India’s farming sector has an organic answer

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MUMBAI // When a new organic food venture launched in Hyderabad 12 years ago, it had a hard time convincing farmers in India to take up organic methods.

They were sceptical about the change, especially given that it takes up to four years for a farm’s soil to become free of pesticides and chemicals.

But the efforts of the company, 24 Mantra Organic, paid off, and today it works with almost 30,000 farmers and its products, ranging from lentils to spices to juices, are sold in more than 1,500 shops in India and overseas.

Organic farming is on the rise in India, with Indians demanding healthier food and the central and state governments increasingly pushing for and supporting organic farming.

There have been instances in which Indian food exports have fallen foul of international standards, which furthers the case for organic farming. Food safety inspectors in the UAE last month found potentially dangerous levels of chemicals and pesticides in some fruit and vegetable exports from India.

 “We have seen tremendous growth and momentum in the past five years in the [organic farming] sector,” says N Balasubramanian, the chief executive of 24 Mantra Organic. “The awareness about organic products has increased manifold among the consumer and the demand for organic products has increased tremendously.

“Around 10 years back when we had just started out, people were not very conscious about what they were eating. Affordability of organic products has also increased along with the rise in purchasing power of the people. The organic sector in India is set to grow further.”

He says: “With government support and incentives, the farmers are now willing to try out organic farming, especially since there are many success stories around them.”

One such success story can be found in Kerala, in the south: Bijumon Kurian grows coffee and spices organically in Kottayam in Kerala.

“Organic farming is growing annually and the Indian government is promoting organic farming,” says Mr Kurian, who is also the managing director of Plantrich Agritech, which is an accredited supplier of fair-trade certified and organic food products to the European Union, and also exports to the Middle East.

Mr Kurian is also the president of the Manarcadu Social Service Society, a farmer cooperative in Kerala that supports small- and medium-scale farmers, certified by international organic and fair-trade standards for 12 types of foods including coffee, vanilla, black pepper, pineapple, coconut, nutmeg and ginger.

“There is an awareness among the consumers for the global movement of organic and it will be one of the answers for climate change and chemical farming is polluting the air, soil and water, so there is a trend towards organic farming in India,” he says.

There are more than 100,000 farmers in Kerala practising organic farming and at least 10 cooperatives promoting the sector in the state, he says.

Leading the way is Sikkim in north-east India. Earlier this year, it became the first state in the country to become completely organic. This was achieved after the local government in 2003 declared that Sikkim would become an organic farming state and eventually banned the sale of chemical products for use on farmland.

Mr Balasubramanian says that the north-eastern states in India are where the majority of farmers use organic farming, although the practice is spreading across the country.
“Traditionally these have been heavy rain-fed areas and have been cultivating naturally. But now Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Kerala farmers are taking up organic farming.”

Madhya Pradesh has the biggest area of farmland under organic certification, followed by Himachal Pradesh and then Rajasthan, according to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda), which is part of the Indian government.

Source: The National

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