A group of farmers in Mudhol reveal how the government can help them overcome challenges in organic farming.
April 6, 2020
Increased health consciousness has seen a surge in demand for organic foods in India following awareness on the damaging effects of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Despite the demand, organic foods are difficult to source and expensive as farmers are reluctant to turn to organic cultivation. Yet, it is a booming but highly unorganized industry!
Supporting this trend, the Government of India has introduced several incentives such as Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) but it appears that such schemes are yet to penetrate successfully through the bureaucratic mesh before it arrives at the doorstep of the farmers.
Organic farming is a comparatively arduous task that discourages many farmers from giving up the easier route of cultivating crops using chemical fertilizers. But it has not deterred this community in Mudhol, who, concerned by the adverse effects of chemical fertilizers to health and environment, embarked on a self-initiated campaign to promote organic farming.
Jagannath Shirbur is a 28-year-old new generation hands-on farmer who firmly believes in the need to curb the damage done by chemical fertilizers to health and soil nutrition which he claims will affect our future generations. It is not just meeting the commercial objective of promoting organic crops, he states, emphasizing that a change in mindset towards organic farming is essential to safeguard our health as well as of others.
The brainchild of the organic farming campaign is the 56 year old Subhash Shirbur, Jagannath’s father, who narrates his story on how this came into being. “We have been toying with the idea for almost six years and during this time we would visit many organic farms in an attempt to gain the needed confidence. Then we brought in an expert named Subhash Palekar from Maharashtra and he gave us a proper insight into the subject during a two-day workshop that was organized for all farmers. This gave us the right impetus and after giving away our stock of chemical fertilizers, we launched into organic farming on the 23rd of January 2003. The workshop also provided encouragement for many farmers to switch to organic farming. And we achieved it without any support from the Government “.
Says Jagannath “The Government of India has announced several schemes on organic farming like the PKVY but the farmers do not receive any benefits. A wide gap exists between measures taken by the government and the organic farmers. The schemes are aimed at stimulating farmers to give up chemical fertilizers and go organic, while there is absolutely no recognition nor reward for those who have taken the initiative to achieve it with their own resources “. He added that there is no information or help forthcoming from government representatives at the local level.
Jagannath explains that the organic jaggery produced by his farm sells for Rs160 to Rs 180 in Bengaluru, whereas it is purchased from farmers for Rs30 to Rs40 allowing middlemen to benefit from the marked-up prices and decimating profit margins for farmers. “Our immediate need is to have a digital platform that allows the organic farmers to market their produce within direct reach of the end consumer and we seek the government’s help in creating a nationwide sales and distribution network for our products” says Jagannath. He firmly believes that digitalization can be utilized to build a direct link between the government and organic farmers in communicating awareness of the schemes which will make it successful and not only boost organic farm production but also help farmers overcome the many hurdles and interruptions they have to deal with at the local level.
Kamala, aged 34, who is the part of Mudhols organic farmers campaign, has a wide range of organic products from seeds, nuts and grains to vegetables, seasonal fruits, oils and honey which is sold every morning. Her organic farming business is a joint family operation where everyone, whether young or old, chips in to prepare the final product for sale including her independent 100-year-old grandparent.
Taskeen M Dange, the Agricultural Officer for Mudhol explains that the program implemented locally is the zero-budget natural farming (ZBNF) whereby farmers are divided into two clusters separating organic from the non-organic. The farming process has been commercialized and organic farming can be only promoted without pressurizing the farmers. She adds that the onus lies on the citizens, who are educated, to make the right choice in opting for chemical-free organic foods which will spur demand and help farmers.
The Writer at the Taluk Office, B Laxman reasons that 102 out of 250 people tested in Mudhol were detected with cancer. He points out that the chemical manure is one of the chief reasons which has contributed to this status, the use of which has deteriorated the soil quality and is contaminating crops. Susheela Shetty, a retired Professor of Agriculture feels that the timing is perfect for organic farming. “Chemical fertilizers were a necessity in the past to feed India’s growing population. The country’s current robust economy can facilitate the move to organic farming “she explains. Ms Shetty emphasized on establishing a direct connectivity between government programs and the farmers thus eliminating tedious processes that adds to the delay. “The authorities at the local level can do their part of identifying and endorsing the organic farmers to receive government subsidies.
Jagannath has gathered the farmers under a single umbrella by forming a group titled Ranna Organic Farmers Association comprising of 57 farmers. The idea is to brand and market their products jointly under this identity so they can bridge the current distance with the consumer. Their request to the government is to help them sort the red-tape formalities involved and smoothen the process in their quest to offer healthy and chemical-free farm produce to the public.
Feature Image Courtesy: malongo.com