Organic farming has been an integral part of agricultural practices across the world for quite a long time now. The sustainable practice of producing and harvesting food stuffs like fruits & vegetables without using any type of chemicals has always garnered both appreciation and interest from many. These days, people from all walks of life are more than ready to invest in healthy and chemical free produce that can benefit their overall health in the long run, and are doing their bit to promote healthy living within the society.
In India, where the agriculture industry is the biggest in terms of human resource and total farming area, organic farming has been the most natural method of growing crops using natural fertilizers and manures like cow dung and organic compost. Following the green revolution and introduction of modern technology during the early 1960s in this sector, the Indian agriculture industry managed to transform for the better. It gradually witnessed a shift from traditional farming methods to introduction of synthetic fertilizers in an effort to safeguard and guarantee the safety of crops from various pests, diseases, and crop destroying insects.
These policies and initiatives ensured faster production of crops and accelerated the development of modern farming methods. Nevertheless, the usage of various chemicals & pesticides during different stages of farming and packaging made such products highly contaminated by the time it reached end consumers; and posed great danger to their overall well-being.
Challenges Hindering the Growth of Organic Farming in India
However, despite such positive facts, the analysis suggests that many agronomists are unconvinced about sustainability of growth and future of the Indian organic farming industry mostly due to lack of awareness about this sector, and consequent lack of branding and promotion for higher realization.Furthermore, the study also stated that while the central government has taken some effort to create awareness about organic farming, this space
requires the intervention of the state government as well. More than anything else, they can help in encouraging farmers to focus more on organic farming practices and minimize utilization of chemicals and pesticides.
Organic Farming in India – What do the numbers suggest?
According to a report published earlier in 2016 in a joint study conducted by industry body Assocham, and private research firm TechSci Research, the Organic foods market in India is estimated to be over USD 0.50 Billion. It is further projected to treble in the upcoming years, reaching up to USD 1.36 Billion within the next four years, i.e. by 2020. Overall, the organic foods segment in the country witnessed an estimated 25 per cent to 30 per cent growth, which is quite encouraging.
Why we need to start focusing and creating more awareness around organic farming?
In recent times, it has been observed by many industry insiders that certain farmers have begun to rely on unethical farming practices to increase production of crops. According to 101 India – an online youth-focused news portal, it was recently reported that some vegetable farmers use silicone sprays, colored dyes, and injections to keep the produce ‘fresh’ prior to selling them to customers. In the video report, a farmer is seen demonstrating how he, and many other vegetable vendors use silicone sprays to make unsold vegetables retain freshness by delaying the ageing process.
The eye opening report also revealed how most green vegetables are given their bright green color with the use of Malachite green, an industrial dye. Products were also shown to be injected with the oxytocin hormone to make them grow overnight by accelerating the maturing process. Furthermore, despite being aware of the harmful side-effects of such products, the farmers revealed that they had to rely on such methods in order to earn enough to feed their families. They also said that most customers tend to avoid buying vegetables which look old, but are actually fresh.
If this does not seem like an imminent danger to one’s health, consider this:
Following are some insights of certain market players in the Indian organic farming segment that are based on some troubling current trends in consumer buying activity, and the current market situation within this space:
Current perceptions of most consumers towards Fruits & Vegetables:
- 99.9 per cent of consumers are not aware about the source of produce, like fruits, vegetables, & greens that they buy and consume.
- What’s more, most consumers do not make any efforts to know or find out about the source of farm produce.
- Low ticket size and high frequency of repetitive purchase are some of the key factors for the aforementioned issue.
Current Market Situation in the Organic Fruits & Vegetables (F&V) category:
- Most organic stores in India are similar to retail shops that includes buyers & sellers. Since the organic produce sellers do not grow the produce sold via such stores, even they arenot the most reliable source when it comes to seeking information about organic produce. The main reason for this lies in the fact that such store owners usually do not have control over the consistency in quality, color, texture, and / or finish of the final product.
- Additionally, some of these organic stores in India are about the hype, and rarely about the quality of the produce being sold.
Going by such facts, it is evident why creating more awareness about organic farming in India has become a matter of extreme importance these days. However, things have certainly begun to look bright on this front, at least in some states in India.
Sikkim – India’s first fully organic state
Following some comprehensive policy implementation and rigorous efforts, the Indian state of Sikkim has been officially named the first fully organic state in the country in 2015. The geographically diverse, yet landlocked regionalso became India’s cleanest state following the enactment of certain rules & guidelines, which regulated the use of plastic bottles and Styrofoam goods across the region.
The move to make this state completely organic came following the introduction of the ‘Sikkim Organic Mission’ project back in 2003. This was done in an effort to eliminate usage of harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides, apart from creating awareness among farmers about the benefits of organic produce.
Following this development, some state government officials across India have begun to design and implement various policies that can benefit the organic farming industry in the long run.
For example, the National Centre of Organic Farming under the Ministry ofAgriculture and Farmers Welfare has announced an initiative called the National Project on Organic Farming(NPOF) – a central sector scheme that has been continuing since the10th Five Year Plan. The main objective of this initiative is to promote organic farming across the country via technical capacity building of all the major stakeholders, including human resource development, transfer of technology, and promotion &production of quality organic and biological inputs. Apart from that, this governing body also plays a vital role in creating awareness and publicity for this sector through print and electronic media.
What’s more, with India becoming a prominent startup hub, many new players have entered the organic foods market in an attempt to exploit the growing opportunities available within this segment.
Emergence of new players in the Indian organic farming space
Over the past couple of years, it has been observed that the organic farming sector in India is entering a transformation stage due to an increase of new ventures that have begun to disrupt the market with their one-of-a-kind offerings. In an effort to promote a healthier lifestyle, these players are playing a pivotal role by providing consumers with naturally grown wholesome organic produce.
Although these players have cropped in various megacities across the country, the biggest concentration of such startups was found to be situated in the city of Bangalore (Bengaluru). Known as the IT hub of India, Bangalore’s multicultural and tech savvy youth population is one of the key reasons why this city has become a fertile breeding ground for several organic farming startups. Driven by an ever increasing urban population, Bangalore is gradually witnessing a rising demand for organically grown food stuff – a trend that shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Future of Organic Farming in India
According to an industry insider, India currently holds a prominent position among 172 countries that actively practice organic agriculture globally. At present, the country is home to more than 6, 50,000 organic producers, 699 processors, 669 exporters, and 7, 20,000 hectares under cultivation.However, with only a meagre 0.4 per cent of total agricultural land area designated for organic cultivation, it is evident that this industry still has a long way to go in terms of growth.
Moreover, since the organic food segment is still at a nascent stage in India, both the government and other private players will have to develop a strong policy framework that can benefit all involved. For now, it can be safely concluded that the organic farming industry in India holds immense potential to grow, provided it receives steady investment, and benefits from both existing and new initiatives, which can further its growth.