I have been actively involved in Gurgaon’s organic scene since 2016. Throughout my journey, I have encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called “organic farmers”. However, it is disheartening to admit that I have only come across a handful of farmers who genuinely practice organic farming. The majority of these organic farmers fall somewhere between organic and conventional methods. Today, I will share my experiences dealing with organic farmers and shed light on the reasons behind their adoption of what I call half-hearted organic farming.
Despite facing numerous challenges, many of these farmers choose to venture into organic farming. I commend their courage in taking this path. However, the entire system tends to favor conventional chemical farming, despite the superficial push for organic practices. Even after decades of lip service by the government, organic farming still falls behind conventional farming in terms of numbers.
Official figures indicate that only 2% of the total land is dedicated to any form of organic farming. Most of these so-called organic farmers are uncertified, meaning their organic farming practices are dubious at best and fraudulent at worst.
I am aware of some farmers who don’t engage in any organic farming at all. However, as organic products fetch higher prices, they sell both organic and conventional products but charge the rate of organic produce for both. This has severe implications:
- Loss of Trust: This fraudulent practice erodes trust in the organic movement, which also affects legitimate though uncertified organic farmers.
- Hindered Progress: Customers’ transition towards organic products is hampered when they encounter dubious products at inflated prices. This discourages purchases and slows down the movement.
- Inflated Prices: Due to the limited organic movement, the prices of organic fruits and vegetables, in particular, are significantly inflated. This keeps the masses away, hindering the sustainability of the organic movement.
As responsible consumers, it’s crucial to understand that simply paying higher prices does not guarantee completely organic products anywhere in the world. However, this is even more relevant for Indian consumers. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Stay Informed: Educate yourself about organic farming practices and certifications.
- Ask Questions: Seek information from farmers and sellers to make informed choices about the products you purchase.
- Farm Visits: Whenever possible, visit the farms of the organic farmers you support to gain firsthand knowledge of their practices.
- Join Organic Groups: Participate in organic groups and communities in your vicinity to engage with like-minded individuals and stay updated on organic farming developments.
- Spread Awareness: Bring more people along on your organic farming journey to raise awareness and expand the reach of organic practices.
Although I have outlined some unpleasant truths about organic fruits and vegetables, it’s important to acknowledge the challenges that farmers face. Therefore, I will also discuss the obstacles that push farmers toward adopting dishonest practices.
- Market Challenges: Farmers find it impractical to leave their farms unattended and search for customers in nearby cities. However, forming consumer groups and collectively buying their produce can relieve them from the burden of marketing and supply activities.
- Certification Limitations: While I personally have reservations about certification regimes, they do serve the purpose of monitoring farmers to prevent unscrupulous practices. However, traditional certification methods are often financially prohibitive for small-scale farmers.
- PGS Fraud: The Participatory Guarantee Scheme (PGS), introduced with good intentions, has unfortunately become a breeding ground for fraud. Many farmers obtain collective organic farming certificates at lower costs but continue to use fertilizers and pesticides, albeit in minimal quantities.
- Peer pressure: Peer pressure coupled with the financial burden, higher manual labor and still getting lower produce at least initially push organic farmers towards using chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Having explored the challenges faced by both consumers and farmers, it is now essential to focus on potential solutions that can drive us in the right direction. Here are a few suggestions:
- Establish a Dedicated Non-Profit Organization (NPO) or NGO: It is crucial to create a strict and reliable organization that offers training, certification, and technical support to farmers. This NPO/NGO can conduct soil testing, and product testing, and facilitate affordable certification processes. By doing so, we can ensure that farmers have access to the necessary resources and knowledge to practice genuine organic farming. We should actively work towards establishing such an organization that can address the needs of farmers effectively.
- Foster a Community of Organic Produce Buyers: Building a community of conscious consumers who are committed to buying organic produce is essential. By coming together, these buyers can provide a stable market for organic farmers. This collective effort can alleviate the burden on farmers to search for individual buyers and help them focus on their farming practices. Encouraging consumers to support local farmers and engage in farmers’ markets or community-supported agriculture (CSA) initiatives can create a sustainable market for organic produce.
- Strengthen Consumer Education and Awareness: Empowering consumers with knowledge about organic farming practices, certifications, and the importance of supporting genuine organic farmers is vital. Educating consumers through workshops, seminars, and awareness campaigns can help them make informed choices and differentiate between truly organic produce and fraudulent products. This knowledge will enable consumers to demand transparency and encourage honest farming practices.
- Advocate for Policy Reforms: Engaging with policymakers and advocating for reforms in the agricultural sector can significantly impact the organic farming movement. Lobbying for policies that promote organic farming, provide financial support to small-scale organic farmers, and enforce stricter regulations against fraudulent practices will create a more favorable environment for genuine organic agriculture.
- Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing: Encouraging collaboration among farmers, consumers, researchers, and organizations working in the organic sector can foster innovation and best practices. Platforms for sharing knowledge, experiences, and success stories can inspire and motivate others to adopt organic farming practices. This collaboration can also facilitate the exchange of ideas on sustainable farming techniques, natural pest management, and soil conservation methods.
By implementing these solutions, we can address the challenges faced by both consumers and farmers in the organic farming landscape. Together, we can promote a more transparent, trustworthy, and sustainable organic produce market that benefits the health of consumers, the environment, and the livelihoods of dedicated organic farmers.