The Union budgetary proposal of converting 5 lakh hectares in the country under organic farming means little to the agrarian state of Punjab that is engulfed in a long-standing debate—the country’s food security vs organic farming.
Punjab State Farmers’ Commission and Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) are sceptical about the state going the organic way on a large scale, explaining agro-economic realities, notwithstanding the state government’s cosmetic exercises and verbal advocacy for such non-chemical farm practices.
On the other hand, the campaign by Kheti Virasat Mission, a non-government organisation run by Umendra Dutt, also remains restricted to some individual farmers as it claimed that its “people’s movement” had led to 2,500 hectares under organic farming in the state.
Dutt was enthusiastic over the said proposal in Union finance minister Arun Jaitley’s budget speech, but was pessimistic for “no efforts or aid of the state government” in the name of organic farming.
He said there was roughly 2,500 hectares under organic farming in Punjab “without any kind of assistance of the state government or the Centre”. “Ours is a people’s movement, but we cannot keep a track of every farmer adopting organic farming after taking expertise from us,” he said, adding that maintaining such a data is the the state government’s job.
Religious sects like Radha Soami at Beas and Divya Jyoti Sansthan in Nurmahal near Jalandhar have brought their large chunks of land under organic farming, again an individual effort and on non-commercial basis.
Lakhwinder Singh of Divya Jyoti Sansthan said about 200 acres had been brought under organic farming at Nurmahal, and the cereals and vegetables grown there were consumed at its ‘langar’.
“We are left with very little produce that sometimes people come and buy at a price one and a half times more than the chemically produced foodgrains,” Lakhwinder said, terming the Centre’s proposal as a good step.
Version of state experts
Experts at the Punjab State Farmers Commission and PAU have been sceptical over the spread of organic farming in the state, raising the argument of the country’s food security clubbed with the Punjab farmers’ economic sustainability in the given agro-economic scenario.
“The organic practice may be useful for a few rich farmers who can sell such a produce for more price in the name of chemical-free foodgrains, but this cannot be adopted on a large scale for obvious reasons, like the country’s food security,” Punjab Farmers’ Commission member Dr PS Rangi said.
PAU’s agro economics research centre director Dr DK Grover also highlighted his concern over the country’s food security, pointing out the low yield of cereals in organic farming. “A single drought or two in the country can lead to an alarming situation where we may have to import foodgrains,” he said.
Officially done so far
Punjab Agro Food Corporation has so far certified 2,500 acres of land under the organic farming, creating 50 clusters of 50 acres each, Corporation managing director KS Pannu said.
This was done under the Centre’s ‘paramparagat kheti’ scheme, for which the state got a mere Rs 3 crore for the certification process.
“It takes three years for a farmer practising organic farming to apply for certification of the soil,” Pannu said, adding that the state now looked forward to adequate funds for scientific and other logistic support to such farmers.
A dead council
The Punjab government in 2007 had launched Punjab Council for Organic Farming that went defunct within a few years and was later merged in Punjab Agro. It was due to this merger that Punjab Agro became the state’s nodal wing for organic farming.