A new report by the Indian non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) provides evidence in favour of non-chemical agriculture.
The report released virtually in February 2022, has presented solid evidence that organic and natural farming (non-chemical agriculture) is not only profitable and sustainable but also productive.
This evidence can propel India and other nations to invest more adequately to upscale and encourage such a mass movement.
CSE director-general, Sunita Narain said during the launch that despite the push given to it through periodic pronouncements from India’s leaders, the country’s efforts to upscale non-chemical farming practices have largely remained half-hearted at best.
“CSE’s new report on the subject presents robust evidence which makes it clear that we can upscale organic and natural farming. It is time to invest adequately in a well-funded nationwide programme for this,” she added, according to a statement by CSE.
The report is titled “Evidence (2004-20) on holistic benefits of organic and natural farming in India.”
The report was released a day after India’s Union finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman made a pitch for promoting chemical-free natural farming.
She also encouraged states to revise the syllabi in their agricultural universities, keeping in line with this new push.
“But, these are relatively small steps compared to the need of the hour and especially after the prime minister’s appeal in December to make natural farming a mass movement,” Amit Khurana, programme director, Sustainable Food Systems programme, CSE and co-author of the CSE report, said.
What the report presents
The report presents evidence collected and collated on aspects such as crop yield, cost of cultivation, income and livelihood, soil health and environment and food quality and nutrients.
It is based on two sets of sources:
- Results of the All-India Network Project on Organic Farming (AI-NPOF), 2004-19. The project is currently being implemented across 20 centres in 16 states. The report compares results of three approaches — organic, integrated (which partly involves chemicals) and inorganic (dependent on chemicals).
- About 90 scientific studies on organic and natural farming were published during 2010-20 in India. These collectively add to and complement the overall evidence.
The report makes a clear case to consider the holistic benefits of organic and natural farming, such as those related to livelihoods, soil health and environment (instead of only yield) in future policies and programmes.
It presents long-term evidence through the AI-NPOF results on how the benefits of the organic approach outweigh that of the inorganic approach, with respect to profitability parameters such as net returns and soil health parameters like organic carbon, macronutrients, micronutrients, bulk density and rhizosphere microbial population.
Evidence in favour of non-chemical agriculture
The evidence collected by the report brought out some interesting details.
Of the 504 times that yield results were recorded during 2014-19, the yields were found to be highest 41 per cent of the times with organic approach, followed by 33 per cent with integrated and 26 per cent with the inorganic approach.
Of 61 cropping systems, net returns have been seen to be the highest in 64 per cent with the organic approach at 12 centres, 11 per cent with the integrated approach at four centres and 25 per cent with the inorganic approach at five centres.
The five-year mean net returns with the organic approach are higher than inorganic in 67 per cent cropping systems.
Cropping systems with an organic approach have scored the highest in terms of all the parametres on soil health — organic carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The report’s findings on soil bulk density, soil bacteria, fungi, micronutrients, etc also offer a similar verdict.
“It is surprising how the results of the government’s own All India Network Project on organic farming, which has been present in the public domain for the last several years, did not get the required attention. It is also a concern how the entire issue so far has focused on yields and not on livelihoods and soil health benefits,” Khurana said.
“It is evident that the organic approach has fared better than integrated on profitability and sustainability and is almost at par with it in the case of productivity,” Abhay Kumar Singh, programme manager, Sustainable Food Systems Programme in CSE and a co-author of the report, said.
Abdul Halim, his co-author and the Programme’s deputy manager, said: “There is proof that natural farming involves low costs and helps in introducing resilient crops, energy and water efficiency, plant and animal biodiversity, carbon sequestration and climate mitigation.”
The report recommends actions needed to upscale organic and natural farming.
These are building a well-funded ambitious programme, training and supporting farmers during the transition, making available quality organic fertilisers and biofertilisers, enabling agriculture extension systems, farmer-friendly certification, enabling market access and action at the state level.