Kochi: Out to turn Kerala “organically” green in the next five years, the state government is all set to launch its scheme for organic farming, which entails keeping out chemical fertilizers and pesticides from its farmlands, on 1 November, Kerala’s formation day.
V.S. Vijayan, chairman of the Kerala State Biodiversity Board, says the draft of the organic farming policy has been readied and the first round of
discussions has been held with farmers and agriculture experts, including scientists, and their feedback will be considered before the policy is finalized. A few more rounds of deliberations will be held across the state in the next few weeks, he adds. The main issues that cropped up were financial support for conversion to organic farming and marketing strategies for the produce.
Helping hand: Conversion to organic farming will lead to an initial drop in production, so the Organic Agriculture Authority will get funds from both the Union and state governments to support the farmers.
“The policy will be ambitiously aimed at freeing Kerala of all chemical fertilizers and pesticides in five years. This is with a long-term vision of ensuring that future generations here do not consume food contaminated by toxic pesticides and fertilizers. The strategy is clear: Convert 20% of the cultivable land to organic farming using biofertilizers and biopesticides every year so that total conversion can be achieved in five years,” adds Vijayan. Currently, there are around 7,000 certified organic farmers covering a minuscule area of 5,750ha, when the net sown area in the state is 2.13 million hectares.
To begin with, 100 villages across the state will soon be organized as organic farm villages. Mullakkara Ratnakaran, state agriculture minister, says the government will set up an Organic Agriculture Authority of Kerala, which will be the nodal agency to interact with grass roots level groups, and also national and international agencies.
The authority will have a governing council headed by a chairman, to be elected from representatives at the panchayat and village levels, where organic farmer interest groups will be formed. The council will also have officials, scientists, farmers’ representatives and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) promoting organic farming, he adds.
Vijayan admits that a major stumbling block will be funds and the lack of a market for this produce.
For the first three years, conversion to organic farming means a drop in yields, putting farmers to hardship. It is for this that the authority will have funds both from the Union and state governments to support the farmers. Financial support from international agencies can also be looked at, Vijayan says. As part of the marketing thrust, the authority will look at independent retail outlets and also tie up with others to market these products, which will include rice, vegetables and fruits.
Already, some local agencies have set up retail outlets. For instance, the Ernakulam District Co-operative Bank has its own Mitra Marts across the district. The village-level groups will be the seed banks. Also, 20 unemployed youth, of which 10 will be women, in each village will be trained in organic farming and farm management, and they in turn will train the farmers in the village. Indigenous farming practices prevalent in certain areas, which are seen as among the best practices in organic farming, will be promoted.
The authority, when formed, will also look at developing an Organic Kerala Certificate and a logo for the brand, Jaiva Keralam.
But going organic is not a new thing. One of the earliest initiatives in this field was in 2002 at the Poabs Organic Estates, which was certified organic by Skal International of the Netherlands and Naturland of Germany. The estate, in the Nelliyampathy hills in Palakkad district, was taken over by the Kerala forest department after the 99-year lease ran out.
However, Thomas Jacob, chief executive officer of Poabs Organic Estates, says that even as the government claims to promote organic farming, what was done to his estate was contrary to the policy.
The government on its part said that the takeover, without prior notice, was under the Central Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and the proposal was to hand over the estate to the Plantation Corp. of Kerala.
“The efforts made by us to enter organic farming and also enter the global market will now come to naught,” argues Jacob.
“We have made umpteen requests to the state authorities to allow us to run the estate for a fee. We have also made it clear that we do not want any proprietorial rights on the estate. But we regret to say that we are one of the unfortunate investors who have created a model organic plantation,” he adds.