Organic Agriculture

Organic Agriculture: An Indian Perspective

By: Kirti Jain, Botanist, currently in Pune.
Organic farming in India is a traditional practice. With the advent of chemical fertilisers, farmers chartered new paths to higher levels of productivity. With the ills of inorganic inputs now apparent, consumers in the global markets have turned towards organic food - yet again asserting its relevance.
Organic Farming

Organic agriculture is cultivation of plants without the use of any artificial or synthetic chemical input (fertiliser, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc.), genetically modified organism (GM food), irradiation and bio-solids. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and biological cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of synthetic inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition and innovation for the benefit of people and the environment. It works at grass root levels preserving the reproductive and regenerative capacity of soil, good plant nutrition, and sound soil management – producing nutritious food rich in vitality. There are set standards for producing, storing, processing, packaging and shipping of organic food. In several parts of the country, the inherited tradition of organic farming exists and is an added advantage as organic producers can tap the increasing domestic and export market today. Some domestic forms of organic agriculture include the Panchakavya, Agni Hotra, Reshi Kheti, Jaivik Krishi, and Vedic Krishi. Growing consciousness about health hazards due to possible contamination of farm produce has led to the increased attention towards organic agriculture during the last few years with producers, processors, traders, exporters and consumers developing an organised market in the sector. The organic producers in India include individual farmers, farmer groups, NGO projects, companies and estates.

The Indian Government through its Ministry of Commerce and Industry has implemented the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) to provide an institutional mechanism for the implementation of organic agriculture standards and policies. The programme is developed and implemented by the Government of India as the apex body. Following are the major functions of NPOP:

  • Providing means to evaluate certification programmes for organic agriculture and products as per the approved criteria

  • Developing policies for the certification and development of organic products

  • Producing the National Standards for Organic Products (NSOP)

  • Formulating the National Accreditation Policy and Programme (NAPP)
    Accrediting certification programmes to be operated by inspection and certification agencies

  • Facilitating certification of organic products in conformity to the NSOPs

  • Developing regulations for the use of the National Organic Certification Mark

  • Encouraging the development of organic farming and organic processing.

The standards for the NPOP and the National Accreditation Policy were prepared on the basis of the guidelines evolved by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM), the European Union (EU) regulations and the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

The Government constituted a National Accreditation Body (NAB) that approved the National Accreditation Policy in 2001 which designed six accreditation agencies – Agricultural Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA); Coffee Board; Spices Board; Tea Board; Coconut Development Board; and, Directorate of Cashew and Cocoa Development. NAB also has several certification agencies some of which are branches of foreign certification bodies; others are local certification bodies, all of these are able to certify based on the NPOP.

For a farm or its product to be certified organic, every step in the production process from raw materials, to agricultural methods, processing and final packaging must conform to the NSOP. The farmland should be free from synthetic chemicals with all seeds and plant material certified organic. Species and varieties cultivated should be adapted to the soil and climatic conditions; and be resistant to pests and diseases. The crop varieties should be considered based on structure and fertility of the soil and surrounding ecosystem, such that nutrient loss is minimised. Biodegradable material of microbial, plant or animal origin produced on organic farms should form the basis of fertilisation. All relevant measures should be taken to minimise contamination from outside and from within the farm. And finally, relevant measures should be taken to prevent erosion, salination of soil, excessive and improper use of water and the pollution of ground and surface water. The producer seeking accreditation is required to keep a detailed record of every step in the process to ensure that the standards are met. Once a farmer starts using organic agriculture techniques, it takes his farm and the produce upto three years to be certified – the conversion period.

The trademark ’India Organic’ is owned by the Government of India. Only those producers, exporters, manufacturers and processors whose products are duly certified by the accredited inspection and certification agencies, are granted the license to use the logo. As per the data provided by APEDA India produced around 3.88 MT of certified organic products in 2010-11 which includes Basmati rice, pulses, honey, tea, spices, coffee, oil seeds, fruits, processed food, cereals, herbal medicines and their value added products. The production is not limited to the edible sector but also extends to organic cotton fibre, garments, cosmetics, functional food products, body care products, etc. Currently, India ranks 33rd in terms of total land under organic cultivation and occupies the 88th position under organic crops to total farming area. By 2010-11 the cultivated land under certification was around 4.43 million hectares.

The NPOP standards for production and accreditation system have been recognised by European Commission and Switzerland as equivalent to their country standards. Similarly, USDA has recognised NPOP conformity assessment procedures of accreditation as equivalent to that of US. With these recognitions, Indian organic products are accepted by the importing countries. India exported 86 organic items in the year 2010-11.

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