Organic Farming - It's Not Just A Fad

17.10.22 04:19 PM By sreenivas

Be green. Be organic. And organic farming’s the way

Ever wondered why the organic section of the supermarket once deserted is now getting crowded with each passing day? Or why people are quitting their white-collar jobs and switching to ‘organic farming’? Or maybe how the term organic is not restricted to fresh locally sourced produce anymore but has now become a mere catchphrase to a way of life? Read further to know more.

What is organic farming?

According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, organic agriculture is an ecologically intensive production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation, and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and good quality of life for all involved. In fact, the principles, and practices of OF have been expressed in the standards of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) as the principle of health, ecology, fairness, and care.

A brief history

People these days think organic farming is just a fad, but the truth is that organic farming is nothing new, it was the conventional farming practice that our ancestors followed back in the day. However, it started gaining importance after 1920, as a reaction by individual agricultural scientists, notably Albert Howard, the founder and pioneer of the organic movement, and farmers against industrialized agriculture, which used excessive chemical fertilizers and pesticides and adopted rash and environmentally damaging methods whereas though organic farms produce lower yields than comparable conventional farms, they are more profitable, more friendly to pollinators and the environment, and deliver equally or more nutritious foods with fewer pesticide residues 

Why is organic farming becoming crucial?

The prime reason why we need a shift to organic is because of the blatant unchecked use of harmful chemicals used in commercial agriculture that can impact our health. Basically, every bite of an apple you buy from a local store can bite into over 30 pesticides - even if the apple has been thoroughly washed.

Organic farmers work alongside natural soil and millions of microorganisms and bacteria that are an integral part of fertile soil. It is these tiny organisms that breathe air, water, and nutrients to the plants, living there for ages nourishing and enriching the soil to feed generations of plants to come. The introduction of chemical fertilizers has degraded soil fertility and perished the microorganisms that contributed to its rich nutrient content, making the soil a sterile environment and nutritionally bankrupt, forcing us to enter into a vicious cycle of adopting more intensive farming strategies which include using chemicals to get excellent results. 

So, Organic farming relies on...

Banning of chemicals: 

Use of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and all things synthetic can deprive nutrition-acquiring processes of plants like nitrogen fixation, making soil nutrient deficient. Also, the toxic residues from all the synthetically farmed food over time build up and can lead to extreme deterioration of human health, resulting in cancers, respirational problems, allergies, ulcers, birth defects, hormonal imbalance, and so on. 

With green manure and methods that integrate cultural, biological, mechanical, physical, and chemical strategies to manage pest and weed elimination naturally yet efficiently, finding their place in planning rotations, achieving soil sustainability and carbon sequestration is not impossible anymore.

Crop rotation and mixed cropping:

Considered the backbone of organic practices, crop rotation is the succession of different crops cultivated on the same land. Normally following 3–4 year rotation plans, the method helps keep soil healthy and keeps the natural microbial systems working. On the other hand, mixed cropping involves the simultaneous growth of a variety of crops at different times on the same land. For instance, it must be ensured that every season care should maintain legume cropping by at least 40%. This practice promotes photosynthesis and avoids competition among different plants to draw their nutrients from the different depths of soil. Successful implementations of these methods can lead to an increase in nutrient and energy cycling, enhancing the retentive abilities of the soil for nutrients and water, thus compensating for the non-use of chemicals and artificial methods.

Effective micro-organisms (EM) technology:

Rooted in a consortium culture of different effective microbes commonly occurring in nature, N2-fixers, P-solubilizers, photosynthetic microorganisms, lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria, and various fungi and actinomycetes, each microorganism has its own beneficial role in nutrient cycling, plant protection, and soil health and fertility enrichment. 

Organic farming helps keep the planet healthy.

Rising environmental crises like increasing global temperatures, non-degradable plastic wastage, as well as air and water pollution levels,  have started to torment people’s minds. Often attributed to deforestation, higher usage of transportation, generating power, and industrialization, the lesser overlooked factors are agriculture and food production, which are in fact the major contributors to this threat. Reports show that more than one-third of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions are generated by food systems. Food generates an average of 2 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions per person annually, indicating that elements of our food production processes are harmful. These crises call for immediate espousal for sustainable methods to save our planet from dimension. And here’s how organic farming contributes to it-
  • Harvests solar energy
  • Promotes the usage of renewable resources
  • Instrumental in the conservation of soil and rainwater 
  • Helps achieve a balanced and diverse ecosystem by encouraging soil flora and fauna, enriching the soil to create more stable systems.
  • Making the earth immune to climate changes, which in turn leads to the greenhouse effect and so on.
  • Improves immunity
  • Enhances soil productivity and fertility
  • Encourages the development of natural fertilizers like on-farm composts, vermiwash, botanical extracts, and much more, making farming methods cheaper. For instance, animal dungs are nutrient-rich sources for the soil to fertilize.

Conclusion

India, as of 2018, has the largest number of organic producers, constituting more than 30% of the organic farmers globally. However, what prevents India from emerging as a global leader is the lack of support and technical knowledge, and inputs besides marketing infrastructure. Research results available from over a decade confirm the yield advantage in many crops such as basmati rice, maize, cotton, chickpea, soybean, groundnut, etc. But yield reduction in the initial years due to the swift switch over from inorganic to organic, the wide gap between the availability of an organic source of nutrients and requirements, and the lack of pest and disease management options have impedimented India’s growth in organic farming. Government initiatives like the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) program involving the accreditation program for certification agencies, norms for organic production, promotion of organic farming, etc. have urged states to join the bandwagon

A 2019 systematic review article published on Frontiers in Sustainable Food System suggests that certification guidelines for organic farms successfully promote reliable environmental benefits, but greater reliance on ecological processes may reduce the predictability of crop production. While turning towards organic it is essential that the basic requirements of the system and the area are properly understood and long-term strategies are addressed- poor soil health due to loss of organic matter, soil microbial load, reducing water availability, and increasing temperature- all add to the problems. Less organic products supply against exponentially growing demand has made the agriculture a cost-intensive high input enterprise with diminishing returns, despite the worldwide expansion of organic agriculture We need to address all these concerns and develop a system that is not only productive and cheap but also resource-conserving and sustainable for centuries to come. 

sreenivas

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