Lack of policy hampering growth of this method
Growing awareness about the evils of chemical fertilisers has made many countries turn to organic farming and in India too, it has been gaining momentum. So far, 13 States, including neighbours Kerala and Karnataka, have declared organic farming policies and are moving ahead. While Uttarakhand, Nagaland and Mizoram had declared that they would go 100 percent organic within a time frame, Sikkim has already declared itself as an organic State.
Experts, as well as activists, have been urging the Tamil Nadu government to declare its organic farming policy, since the State had started well by implementing measures on organic farming many years ago, but is now lagging behind.
Pamayan, one of the key organic farming activists and many others like him under the banner Thalaanmai Uzhavar Iyakkam (Self Reliant Farmers Movement), had submitted a draft organic farming policy to the then Deputy Chief Minister MK Stalin during the previous DMK regime. But years have passed without action. Pamayan told Express that only after the declaration of a policy, rules and legislations would follow.
On September 2012, the State government had formed a committee to draft the organic farming policy and many experts had contributed to the policy. It was even ready as early as 2013. However, the draft never got the approval of the State government and it has been on the back burner, says a member of the draft committee.
The ambitious policy, which is yet to get the approval of the State government, aims at encouraging use of locally available organic inputs, making available technology and promoting safe agricultural practices. It also focusses on carrying out research to identify safest and cost-effective practices, strengthening the regulatory mechanism for assessing residual toxicity and encouraging organic certification and marketing, including export.
The draft policy envisages step-by-step adoption of organic farming in the State by focussing on potential crops and areas in a phased and compact manner without affecting food security and would develop a clear plan of action with budgets for incorporation into the planning process.
When asked about the sluggish mode of the State government in the promotion of organic farming in Tamil Nadu, official sources said during the past years, the State had been facing either drought or floods, resulting in farmers facing many issues. The government has been forced to pay attention to the immediate problems of farmers, then engaging actively in strategies like organic farming.
However, officials point out that Tamil Nadu has been a pioneer in implementing organic farming techniques, although an official policy is yet to be announced. They say the government has been implementing a multitude of schemes to promote the use of organic inputs in agriculture, such as organic certification centres, organic fertiliser testing centres and promotion of organic farming through cluster approach under Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) of certification under Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY).
Successful the natural way, they guide others...
It is no exaggeration to say that organic farming is flourishing in all parts of the State, thanks to activists and volunteers, who take up this cause with a sense of responsibility towards the future generation.
There are many who practice organic farming successfully and interestingly, most of them are either young or middle-aged. Moreover, many are spreading the message about the need to go organic. A Tamil Selvan (27), a mechanical engineer by profession, is one of the volunteers of The Weekend Agriculturists (TWA) group, who work with small and marginal farmers of villages on the outskirts of Chennai.
At present, the group has taken over two acres of land in Alathur village near Thirunindravur and is cultivating paddy and other crops depending on seasons. They have a farm pond at one end to store rainwater that is used for irrigation during summer. Besides, it helps drain excess rainwater into the main canal, apart from sustaining the groundwater table.
“We are not experts in organic farming. We learn from those already in the field and inculcate the same to the others. Initially, the farmers here were reluctant, but now, they are showing confidence. Farmers ask us about organic farming since we do voluntary service. We are documenting our work in these two acres and keeping an account of the expenses incurred. We are planning to show it as a presentation to prove organic farming is feasible and good for the soil,” Tamil Selvan said.
Around 15,000 enthusiasts are following the TWA group in the facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/theweekendagriculturist/. The farmers in Alathur area are doubtful about marketing crops grown organically and to resolve that, TWA is working on a new project.
K Sabi Ashok (37), hailing from Nagapattinam, was a technical safety engineer in the Oil and Natural Gas Company in Abu Dhabi and drawing around `10 lakh per month. But now, he is practising organic farming in 10 acres of lands in Nedungadu village in Tiruvarur district. “Of the 10 acres, I grow traditional fruit varieties — jackfruit, pomegranate, guava, mango, sapota and tea, paddy in four acres. In one acre, we have a farm pond and another acre, plantain trees. In a quarter acre, jasmine flowers. Though the income is very less when compared to what I got abroad, I get a good night’s sleep and good health. I took it up amid opposition from my family.”
S Thirumurthi (38), an organic farmer who owns 10 acres of land near Bhavani river at Satyamangalam, is quite successful too. “Despite severe drought, I was able to have 50 percent yield. Had I applied chemical fertilisers, I would not have got this yield for one simple reason — whenever chemical fertilisers are used, the soil needs more water and in the absence of excess water, the crop gets withered.
“For producing one kg of rice, you need 3,000 litres to 5,000 litres of water. But for millets like Kambu, Ragi and Maize, only 250 litres of water is required. So, when you have less water, the farmers should go for millets. And since Tamil Nadu is a water-scarce State, it should turn to organic farming,” he pointed out. He said the government should not encourage hybrid seeds at any cost because they are responsive only to chemicals. He is also rearing traditional Kangeyam bulls.
Farmers to govt: Promote self-reliance, ban hybrids
Tamil Nadu is blessed with seven varied agro-climatic zones such as coastal plains, western ghats, hilly regions and inland areas, offering wide scope for cultivation of almost all kinds of tropical and subtropical crops and some temperate crops too. Thus, the State has ample scope for becoming an organic State in a quick pace.
At present, organic farming is flourishing in Tamil Nadu quietly, due to the contribution of individuals and campaigns of leaders like the late Nammazhvar. However, organic farmers have certain expectations from the government.
Activist M Senthamizhan says having an organic farming policy is the first step. “There is a notion that going organic is a concession. This should change. The syllabus for the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University should be completely revised. This university seems to have much more power than the agriculture ministry because it submits research papers on pesticides etc., so they make important decisions. The university should organise classes on organic farming from those who practice it already.”
“At present, organic manures are provided for the farmers. It is necessary for the soil during the transition period. But for those who learn natural farming, even organic manures are not necessary.
So, using organic manure and pesticides forever cannot be accepted as we tend to make the soil reliant on something else. The soil has the power to revitalise itself. At present, due to use of chemicals, it has lost its vitality and organic manures are helpful in recovering stage. If this continues, the farmers will be forced to buy organic manures from some companies and the cycle will continue,” he adds.
“The government should be a facilitator and should not poke its nose into everything. For example, at present, agriculture department officials are giving away hybrid seeds that are chemical-responsive. So, adopting organic farming and advocating hybrid seeds won’t go hand in hand. Over a period, traditional varieties of guava, papaya and pomegranate have disappeared only because of hybrids,” Senthamizhan observes. “The next important step is to collect traditional seeds from our farmers and produce more such seeds and distribute them.”
Pamayan of Thaalanmai Uzhavar Iyakkam says traditional farming had been practiced by all, but things changed after World War II. He says the organic farming policy of Tamil Nadu government should have self-reliant farming as its basis. “The State policy should ensure farming techniques that won’t prevent the natural cycle of sustainable living of organisms. Adopting soil management techniques which would ensure the fertility of the soil, giving priority to traditional seeds and breeding of traditional varieties of livestock are important,” he says.
He also feels promoting organic farming will help in relieving farmers from debt burden and make them self-reliant. It would reduce input costs that go into buying chemical fertilisers and seeds from big companies. The government should ensure the availability of traditional seeds that are native to the region in which they are cultivated, which above all, will ensure non-toxic food, he says.
Fields of harm
Sustainable agricultural practices are the way to go, say activists
Dependence on chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides has led to imbalance in agro-ecosystems
Indiscriminate use of pesticides is a threat to the survival of many species of birds, predators and beneficial insects, besides causing resurgence of pests
Pesticides spoil the soil and water ecosystem, disturbing the entire food chain, which includes human beings
On the other hand, organic farming builds fertile soil and contributes to pest and weed management.
According to the Rodale Institute in the US, organic farming uses 45% less energy. Conventional systems produce 40% more greenhouse gases