There’s an organic revolution brewing in Indian states.
In an effort aimed at tapping growing demand for organic foods, especially in overseas markets, nine states want to be allowed to certify produce of their farmers as organic. They have written to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda), a government-run export promotion body, asking for accreditation to do the same.
In the seven years since the National Programme for Organic Production was notified by the government, only 11 accreditations have been issued by Apeda, of which only one is to a state government organization, the Uttaranchal State Organic Certification Agency. The rest are international private agencies.
“Now, nine states, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, have submitted proposals for approval (for accreditation),” says K.S. Money, chairman, Apeda.
Rajasthan’s organic certification agency may be the first of this lot to be granted an accreditation, according to an Apeda official, who did not wish to be identified.
Apeda-approved certifying agencies are allowed to inspect organic farms and label their produce as such.
“Though the Indian domestic market is not aware (about organic foods) or open (to trying organic foods) yet, it will happen,” says Money. Most Indian exports of organic foods go to Europe.
Organic foods are those that are produced according to certain standards. In the case of crops, this means no conventional (or chemical) fertilizers and pesticides have been used. In the case of foods, it means they have been processed without the use of additives.
According to a study by the US department of agriculture, consumers in the US and the European Union account for 95% of the world’s retail sales of organic foods, estimated at more than $25 billion (Rs1.03 trillion).
In 2005-06, India exported organic products worth $228 million.
Currently, India ranks 33 in the world in terms of total land under organic cultivation and 88 in terms of the ratio of agricultural land under organic crops to total farming area.
With an eye on the market, a few states have begun to take organic farming seriously.
Uttarakhand, Karnataka and a few North-Eastern states are the only ones to have a state organic farming policy; Kerala will announce its own organic policy next week.
“But it is Orissa, which doesn’t have a policy, that produces the highest volumes in certified organic produce,” says Kavitha Kuruganti of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, an organic farmers’ group in Andhra Pradesh.
“If you see, organic farming is working out in states which have a higher percentage of smaller farmers. It is difficult to push farmers, who own large tracts of land, to go organic. These farmers have been using pesticides for years and years,” says Arun Chandra, executive director, Chetna Organic Farmers Association, a group representing 7,500 organic farmers across five states.
“It is true that NGOs and development agencies have been active in Kerala and Uttarakhand in organic farming. Organic farming has been propped up in such states,” says A.K. Sajindranath, consultant to Apeda on organic farming. He adds that most of the state agencies that have taken up seed certification (or certifying seeds) have been advised to take up organic certification as well, but that a few have shown interest, maybe because it is not a big money-making business.
Some organic farming associations say there is a conflict of interest in state bodies acting as certifying agencies. “The same state government agencies also undertake extension work for agriculture and these same officials will cerify organic farming. In my opinion, this will make it difficult for international buyers to trust Indian certification,” says Chandra.
Instead of third-party accreditation through state agencies, Chandra advocates the participatory guarantee system among farmers to resolve the problem.
Under this, groups of farmers get together and form a body, which then certifies the produce as organic.
But Money is hopeful. “Our whole objective is to make certification easy and affordable and we hope we will be able to achieve that soon,” he says.