Earlier this month a small story made its way into the Times of India—the country’s biggest-selling newspaper—to announce the opening of a shop that sells only organic products. For the rest of the world, this might be humdrum, but for India the event was clearly newsworthy.
“The outlet will offer healthy, fresh and organic food products for health-conscious people. Fruits and vegetables that are grown without using artificial ripening methods and shelf-life prolonging chemicals will be made available directly from farmers," said the promoter of Satvam Organics, Shikaripur Krishnamurthi, one of the tree men behind the store in Mangalore, on the coast of the southern state of Karnataka.
For a country that has relied on the land for its abundance of produce, it is something of a surprise for outsiders to see such a mundane article to hit the press, but stories like this are big news in a state that is forging ahead with organic farming, and leaving its neighbours far behind.
Doubling the organic budget
Last year, the state government offered farmers Rs200 crore to turn their practices organic. Under the clumsily named “In the Courtyard of the Food-giver Farmer”, Karnataka’s then chief minister doubled the amount set aside the previous year for organic manures and widened the scope of the payments for a broader range of uses. A total of 35,000 farmers would come under the scheme.
The policy was not then intended to benefit the health of Karnatakans, but to “create self-confidence in farming, when chemical inputs failed to increase produce over the years,” said BS Yeddyurappa to a meeting of farmers in the agricultural town of Bidar. “Farmers have to be pulled out of their vicious circle, by returning to healthy organic compost being used in India’s local agriculture.”
This move—albeit clearly political—soon set in motion a movement that is flourishing today to the point that the state is looking to cement Karnataka as one of the leading forces in Indian organic agriculture.
Putting on a show
At the end of this month, the state capital, Bangalore, will play host to the fourth edition of BioFach India, and is now supported by the Karnataka Department of Agriculture and the International Competence Centre for Organic Agriculture (ICCOA).
“Bangalore has emerged as a prominent organic city in the country,” said the ICCOA’s executive director, Manoj Kumar Menon.
“Compared to other cities, which have only a few of them, Bangalore has organic brands in black pepper, ginger, turmeric and coffee. It has also attracted major crops to do good volumes on a daily basis.”
Bharatlal Meena, the principal secretary of Karnataka’s Agriculture Department, said that the state accounted for 51,500 hectares out of India’s 10.9 lakh hectares of crops under certified organic cultivation. In 2011, the exports of organic crops had earned revenue of Rs600 crore for the country while domestic sales had fetched Rs300 crore.
Moreover, in a bid to encourage organic agriculture in the state, the state’s Agriculture Department had taken up a plan to promote organic farming in about 100 acres of land in each taluk.
It is also now working towards certification and branding of organic produce to promote organic farming activity.
“We are putting in every effort for the development of organic farming. Our effort is to support the growing farming community which has adopted the organic farming,” said Meena.
“The conversion of farms to organic has been increasing rapid, and the demand for certified organic products for domestic and export markets has also increased. Currently, there are three certification agencies, and we need to increase the numbers. Also, it is vital for organic produce to be branded so that there is an identity for the same,” he added.
The Karnataka State Organic Farmers Mission was set up by the government to popularise organic farming in the state.
According to Meena, greater efforts are needed to sustain and create awareness, and the government must undertake frequent interaction to promote the sustainability of organic farming.
Under the Bhoo Chetana scheme, the state has set a target of covering mass hectares into organically cultivable lands. Every taluk has set a target to its field functionaries to bring in 500 to 1,000 hectares of land under organic cultivation.
Just a handful of years ago, Karnataka government’s organic schemes would have been a sideshow to traditional agriculture. However, the opening of a small, 400 sq-ft store in Mangalore highlights the lengths the state has gone to to make organic produce a reality for consumer and farmer.