The Organic Trail

Organic and Eco-friendly? What is the worldwide fuss all about?

Organic Food, a term coined by Lord Northbourne in 1939 is a holistic approach to farming. However, the Organic industry developed a phenomenal following only in the 1990s.  “Even while organic is now, relatively common food terminology, it is the distinct difference in the, taste flavours, and awareness, that the food one is consuming, is free of genetic modification. Organic means good, clean and fair: good in terms of taste, clean in terms of environmental sustainability, and fair, in terms of price and value for the people who produce it.”

According to some, Organic Farming is practically unheard of in India, or is it? For generations raw elements of our food have been grown without the use of pesticides. Currently India is the second largest producer and exporter in the world of fruits and vegetables. Many small farmers cannot afford pesticides, nor does anyone ask at the marketplace, if the vegetable produce has been sprayed or not. Food has been produced the natural way for centuries, the use of chemicals and pesticides is a fairly recent phenomenon. Organic farms have always been small family run units and the produce is available in small shops or farmers markets.

Organic farming follows certain production standards, namely. the absence of chemicals and the use of natural pesticides. Most certified produce from India includes rice, tea, wheat, spices and coffee, to name a few. In the case of livestock, feeding them a healthy diet without the use of supplements and growth hormones is a practice that is endorsed now but in a country like ours, growth hormones are a recent addition.

The adage ‘Know your farmer, know your food’ gives a personal dimension to the whole process. International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) promotes the principles of Organic Farming as the principles of health, ecology, fairness and care. Agriculture is one of mankind’s most basic activities. And the principles are embedded in the way we live, on our outlook upon life and health and the health of the ecosystem. ‘It is not simply the absence of illness, but the maintenance of physical, mental, social and ecological wellbeing.

In times of recession it’s all about targeting high-end users. The government too is to blame for high costs, with Export incentives and high returns from foreign markets is about 70%, of India’s agricultural produce which is exported. Whilst there is little left for the domestic consumer, nevertheless there is an emerging market. In many ways Indian produce comes back to India repackaged with a foreign label and twice the cost like speciality teas for example.

The conversion from chemically treated to Organic farming takes three years under current government policies. With most small farmers still going through the transition period it will be a while for prices to drop and for Organic produce to be affordable at a certain point of time. Several studies by various organisations have proved that organic farming is better at sustaining different ecosystem’s, use less energy and creates less waste. However the volumes produced are far less than those produced by conventional chemical farming.

One asks: Why healthy food should be exported while we have to eat pesticide-laden food. Volumes notwithstanding, it is the effort that makes the whole enterprise a worthwhile proposition. The entrepreneurial skills of non government organisations and enterprising individuals who are capturing the market, they have started to support sustainable farming to protect the farmer and create a system of biodiversity.

In the matter of supply and demand, the retail market is still making inroads into making available Organic foods for the consumer. It appears to be the start of changing times. Pantaloons food bazaar is trying to make organic food available to the masses through its economical outlets, but as they say there are not enough certified brands as yet. India still has to overcome hurdles like quality, transport, storage of products all of which requires reliable suppliers to meet with the demands of the consumer.

The economics of using organic produce just does not justify the creation of complete meals as yet, maybe in the future. Changing mindset of consumers will bring about a change, but with time. People need to eat healthy without the encumbrances of a higher price package. Organic food produced locally also brings down the cost due to ‘food travel’ viz that is the distance the food has travelled from the farmer to the consumer. It is the way to go, to be eco-friendly, “50% of the organic food production in India is targeted towards exports, think that when it comes to organic food, India only exports organic food and very little is consumed. However, this is not true. Some people believe that organic food is only a “concept” popular in the others countries. “

                        Taking ones health into account, and on the nutrition front, organic food is known to contain 50% more nutrients, vitamins and minerals, as against chemically grown food, of which you would have to eat twice as much to get the same amount of minerals, and ingest a whole dose of chemicals, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones that animals are fed with. The attributes of organic food is that, with more nutrients one gets more energy and the body is able to fight of diseases better. It takes one away from genetically modified food which is a cash cow for producers of mass food, where it has been proven, that animals that have been fed with GM foods are prone to diseases like foot and mouth disease and swine flu.

Governments will spend less cleaning up the mess and pollutants put into our waters through pesticides etc by manufactures of GM food.

The bottom line is, one’s health is in one’s hands. One must create a demand for food that is environmentally safe for animals, the land, forests and people. It is healthy, nutritious and above all can be made economically viable. However, the Indian organic food consumer needs education. There are many consumers who are unaware of the difference between natural and organic.