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Small farmers go big with organic farming

Lower costs, lower yields yet high net returns main motivators, says first impact study.

india Updated: Jan 29, 2018 07:14 IST
Zia Haq
Zia Haq
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Small farmers,Farmer,Agriculture
Nearly 83% of Indian land and livestock holdings are classified as marginal, making them an overwhelming majority, according to the 70th-round survey (2013) of the National Sample Survey Organisation.(Ravi Choudhary/HT Photo)

Small and marginal farmers, who can’t afford costly agricultural inputs, are turning a new leaf by going organic because of lower costs and higher margins, data from the first impact study of the Modi government’s Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) shows.

Among key findings, the study shows the programme launched in 2015 has seen 6,211 organic clusters come up in 25 states, comprising 2.25 lakh farmers. About 52.3% of them are small. The main motivating factor was lower costs. The south zone had highest share of small farmers at 89.1%. In all zones except central, small farmers accounted for than more than half the registered members. The study analysed 690 clusters in 25 states.

Under the PKVY, farmers need to pool in their patches of land to enable economies of scale, a key constraint of Indian farmers.

The average cluster size was 69 acres and the average number of farmers in each was 54.6, which meant small farmers managed to achieve operational scales.

Small farmers cultivate lands of between one and two hectares. Marginal farmers cultivate up to just one hectare (2.5 acres).

They mostly consume what they grow and have little investment in equipment, fertilisers and pesticides. Nearly 83% of Indian land and livestock holdings are classified as marginal, making them an overwhelming majority, according to the 70th-round survey (2013) of the National Sample Survey Organisation. “Small farmers have more family labour because of larger household size and mostly inhabit rain-fed areas (lands without irrigation). So they do better in organic farming, despite lower yields,” said A Amarender Reddy, director of the state-run National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management, which carried out the study.

Reddy said the study showed organic farming was best recommended for remote, less-developed and poorer regions. Under the PKVY, organic producers mostly catered to the domestic market and self-certify their produce as “organic”.

Although many definitions abound, organic produce is deemed as being free from synthetic chemicals.

The report said organic yields were lower than in conventional farms, but net returns were higher. In organic wheat, paddy and soyabean — the three crops studied — gross returns as well as yields were lower. But when the reduced cost of production was factored in, the net returns per hectare were higher by 15.8%, 36.7% and 50% respectively.

“A majority of farmers surveyed (85%) demanded that the government should supply organic inputs at subsidised rates. They also sought help in market linkages,” Reddy said.

India’s domestic organic food market is forecast to register a CAGR of over 25% during 2015-20, according to the report ‘India Organic Food Market Forecast and Opportunities, 2020’ published by TechSci Research.

The study cited irregular funding as a major constraint. In 2016-17, ₹238.23 crore was allocated. “In some states, in the 1st year, there was a release of funds, but in the second year, there was no release, but again in third year, there was a release of funds. This created some sort of uncertainty among farmers...” the report said. Under PKVY, for every hectare, ₹50,000 is given as aid to each hectare in the cluster.

Although Sikkim is India’s first fully organic state, Maharashtra led in the number of clusters at 1,043, while MP, with 992 clusters, had the highest area under organic cultivation.

First Published: Jan 29, 2018 07:14 IST