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India’s future lies in organic farming

(Monday, July 21, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Ashok B. Sharma, Financial Express: Last week’s reports on rejection of large consignments of Indian food exports by the United States and some European countries on grounds of several sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures have raised a question mark on the future of the country’s agro exports.

However, as per recent reports, Indian exports in general have performed well in 2002-03, registering a growth of 19.18 per cent and garnering a forex of $52,234.30 million. Agriculture and allied products exports, which account for only 8.5 per cent by weight in the total basket, posted a growth of 10.32 per cent by fetching $4,484.83 million. Exports of plantation crops like tea and coffee could fetch only $536.38 million, marking a decline of 9.10 per cent.

Total imports in 2002-03, rose by 19.20 per cent to be at $61,286.31 million. Imports, which are considered to be necessary inputs for production and re-exports and which account for only 38.86 per cent in the total input basket, grew by 20.11 per cent to be at $23,815.99 million. India’s trade with US and China has grown considerably. While with US, India registered a favourable trade balance, it has an adverse one with China. India’s exports to China in 2002-03 were $1,961.11 million while China’s exports to India in the same year amounted to $2,782.50 million.

The message is loud and clear. We should not be complacent with a 10.32 per cent growth in agriculture and allied products. These products constitute only 8.5 per cent by weight in the total export basket. In dollar terms our major exports are of rice, wheat, raw tobacco, spices, cashew nut-in-shell, oil meals, sugar and mollasses, fresh and processed fruits, vegetables, meat and meat preparations and marine exports. Though tea and coffee are major items for exports they are on declining trends. We need to boost exports of all other agro commodities.

Global consumers are increasingly looking for organic food which are considered safe and hazard free. A study conducted by Rabo India shows that the global market for organic food is expected to touch $23 to $25 billion by 2003 and $29 to $31 billion by 2005. Countries which are opting for organic foods are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzeland, UK, Finland, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Norway, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, US, Canada, Japan and Oceania countries. The global prices of organic food are more lucrative and remunerative. Are we able to exploit this growing market, despite the fact that a large part of our country are ‘organic by default’?

About 65 per cent of the country’s cropped area is unirrigated where the farming practices are still largely ‘organic by default’ and yet they produce sufficient food. Use of chemical fertilisers are comparatively low in Eastern and North-Eastern parts of the country and yet there is sufficient food production. This explodes the myth that our output would fall if we go back to organic farming. It is the high yielding varities of seeds which are important and not excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

We have been slow to cash in on the global situation. We have so far certified only 1,426 farms as organic. We have never encourged farmers practicing traditional agriculture to remain organic and they are gradually trying to switch over to using chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The FAO basing on the Indian government’s figures of certified organic farms has estimated that the country produces only 14,000 tonne of organic produces. But the fact is that the country has more areas of organic farms than offically certified and produces more organic food than estimated by FAO.

The government and the exporters should take up this task of locating organic farms in the country and encourage them to continue with organic farming. India can develop higher SPS norms than EU if organic farming is encouraged and our agro exports will not face any problems in the future.

Also we will be in a better position to address the health concerns of our people. India has so far allowed only Bt cotton and not any other GM crops. It is, therefore in a better position to export its agro produces to EU and other countries which are averse to GM foods.