The concept of organic farming doesn’t solely focus on producing nutritious food, but it includes other aspects of promoting biodiversity, using natural resources responsibly, and providing more labour opportunities as it is labour-intensive, compared to conventional agriculture. All this being said, asking farmers to ditch the chemicals and make a leap to organic farming is not panning out as we expected it to at Kookalthorai village.
Firstly, the yield gap between chemical-intensive farming and organic farming is one factor which deters farmers from converting. This is entangled with the economic factor – high yields more money, in a short span of time.
Secondly, the farmers in this region grow crops that are foreign. They are not the crops that were grown traditionally. Close to 1000 acres of farmland cultivates these foreign crops (beans, carrots, zucchini, red cabbage, iceberg lettuce, broccoli, celeries etc.) Most of the harvest is sold at urban cities around the country.
The seeds for these vegetables are sold by subsidiary companies that are affiliated with corporations that promote agro-chemicals. So it is impossible for the farmers to get pure organic seeds for the crops they grow.
Also, conventional farming and organic farming have drastic differences in style to which the farmers will find hard to adapt in a short time. Such change just cannot happen casually.
Lastly, organic produce can be profitable as they can be sold at a higher cost. But unfortunately finding markets to sell them is not easy. Locally, markets or traders don’t really care about the produce being organic. The major focus is on large-scale production as the demand already exists.
“I am willing to change to organic farming; up to that boundary is my land, about 2 acres. I will convert all of this. But, where is the market to sell my tons of yield for a higher price than the chemical grown vegetables? Why will anyone buy from me when there are other farmers with inorganic vegetables from whom they can buy at a lower price”, says Gillan a farmer who is currently growing Zucchini in his farm.
There is a sense of unwillingness to change their crops. Farmers in the region are accustomed to the way things are working currently. One farmer said that he made a good amount of money in just 2 cents of land in which he grew cabbage. “Each cabbage weighs close to 2 kilos, in just 55 days; I could harvest two and a half tons”.
Encouraging them to use bio-pesticide is one way to deal with the matter. But are there enough organic fertilizers that are easily accessible for these farmers? Even if it did, the genetically modified seeds or hybrid seeds are reliant on chemical pesticides to grow better. Seeds which were once farmers’ resource have become “intellectual property” today.
It is important to focus on changing the mentality towards this new system to which these farmers are clinging on to. It’s an uphill task, but cannot be written off as unachievable, as all they are asking are for a market to sell their harvest to be economically stable and more support in regard to inputs from the government.
How can you help as a consumer?
Demand for organic food is booming in urban pockets. People are taking health seriously and are paying attention to what they buy. As consumers, there is a possibility that we can change the way things work. Yes, organic produce costs more, but indirectly farmers will be getting good returns for growing organic as demand increases, or you can change your shopping style; find out stores that work with local producers, small farmers, family farms etc.
Wouldn’t you rather pay 50 rupees more, rather than having to spend thousands or lakhs once your health deteriorates? The organic price tag just reflects the true cost of growing food.
Moreover, government interventions is necessary to set things right. The farmers in this region spray pesticides as per their understanding and growth levels of the crop. They are not aware of the Minimum Residual Level (MRL) limit as a regulation. Setting up government certified stores for bio-inputs from which farmers can buy at subsidized rates will encourage the farmers to use them.
Continuous training and communication with the farmers are a persistent attempt from our side. “The farmers know about the health hazards these pesticides cause. Their assurance to us that they are open to organic farming is itself a positive thing and they just need alternatives,” says Thanvish (Field Coordinator – Water & Sanitation).