ix) The organic markets for supply and purchase of inputs and outputs for organic farming may be developed.
x) Adequate numbers of certification agencies may be identified, registered/recognized. The certification agencies may be financed by the Government to carry out free certification for the farmers for intended export of organic produce.
xi) In the areas of high production, the shifting to organic farming system may result into loss of produce in the initial years. For such switch over, farmers may need to be compensated for initial 2-3 years.
xii) All the Central Government farms may set up vermin-compost units, develop, and demonstrate the system of re-cycling of crop residues. This may be demonstrated by reduced consumption of chemical fertilizers on the Government farms.
xiii) All the State Government may be advised to consider to device the system as introduced by Government of Madhya Pradesh about the experimentation and demonstrations on Government farms on 50:50 area basis on organic on organic farming and other forms of farming.
xiv) The biodynamic means of preparing nutrients may be standardized and the technology may be popularized.
xv) The crop residues should not be permitted to be burnt. Suitable legislation may be thought of, if required.
xvi) Adequate information may be made available to the farmers about the crop-wise residues arising and equivalent nutrient value per unit area through such crop residues.
xvii) The ventures of vermin-compost, compost, press mud and other forms of generation of organic nutrients for crop production may be exempted from levy of all kinds of taxes, excise and income tax etc.
xviii) The agriculture being a Sate subject, the State Governments may be effectively involved in the National programme to be prepared for promotion of organic farming.
xix) Each Sate may set up a State level cell or create a suitable unit at the Headquarter of Directorate of Agriculture to oversee the promotion of organic farming in the State.

Most of these recommendations stay there in files only. Some how in 2003, Government of India had accepted one of important recommendation of Organic Farming Task Force and National Centre for Bio-Fertilizers was converted into National Centre for Organic Farming in 2004. Moreover, National Project on Organic Farming was approved with an outlay of Rs.57.05 crores for production, promotion, and market development organic farming in the country during 10th Plan.
Apart from Central Government, five states have their state policies on organic farming this includes Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttaranchal, Andhra Pradesh is in the mid of drafting process. Moreover, Himachal Pradesh has initiated a state level project on organic farming. The Northeastern states had also prepared an elaborative plan for organic farming promotion.
Every policy has few indispensable components- the vision, the ultimate objective and the inbuilt capacity to fulfill peoples' aspirations. The policy should address its core issue holistically. Its guiding principal lies in the well-being of community and the nation at large. It reflects the tradition, the heritage and socio-economic and civilization thought process, perceptions and progressive unfolding of the society. For this, policy has to be evolved by the involvement of community and its inputs. These are the fundamental of participatory democracy - a key word for sustainable development in true sense.

The announcement made by the Chief Minister is quite important may be converted in to timely initiative. As organic farming, is gradually picking-up in Punjab with more and more farmers joining the sustainable stream? Several civil society groups have started the organic farming across the state by involving farmers either as individual or as a group.

The Punjab Agro Export Corporation has taken a lead in this by initiating an export-oriented project. Punjab Agro appointed the consultants for this project and as per claims; they are working with more then 1200 farmers covering near 8000 acres of land. Some central government institutions like CAPART, KVIC and NABARD had also come up with schemes for supporting the projects of vermi-composting, organic farming and marketing. Apart from this, large numbers of farmers are converting their farms to organic by their own or in collaboration with some private company, charitable or religious institution and even Goshalas. On the other side, showrooms or corners for the sale of organic produce are also coming up in major towns. The general awareness is also spreading by the virtue of debate on health and ecological crisis in Punjab courtesy the pro-active role of Media. The media had also played very important role in promoting organic farming movement.
The PAU has also come up with a project in Department of Agronomy, though it is still in infant stage. However, we must understand PAU’s perspective and approach towards organic farming. PAU scientists openly show their apprehensions regard potentials of organic farming. They even put limitations of organic farming in their official presentation on organic farming. Secondly, they are even equating BT cotton produce with organic one. Even senior officials from Agriculture department had shown their doubts for productivity and yield. So, wither it is PAU or Agriculture department both are working half-heartedly, it may be because there is clear misunderstanding related to yield potentials of organic. Moreover, agriculture scientists from are not so open to learn from experiences of farmers from other Indian states, if it is United States then they may follow it. There is a false self-pride feeling in Punjab that we have to feed rest of the country, we have to grow more and more, and it is only possible by chemicalised agriculture.
Punjab must take note of example of Cuba becoming self-sufficient in food and vegetables by organic farming and that too with in three to four years of time. Cuba has opted for organic in 1990-91 and by mid-1995; the food shortage had been overcome. It is general opinion that a nation cannot feed its people without synthetic agro-chemicals, yet today Cuba is self-reliant in food security without using these deadly agro-chemicals. This is a result of change in mindset and agricultural vision and Punjab needs the same.
This is the appropriate time to raise the public debate on state policy for organic farming in Punjab. As the Chief Minister himself assured to formulate a state policy therefore, one can hope that Punjab state policy on organic farming will soon become a reality. Nevertheless, an important question must be answered that what should be the priorities in Punjab. What is meaning and relevance of organic farming for Punjab?

Organic Farming in Punjab is like reintroducing some thing a man has lost due to some accident or in pursuer of circumstances. Though it is being said that organic farming is comparatively new field for the farmers of Punjab, although they practiced it since time immemorial, It was during the green revolution years of sixties and seventies of twentieth century that the abandoned it. The revival of sustainable and organic farming practices in Punjab can be called as a rescue mission and an effort to retrieve the lost heritage. Therefore, it is the appropriate time to discuss the problems of organic farming in a very vast spectrum. To support those brave farmers of Punjab who have dared to adopt organic path of agriculture in the very capital of green revolution some one should take an initiative to bring expertise debate right in to fields of Punjab. There is not any piece of land in Punjab where crops can be grown without inorganic synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Virtually the total land of Punjab has turned barren because it has lost its natural nutrient pool. The situation is alarming and the signs are ominous.

We seem to be quite close to a stage, which can rightly be called "agriculture chaos” The time to act is now. In the present circumstances, organic farming is perhaps the only alternative, which can help us to come out of this agricultural and ecological crisis in Punjab. There is a need to shift from 'Quantity' to 'Quality' and that is possible only if the issue is understood holistically.
Impact on ecology and health: A slight change in the eco system can cause very devastating and long-term effect on the health of all living organisms including humans. Use of very high doses of lethal agro chemicals in agriculture during these days is responsible for the spurt of many diseases, which were very rare in the past.
Economics of debt and suicides: The cost of inputs in agriculture is increasing day-by-day; land holdings are simultaneously decreasing making agriculture unviable for majority of farmers. Baring some big farmers, almost all are caught in the debt trap and are unable to repay their loans. The land is mortgaged with the moneylenders, who some times use hard tactics for recovery. Farmers live in the fear of loosing their lands. It is not surprising that Panchayat of Harkishanpura in district Bathinda and Mal Singh Wala in Mansa district had passed a resolution announcing that the village was up for sale. In Punjab, honour is a sacred word, the people here are a proud lot, and they attach great importance to their dignity. Due to their inability to pay back the huge debts, the hundreds of farmers have committed suicide in Punjab. Green revolution has not only gone sour, it has now turned red. The huge number of suicides is a testimony to the entire equation going wrong.

In addition, there is a need to earnestly orchestrate an organic farming revolution in which following issues need to be given stress and close attention: -
1) Generating awareness among the farmers to change their mindset.
2) Guiding and helping the farmers in the proper implementation of organic
Farming techniques.
3) Making proper arrangement for marketing the organic fertilizer and organic
4) Helping the policy maker and administration to come forward with sound
policies to help the farmers.
5) Increase agro-bio diversity through mix cropping, conserving water
resources and increasing genetic diversity.

To accomplish this very difficult, but urgently required task, two things are very important - the will to work and a congenial environment for growth of organic movement in Punjab.
The Organic Farming vision should be mission-oriented and farmer-centered, unlike the popular view of organic farming that has a commercial orientation and is corporate-centered.
Making agriculture sustainable economically & ecologically- The modern agriculture systems now proved to be exhaustive, exploitative and abusive towards nature, man and civilization. Therefore, we have to adopt a perspective and agriculture system, which can bring back the very pride of our farmer, his self-respect, his self-confidence, and his faith in the agriculture heritage of his own ancestors. This agriculture perspective will based on SWADESHI KRISHI DARSHAN comprising of on-farm composting by farmer, preparation of bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and other inputs by farmer her/him-self and by local/area/regional resources to make minimal dependence of farmer on market forces. For this, we have to establish a network of organic farmers, which can facilitate as a hub for exchanging and sharing of experience, creating a farmer managed pool of knowledge system and resources.
Marketing Arrangements and Organic Consumer Network- This aspect is related to the survival of the farmers as the yield of organically produced crops are initially low during transition or evolution period and subsequent price is not sufficient and remunerative to sustain organic farming. For this awareness, integrated with the intricate network of consumers for regular supply chain for quality health food free from poison is also very important. Thus, organic consumer can play a vital role to encourage more and more farmers to adopt organic farming. The social groups, educational institutions and off course private commercial ventures, can help to organize these organic consumers networks.
Handling, Packaging, and warehousing The products for marketing needs attractive packaging, efficient handling and storage during the off-season. The transition period after harvesting and before marketing is indeed a crucial phase as a number of insects and other living organisms and climatic variation influence the stored harvest. For this, farmers and persons dealing with organic produce need proper training.
Certification Procedure, Cost, and Logistic � As Punjab is facing acute environmental-health challenges so; the preference should be given to local consumers of Punjab. Nevertheless, if we think about export, few issue need to be addressed. For exporting the organic food to other states as well as to foreign countries, or for placing these products in the super markets of metro cities, certification is required. Its procedure, cost involved in obtaining the certificate and keeping WTO in view, the farmers needs specialized training and support. The present system of so-called certified organic products is very corporate oriented and mindlessly copied from abroad (where the "food miles" are longer), pushing the Indian farmers out of the organic market. In this context, one thing is clear: that for local or domestic market we should evolve certification processes and standards that are indigenous and community-based. This can create scope for civil society groups to promote organic food.
Organically Certified Seeds � For a good yield, certified seeds form the backbone of the organic farming. This aspect needs special emphasis and attention from the scientists and agriculturists of our universities. The market oriented organic farming system causes serious implications on the traditional seed keeping practices. Especially, the TRIPS regime of WTO is posing threat to farmer's right over bio-diversity and indigenous seed verities. We should encourage our farmers to become seed-keepers, as they are already doing this through traditional system.
Role of Bio-inputs Companies � As India is a large country and the consumption of inputs for agriculture is very high, there is a need for serious business acumen for producing specialized bio-inputs, which may include organic manure, pesticides/insecticides and growth related agents in the villages of Punjab. Externalization of input servicing in biological systems is difficult and energy intensive. Hence, the local resources are to be utilized appropriately through efficient entrepreneurships. The standardization of bio inputs also needs serious and thorough attention. This is very important to safeguard the interest of organic farmers so that the standardization process and its implementation should be made mandatory. BIS and other agencies may evolve procedures in this regard. The NGOs and organic farming groups should be given the role of monitoring in this regard. Government support for scientific mass-production of compost, bio-fertilizers, bio-control agents, antagonists, and other benevolent organisms shall be given a major thrust in the policy statement paper.
Involvement of Women: The women are playing very significant role in restoring nature and making organic farming a success in several places throughout the country. As organic farming can be termed as family enterprise, the involvement of women can provide organic farming the requisite motherly care. Women-power has immense scope and strength for scientific mass-production of compost, bio-fertilizers, bio-control agents, antagonists and other benevolent organisms through a structured entrepreneurship along with post-harvest handling of crops including value-added product production. This shall also provide the enhanced opportunity for women to take part in this endeavor of transforming the agro-cultural scenario. Civilization and its spontaneous evolution cannot be imagined without the active participation of a major part of the population, which is a woman.
Incentive and subsidies: The subsidies and other incentives shall play a crucial role for the promotion of organic farming and it becomes more relevant in the present WTO regime. In fact, the subsidies paid by the American and European governments are indeed very high and form the backbone of their farmers. Government schemes for promotion of organic farming should consider this aspect. Appropriate schemes and policies for the development of organic farming in the state are needed. These must be farmer oriented and may require rising of special funds. Rising incidents of suicides by the Punjabi farmers is another pointer of their woes. The cost of inputs is increasing day by day, the pests attacking the crops are becoming resistant to even the most lethal chemicals insecticide, pesticides and other synthetic pyreathroids agents, thus creating huge losses to already struggling Punjabi farmer.
GE Crops and Organic Farming: Into this situation, Genetic Engineering is being imported as the solution (BT Cotton for example) whereas it has the potential to further worsen the situation given all its potential environmental and health hazards. No one should be misled by the propaganda of GE seed companies taking Bt.crops as pesticide-free organic crops, where as Bt.crops have also a pesticides, preotein (delta endotoxin) that has disputed effect on human health. So, at no point Genetically Engineered or Bt. Crops can be considered as organic at all.
Kheti Virasat Mission is of the firm belief that organic farming is the appropriate answer in this context; it is need of hour to motivate the farmers of Punjab to gradually switch over to the organic farming practices.
Punjab government should invite suggestions and inputs from all the stack holders and partners for sustainable development of state before formulating any policy. Public Hearings and dialogue must be initiated to make policy people's oriented and realistic.

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