Organic foods are gaining popularity in India for their health and environmental benefits but they are also facing challenges such as high cost and fake products.
Various studies have established that organic foods have higher nutritive value than the conventionally grown foods.
“Many studies conducted have found that micronutrients such as minerals or vitamins such as B complex and vitamin C are found to be higher in organic food than conventional,” said Ritika Sammadar, Regional Head-Dietetics, Max Healthcare.
But the veracity of this claim is yet to be established as a recent study by the Stanford University found “little evidence that organically grown food is more nutritious than conventionally grown ones.”
However, there is little dispute over the fact that organically grown foods have much lower volumes of disease-inducing pesticides. “I believe organic food is the reason why my family does not need medicines and why we don’t fall sick very often,” said Reena Gupta, an organic eater.
The fact that chemicals are not used in growing foods organically, causing little harm to the soil, makes organic foods a darling of environmentalists.According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, organic farming reduces the risk of groundwater and soil pollution due to its non-use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Therefore, organic farming is hailed as the best form of sustainable agriculture. Research has shown that organic farming helps combat global warming as it captures the carbon dioxide and incorporates it into the soil through a process called sequestration.
Animal lovers are also turning to organic food as its practices prohibit injecting animals with growth hormones.
Whatever maybe the perceived benefits of organic food, consumers are still deterred by the high prices. However, this is because of various unavoidable factors.
Since no chemicals are involved, organic foods require more labour for the same output, which pushes up production cost. Post-harvest costs are high because organic produce needs to be separated from conventional produce and cost of transportation is high since volumes are low. “The market is still underdeveloped. Also, there are hardly any subsidies available for organic farming,” said Ayesha Grewal of the Altitude Store.
Another problem is fake products. “The problem with the Indian organic food market is sticker marketing. Just because you put a sticker on a product calling it organic, does not necessarily mean it has been certified so,” says Sunil Kumar, assistant general manager, sales and marketing, Morarka Organics.
Organic food is certified so by agencies such as INDOCERT, ECOCERT and SGS.
Delhiites giving organic twist to kitchen gardens
Reena Gupta, Resident of Sarvodaya Enclave, grower of organic vegetables
Alarmed by the toxic contents of food available in the market, many Delhi residents have started growing food the organic way in their own homes.
Whether in pots on the terrace or in a patch of land in the backyard, many Delhiites have taken up urban organic farming. One such farmer is Reena Gupta.
After working for several years in rural development for the World Bank, Gupta saw firsthand the harmful effects of synthetic pesticides in food. She switched to organic food 10 years ago due to health concerns. In fact, her son has only eaten organic food all his life.
But only eating organic was not enough so she began growing her own food two years ago. “I wanted to be sure of what we were eating. Also, I was interested in the process of growing food,” she said.
She has a small patch of land on her terrace where she grew brinjal, radish, carrot, fenugreek, spinach, lady finger, mustard, basil, cherry tomato and beans. She uses compost from her kitchen or animal waste as manure and uses a combination of tobacco and neem to keep pests away.
Giving back what’s due to the earth
People who gave up jobs and made organic their business
Ganesh Eashwar quit a corporate job and took up organic farming in 1988.
Eashwar, along with his wife Jayashree, bought a wasteland in Bangalore to start growing food the organic way. “We take so much from the earth and none of us ever think of giving it back,” he said.
“You don’t put poison in what you eat, so why would you put it in what you grow?” he asked.
Lack of a market for organic products led them to open their retail store Dubdengreen in the city in 2003.
They source their material from farmers all over the country, most of which is certified organic.
It was with the same intention of finding buyers for organic farmers that Ayesha Grewal opened The Altitude Store at the end of 2009.
“After working towards environmental sustainability in rural areas for many years, I realized that the biggest problem for organic farmers was access to markets. I also found that there was a demand for organics in urban areas. The store was a good opportunity to become a bridge between the two worlds,” she said.