The Journey

Organic Communities solve the farmer paradox

organic-communities-solve-the-farmer-paradox

India has recorded the largest pool of organic producers in the world, according to World of Organic Agriculture Report 2018. A total of 835,000 certified organic producers in India are 30 percent of the world’s organic farming population. These numbers are very promising, but we are not there yet. India contributes only 2.59 percent (1.5 million hectares) of the total cultivated organic area in the world.

This paradox is a cumulative effect of fear of farmers, disagreement between the producers and the regulatory authorities, and the indispensable dependency on organic traders.

Why does this disparity exist?

85 percent of farmers in India are small and marginal farmers who mostly carry a baggage of income insecurity. The solution to overcome these insecurities come with joining a community or network of farmers who have already taken the organic route. This not only helps in exchanging knowledge, but also market information for better yield and distribution of products. Here is where the government’s initiative to encourage such farmers with subsidies and credit to organic farmers would boost their morale in committing to organic farming.

Insecurities that arise out of erratic climatic conditions can also be eliminated. Organic agriculture is also ‘climate smart’. Organic Agriculture with its focus on local relevancy, adaptability and focus on soil is an excellent production system to respond to uncertainty posed by climate change. This is because organic is about Economic, Social & Ecological sustainability.

In India, currently there are two certification systems – ‘India Organic’ a Third Party certification system administered by APEDA under Commerce ministry and PGS – Participatory Guarantee system. PGS was started by Agriculture ministry based on the assumption that it should be low cost and easy for farmers. While any certification system has to be simple and effective, both the systems have not achieved the objectives fully. Also, Organic food is the only sector which is regulated by three ministries – Agriculture, Commerce and Health Ministry (FSSAI). There is an urgent need to bring this under one umbrella so that there is more effective coordination.

Saleability of Organic Food Products

In the last ten years the awareness about Organic food in India has grown and the products are widely available. This has also attracted many players. Today, there are some 30+ brands and much more unbranded material available in the market. Competition is always good if it benefits the stakeholders – Farmers and consumers.

Unfortunately, there are very few organizations who work at the grassroots. Most of these companies are dependent on the so called ‘organic traders’ to source materials. These traders further depend on middlemen to source the material. This results in loss of traceability and opens up the system for fraud.  On the other hand, there are also activists / NGO’s who have a loose definition of ‘Organic’ and who discourage any regulation. This can be dangerous as it distorts the market and affects genuine farmers and trust of consumers. Because of this, Organic farmers are not able to get the price they deserve. This can lead to loss of interest among genuine farmers and affect the availability of genuine organic raw materials in the future.

The Good News

Currently, about a million hectares are under certification. It is important that we strengthen systems and create consumer awareness so that all these farmers are able to market and realize a fair price for their produce.

The networks oriented community farming also helps marginalized and small farmers to work towards getting their yield certified. Most organic farmers in India are not comfortable getting themselves certified. This is because of some of the stringent, environment and consumer-oriented criteria lined up by the government to award the certification and logo. Cooperative, communities and networks who in a like-minded environment will able to tackle insecurities through peer-to-peer communication.

Until 30th June, 2018 Organic Food in the domestic market was not regulated. Effective from 1st July 2018, FSSAI has notified that the organic standards will be applicable to the domestic market. Anyone claiming organic will have to be necessarily certified under either of the systems. Only farmers who directly sell to consumers from their farm in bulk are exempt. This is a welcome move and can bring more discipline. We need to wait and see the effective implementation of the system and it should not also result in unnecessary harassment as the certification is administered by two different ministries and the implementation is done by FSSAI (Health Ministry). One way to overcome bureaucratic overreach is to frame unambiguous rules for Food Inspectors.

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Raj Seelam

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