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Before the industrial revolution and the large-scale production of chemicals opened up farming to synthetic inputs like fertilisers and pesticides, all farming had been organic farming. In India particularly, the need to become self-sufficient in food production in the years after Independence led to the Green Revolution and the large-scale adoption of chemical inputs to boost agricultural produce. However, in time the use of chemicals to grow food proved harmful to human health and detrimental to the natural ecosystem surrounding food production. This awareness has led to the need for a return to organic methods of growing food, to which end the Tamil Nadu government has come up with a policy aimed at encouraging more organic farming. While the initiative assumes importance, does the policy have the vision to truly effect a positive change?
One of the main issues with farming in India, is that the link between farmers and consumers got broken as middlemen came into the picture. In addition, there’s been a wide gulf between farming policies of subsequent governments and the traditional knowledge of the farming community, whether it’s with regard to seed selection, cultivation based on climatic zones and seasons and maintenance of soil health, as well as the incentives and subsidies offered.
Hence, the policies of governments themselves are to blame for chemical-based farming becoming the norm and organic farming becoming the exception, leading to a rise in deadly health problems in the population as the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides became ubiquitous. Over 93% of farmers in Tamil Nadu are small and marginal farmers who need special attention with pragmatic policies and programmes to support them to make farming lucrative while at the same time being sustainable.
The Tamil Nadu government released its Organic Farming Policy-2023 on March 14 to promote the growth and sustainability of organic farming in the state within a timeframe of five years.
Though the state government claims to have held consultations before formulating the policy over the last one-and-a-half years, the truth is that it did not hold any notable consultations with major stakeholders in the state, nor did it release any draft policy inviting suggestions and comments from the public.
There’s been a wide gulf between farming policies of subsequent governments and the traditional knowledge of the farming community, whether it’s with regard to seed selection, cultivation based on climatic zones and seasons and maintenance of soil health, as well as the incentives and subsidies offered
We do not even know which division within the Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Department framed the policy. It matters because it would give one an idea about what kind of feedback and consultations from the farming community were internalised in the policy.
Tamil Nadu occupies the 14th position among states engaged in organic farming, with 31,629 hectares of organic agriculture land, according to the policy document. This includes 14,086 hectares of organic certified area and 17,542 hectares under conversion. Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri districts occupy first and second positions in terms of total area under organic farming in the state. Tamil Nadu holds the 11th position in organic production with 24,826 metric tonnes which include farm and wild produce. The state exported 4,223 MT of organic products which fetched Rs 108 crore in the year 2020-2021”.
According to the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare’s latest data as on July 26, 2022), however, Tamil Nadu has a total of 52,305.73 hectares of organic farms as certified by the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP) and 8,240.00 hectares of organic farming as certified under the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS).
Since 2015-16, the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare has been promoting organic farming in the country through the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY). The scheme gives support to organic farmers for the entire value chain i.e. from production to certification and marketing. Post-harvest management support including processing, packing, and marketing is an integral part of the scheme to encourage organic farmers. Under this scheme, there are 200 organic farming clusters in Tamil Nadu covering 4,000 hectares benefiting 10,000 farmers, as of August 2, 2022.
Thus, it seems as though the state government policy was crafted in a hurry without a comprehensive study of the current status of organic farming in the state, and without looking at various models from other states such as Kerala, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh.
The policy also fails to set a clear roadmap with achievable targets on key parameters and the efforts needed for it. Having failed to mention the current best practices followed by various stakeholders in producing several crops in various regions in the state, the policy does not aim for qualitative or quantitative improvement. The basic standard principles of organic farming have not been elucidated in the policy document to reach out to all stakeholders.
The policy also does not pay enough attention to holistic organic farming management, from how to improve soil health with the right farm inputs for the production of toxin-free farm produce to how the private sector can participate in improving the value chain and market linkages.
R&D on new seed varieties is not really under the control of the public sector. The state’s policy should therefore have included ways to overcome the challenge of accessing organic crop seeds and put price caps on certain items that are under the monopoly control of certain seed production companies
In the past, farmers and consumers have always had a direct relationship. One knew how their food was produced and what went into it. There was responsibility and accountability at the time. The objectives of the organic policy however do not match the challenges faced by the agriculture sector and the proposed activities are neither realistic nor plausible in the near future. For instances, there are no remedies proposed to shift from the large-scale usage of chemicals and pesticides in intensive farming which is done in the name of productivity per hectare, to a more sustainable way of producing food.
In 2022, the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University and the State’s Agriculture Department released 17 new crop varieties for adoption in the state without a word on whether these varieties were appropriate for organic farming or whether they were intended for farming with fertilisers and pesticides. It merely said that these 17 new crop varieties would be aimed at “efforts to sustain farm productivity and profitability.”
The Tamil Nadu Organic Farming Policy has similarly failed to elaborate upon the various ongoing schemes and incentives provided by the Government of India and State government to encourage more farmers to adopt the organic method. There is a strong movement for strengthening organic farming in Tamil Nadu, especially in the Kongu region. However, the state policy does not give sufficient support by way of incentives for taking it forward.
The proposed policy strategies mentioned, namely “cultivation of green manure and cover crops will be encouraged, and integration of all organic-based activities like rainfed agriculture, horticulture, permaculture, agro-forestry, farm-forestry, dairying, fish culture, bee keeping, poultry, goat rearing, etc., and resource recycling within the farm will be encouraged” are not at all clear as to how they would promote the growth of organic farming and make it sustainable. Clubbing these sub-sectors is rather clumsy and will not serve any purpose.
The policy has not touched upon many action points that would be useful to promoting organic farming, such as organic seed production regulations that are farmer-friendly, including but not limited to regulating private sector firms’ R&D into new seed varieties to promote non-GMO varieties, and giving access to certified seeds especially to small and medium organic farmers, and aggregating the state’s organic farming markets without middlemen, etc.
For instance, the adoption of genetically modified (GM) mustard in Indian agriculture is an issue pending in the Supreme Court of India. Hence, a state government like TN had better not comment or mention it in its policy documents without proper studies and scientific communication. Though there are commentators who demand that the Union government’s move to bring GM mustard must be resisted through the state organic farming policy, this is not reasonable as the matter is pending before the Supreme Court.
Tamil Nadu has huge opportunities for growing millet crops but the state government has not paid adequate attention in its organic policy to reap the advantages. Tamil Nadu has two Millets Special Zones but not much is known about its progress and or achievements in order to replicate in other areas and crops
In any case, the role of governments in farming seeds has been consistently declining over the years. In India, the share of the public sector in seed production in the country reduced to 35.54% in 2020-21 from 42.72% in 2017-18, while the share of the private sector went up to 64.46% from 57.28%. India has about 540 private seed companies, including those of Indian origin and multinationals operating in the country. Of this, about 80 companies have their own research and development programmes. Thus, the R&D on new seed varieties is not really under the control of the public sector. The state’s policy should therefore have included ways to overcome the challenge of accessing organic crop seeds and put price caps on certain items that are under the monopoly control of certain seed production companies.
According to data from the Union government’s Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, Tamil Nadu exported 4,965 tonnes of millets in 2020-21 and 4,328 tonnes in 2021-22. The state policy has not given enough attention to millets as the United Nations observes 2023 as the International Year of Millets emphasising the strong foundation India’s millets have in international markets. A state like Karnataka is one of the top five states in India producing Jowar/Ragi millets.
Tamil Nadu has huge opportunities for growing millet crops but the state government has not paid adequate attention in its organic policy to reap the advantages. Tamil Nadu has two Millets Special Zones but not much is known about its progress and or achievements in order to replicate in other areas and crops.
The policy mentions several initiatives for academic events and political events, for namesake. The new policy must focus on providing value-chain linkages between organic farmers and consumers, along with promoting sustainable organic production systems. Simply focusing on single-window certification will not help organic farmers in Tamil Nadu.
(The author is an economist and public policy expert)
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