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Organic Farming of Vegetables in India: Problems and Prospects (Part II)

Organic Farming of Vegetables in India: Problems and Prospects (Part II)

By Prof. T. K. Maity (Department of Vegetable Crops, BCKV, West Bengal)

The basic concepts behind Organic farming are:

01It concentrates on building up the biological fertility of the soil so that the crops take the nutrients they need from the steady turnover within the soil nutrients produced in this way are released in harmony with the needs of the plants.

02Control of pests, diseases and weeds is achieved largely by the development of an ecological balance within the system and by the use of bio-pesticides and various cultural techniques such as crop rotation, mixed cropping, and cultivation.

03Organic farmers recycle all wastes and manures within a farm but the export of the products from the farm results in a steady drain of nutrients.

04In a situation, where conservation of energy and resources is considered to be important, community or country would make every effort to recycles to all urban and industrial wastes back to agriculture and thus the system would be only be a small inputs of new resources to “top up” soil fertility.

Options in Organic Farming

There are three options going for Organic Farming to alleviate the problems caused by conventional inorganic farming systems. They are:

01Pure Organic Farming: This accounts complete exclusion of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, but advocates the use of organic manures and biological pest control methods.

02Integrated Green Revolution Farming: Under this option, the basic trends of the green revolution such as intensive use of external inputs, increased irrigation, development of high yielding and hybrid varieties as well as mechanizations of labour are retained with much greater efficiency on the use of these inputs with limited damage to the environment and human health. For this purpose some organic techniques are developed and combined with the high input technology in order to create Integrated Systems such as, “Integrated Nutrient Management” (INM), “Integrated Pest Management” (IPM) and biological control methods which reduce the need for chemicals.

03Integrated Farming System: This option involves low input organic farming in which the farmers have to depend on local resources and ecological processes, recycling of agricultural wastes and crop residues.

Hence, for improving the quality of the life and ensuring the reduction in depletion of natural resources needs a farming system, which results in viable and sustainable Agriculture production.

Organic Farming in India on specific situation

Considering the above-cited facts, one has to be very rational and consider the use of organic sources alone only in cases where there are most economical and the produce needs to be of very high standards from health point of view. In Indian context, Organic Farming can be more profitable under the following situations, where instead of quantity, quality is more important:

  • Fruits and vegetable crops where use of higher doses of chemical fertilizers (especially N may lead to higher NO3 content) and imbalanced nutrition of crops.
  • Plantation crops like tea, coffee, cashew nut etc. where the nutrient removal is less and recycling of these through leaf fall is high.
  • Other horticultural crops having high export potential in International markets like spices
  • Local varieties of different crops having high quality and export potentials.
  • Neem, dried nuts, oilseeds, pulses, cottons, basmati rice etc with export potentials.
  • Soils having high fixation capacity of the nutrients like the calcareous, acidic & alkali soils.

Technologies for Organic and Low Cost Agriculture

Organic agriculture with low-cost of production will have direct impact on Indian agricultural trade in global market. The application of resource conservation technology for the reduction in in-put application without sacrificing the yield should be the future target in technology development and its demonstration.

There are some varieties in each crop, which perform very well under restricted resource availability and are resistant to biotic and abiotic stress conditions. Such varieties can be grown to reduce the cost of cultivation.

The bio fertilizers and bio-agents application in agriculture will have greater impact on organic agriculture and also on the control of environmental pollution, soil health improvement and reduction in input use.

Recyclable nutrients (N, P, K, S, Zn, Mn, Fe and Cu) from plant and animal waste in Haryana alone have been estimated at 787 thousand tonnes equivalent to 30% of fertilizer usage. The technology for converting waste into compost has been developed but it needs refinement and large-scale verification for which provision of funds is required. This step would help in organic farming,
reducing the cost of cultivation and improving the soil health.

Application of weedicides has to be stopped in organic farming. Control of weeds can be done to a larger extent through changing the crop dynamics and timely sowing. Biological control of weeds can be highly effective. Use of Green Manure is highly beneficial for organic production and maintaining soil health.

Application of microbes in agriculture is one of the best options for organic agriculture. Soil contains 104 to 105 microbes/g of soil to perform various functions

  • Plant growth promoter
  • Enhancement of nutrients availability
  • Preparation of value added products
  • Development of transgenic
  • Bioremediation/removal of toxicants
  • Can be used as bio-control agents

Certification and Legislation of Organic Food in India

Certification is an important prerequisite for the acceptability of organic products or foods as organic by Government Regulatory Authorities, exporters, importers, as well as consumers across the world. To satisfy their requirement, a sound system of certification and labelling of the produce by a competent agency is highly essential.

The organic certification is a procedure by which a third party between the producer and consumer gives written assurance that the product, process or service confirms to specific requirements. The farming unit for organic production has to be supervised and inspected at frequent intervals and at different stages of production before certification in order to ensure quality and authenticity.

The Certification Agency has to adopt very reliable methods such as Soil tests, Water tests, Food quality tests and other natural quantitative indicators so as to ensure credibility of the system in order to prevent fraudulent labelling of the products. It is necessary to keep the records of all management practices and materials used in organic production for five years. The crops must be grown on the land, which has been free of prohibited substances for three years prior to harvest. Crops grown on land in transition to organic (during the last three years after switching from conventional farming) cannot be labeled as ORGANIC. Once the produce is certified as ORGANIC, the producer or the processors are entitled the symbol. The most highly accepted voluntary certifications are from agencies like CODEX, IFOAM, Naturland, Demeter, Soil Association etc in the international level. In India, Statutory Certification Norms relating to organic foods regulates the organic exports only not the domestic organic food industries. Although in India, the External certification bodies have been introduced for inspection and certification programmes since 1987. But in March 2000, the Ministry of Commerce launched the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP), designed to establish national standards for organic products, which could then be sold under the logo ‘India Organic’. To ensure the implementation of NPOP, the National Accreditation Policy and Programme (NAPP) was formulated, with accreditation regulations announced in May 2001. These make it mandatory that all certification bodies, whether already engaged or proposing to engage in inspection and certification of organic crops and products, should be accredited by an accreditation agency. Foreign certification bodies operating in the country must also be accredited under the NAPP. For Organic Certification Agency, International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), Germany has established the IFOAM Accreditations Programme. In India, IOAM (Indian Organic Agriculture Movement), a member of IFOAM, adopted the IFOAM International Standards, the basic production standards applicable under Indian condition were prepared, and farmers growing crops as per IOAM standards are eligible to get the Certificate and the organic label. The farmers can sale the organic produce in the local as well as International markets on the basis of IOAM label. At present in India, the following six authorized accreditation agencies has been approved by the Ministry of Commerce, Government of India. They are i) APEDA (Agricultural & Processed Food Product Export Development Authority), ii)Coffee Board, iii)Spices Board, iv) Tea Board, v) Coconut Development Board, vi) Cocoa & Cashew nut Board In addition there are four Certification Agencies accredited by APEDA such as i)IMO Control Pvt. Ltd., Bangalore (Institute for Marketecology, Switzerland), ii) Skal International (The Netherlands), India, Bangalore, iii) SGS (SocieteGenerale de Surveillance, Switzerland) India Pvt. Ltd., Gurgaon, iv)ESCOCERT (Ecological Certification, France) International, Germany NSOP also formulated rules for misuse of the term, “Organic”. Any operation that knowingly sells per labels a product as, “Organic” except in accordance with the National Standards may be subject to a civil penalty India’s first ever local Organic Certification Body, INDOCERT (Indian Organic Certification Agency), was established in March, 2002 with an objective to offer a reliable and affordable organic inspection and certification services to farmers, processors, input suppliers and traders. It is an independent, nationally operating nonprofit trust whose primary aim is in conducting inspections and granting certification for organic production methods. It provides certifications both for domestic as well as export market. INDOCERT also functions as a platform for training, awareness creation, information dissemination, and networking in the field of organic farming. According to the year of production, INDOCERT label the products as organic as follows,

Crops 1st year  2nd year 3rd year 4th year
Annual No label In Conversion to Organic Agriculture Certified Organic Certified Organic
Perennials No label In Conversion to Organic Agriculture In Conversion to Organic Agriculture Certified Organic

Conversion to Organic Production Systems

Conversion period is actually the time between the start of Organic management and certification of crops and / or animal husbandry. When traditional agricultural methods fulfill the principles of the Standards, no conversion period is required. When virgin lands are used for organic purpose, no conversion period is required. The whole farm, including livestock should be converted according to standards over a period of time. If a farm is not converted at once, it should be done on a field-by-field basis. The conversion plan shall cover all aspects relevant to these standards. The converted land and animals shall not get switched back and forth between organic and conventional management Conversion requirements.

Conversion Requirements

It should have clear conversion plan. It should include, History and existing situation of crops, fertilizing, pest management, animal husbandry etc, a schedule for the progression of conversion and the details of the aspects which is required for change during the conversion period. Usually the conversion period is calculated on the basis of date of application to the Certificate bodies or from the date of last application of unapproved farm inputs. In case where the whole farm does not get converted, then it should be ensure that a fixed demarcation between the conventionally & organically framed plots and the organically framed plots should be easily accessible for frequent inspections etc, all farm records and accounting is identifiable for both farming systems, no parallel production should take place and conversion area should not get switched back and forth between organic & conventional management. Plant products from annual production can be certified organic when the standard requirements have been met for a maximum period of 12 months before the start of production cycle.

Perennial plants can be certified organic at the first harvest after at least 18 months of management according to the standards. The Certification Agencies may allow plant products to be sold as “produce of organic agriculture in process of conversion” when the standards requirements have been met for at least 12 months. On farms with simultaneous organic and conventional production the use of genetically engineered organisms is not permitted on the conventional part. Certification of processing units can be done when there is clear documented evidence that organic and conventional streams of processing are separated.

Objectives of Organic Farming in Vegetable crops

01To produce food of high nutritional quality in sufficient quantity

02To encourage biological cycles within farming systems by involving the use of microorganisms, soil flora & fauna, plants and animals

03To maintain and increase the long term fertility of soil and biodiversity

04To use renewable resources in locally organized production systems

05To work with a close system with regard to organic matter and nutrient elements

06To avoid all forms of pollution that may results from Agricultural techniques

Why total adoption of organic Farming of vegetable crops is not feasible/ viable in India?

  • Though Organic Farming is one of the best approach to get sustainability in the crop production, still some constraints are there in adoption of Organic Farming in full fledge under Indian conditions. It is because of following reasons:
  • Organic farming is highly knowledge intensive farming. So one has to keep pace with the dynamics of nature to increase the biological productivity of the soil.
  • There is no organized extension machinery to disseminate the proven technologies and in many case the basic information itself is not available.
  • Reduction of yield in initial few years of conversion from pure chemical farming to organic farming, once the farmers switch over to Organic Farming.
  • Organic inputs may be difficult to generate on the farm.
  • The organic produce may not find an early market as most of the vegetables are perishable in nature
  • Shifting to pure organic farming is a very time consuming and laborious methods.
  • Number of cattle households decreased gradually day by day, causing scarcity of FYM.
  • Nutrient content is very low in organic sources. Varied nutrient content in organic materials, so it becomes difficult to farmers to calculate the actual amount of organic materials to be added in soil.
  • Collection and processing handling from wastes are most complicated.
  • Cattle dung, urine and farm wastes are to handle manually.
  • The consumer need protection, so the Certification and Inspection programme have to be Nationwide
  • Exporting of organic produce calls for adhering to predetermined organic standards, which should be confirmed to International Market demand also.
  • There is lacking of adequate research & development backup as well as training in Organic Farming in India.
  • There is problem in availability, transportation, and application of biological materials to meet the nutrient demand of the crops. Ÿ Biological pest control is very knowledge intensive.
  • Green manuring has also become uncommon as the farmers are more interested to grow as many crops of economic importance as possible and it has become difficult to have green manure crops in the crop sequences.
  • Green leaf manuring also has become limit due to over exploitation of shrubs and trees.
  • Lack of package of practices involving Organic-farming practices along with cost benefit ratio of different crops.
  • Lack of farmer’s adoption without any financial help from government or other development agencies because of chances of yield loss in initial years of adoption.

Suggestions for promotion of Organic Farming in India

Some suggestions have been made for success of Organic Farming in India, which must be kept in the mind (Anonymous, 1998). They are as follows:

  • Establishment of centre of excellence and countrywide network for research on Organic Farming
  • Documentations of available indigenous technological knowledge (ITK) and other technologies developed by various public sector research centres/NGO/ individuals on different aspects of Organic Farming in India
  • Introduction of core courses on the concepts and practices in Organic Farming in the curriculum of Under graduate and post-graduate degree programmes at different SAUs and other Agricultural Institutes
  • Standardizations of mechanisms or methods for suitability or judging of Organic Farming practices
  • Formulation of appropriate package of practices of productions of different crops under Organic Farming Systems
  • Export groups, comprising of eminent agricultural as well as social scientists and progressive farmers may be constituted for visiting farms of successful farmers associated with organic farming practices
  • Dissemination of knowledge on Organic Farming through KrishiVigyan Kendra (KVK), field demonstrations, TV programmes and other suitable mass media etc.


Organic Farming has the twin objective of the system sustainable and environmentally sensitive. In order to achieve these two goals, it has develops some rules and standards which must be strictly adhere to. There is very little scope for change and flexibility. Thus, the Organic Farming does not require best use of options available rather the best use of options that have been approved. These options are usually more complex and less effective than the conventional system. With ever increasing population having huge requirements of vegetables and meager availability of organic resources, pure organic farming is not possible in India; rather some specific area can be diverted to organic farming for export of high quality vegetable crops. Thus, as a whole under Indian condition, only partial switching to Organic Farming of export oriented vegetable crops can be possible in recent times. In this context, it will relevant to quote Nobel Laureate Dr.Norman Borlaug (2002) who said that,” Switching on food production to organic would lower crop yields. We can use all the organic that are available but we are not going to feed six billion people with organic fertilizers.” For Indian Agriculture, use of chemical fertilizers cannot be totally eliminated, rather can be reduced, or minimized. It has been proved by various experiments that by conjoint application of inorganic fertilizers along with various organic sources are capable of sustaining higher crop productivity, improving soil quality and soil productivity, besides supplying N, P and K, these organic sources also helps in alleviating the increasing incidence of deficiencies of secondary and micronutrients. The commercial mineral fertilizers will have to be bearing the main burden of supplying plant nutrients to meet the nutrients to meet the food requirements of increasing populations. Therefore, these organic resources should be used in integration with chemical fertilizers to narrow down the gap between addition and removal of nutrients by crops as well as sustain the quality of soil and achieve higher crop productivity. Nation wide adoption of Organic Farming is not possible due to its high cost, unavailability of organic resources, productivity etc which will leave many more people hungry. In this context, renowned Agricultural scientist and thinker Dr.M.S.Swaminanthan (2003) said that,” a hungry man is an angry man” and,” if the hungry man happen to a young man, then we have a potential terrorist amongst us” as stated by eminent Scientist Prof. Chhonkar (2003). Thus, in India, adoption of Pure Organic Farming is possible partially, more specifically crops having high export potential in International markets .On the other hand, full adoption of Integrated Green Revolution Farming, another option of Organic Farming can be possible to a large extent, where, the basic trends of the green revolution such as intensive use of external inputs, increased irrigation, development of high yielding and hybrid varieties as well as mechanizations of labour are retained with much greater efficiency on the use of these inputs with limited damage to the environment and human health. For this purpose some organic techniques are developed and combined with the high input technology in order to create Integrated Systems such as, “Integrated Nutrient Management” (INM), “Integrated Pest Management” (IPM) and biological control methods which reduce the need for chemicals.