Mumbai: Is organic farming sustainable in the long run? Jury is out

Tuesday, 3 December 2013 - 12:48pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

India’s fast-growing population and rapid inflation has been affecting the urban common man and the rural farmer in equal measure. And, at this time, comes the movement against Genetically Modified (GM) crops and the growing trend of organic farming, which some feel might not be enough to feed the billion mouths in our country.

Experts debated the sustainability of organic farming in the long run at the Earth Mela over the weekend.

“Organic crops are not completely devoid of chemicals... Because of this organic frame of mind people have got into, they are apprehensive about all kinds of insecticides and pesticides. There are natural insecticides, such as pyrethrum made from chrysanthemum flowers, which are now put into the same bracket. Organic farming is not sustainable, it is made out to be heath food for those sections of society that can afford it,” said Kedar Bhide, a toxicologist.

The organic way of farming has been India’s native method of growing crops since before the green revolution. Young agriculturists, such as Ankush Vengurlekar, believe that the farmer’s cost is increasing due to these expensive GM seeds and unpredictable harvests, which is affecting consumers as well. “Organic farming is essentially making the best use of what you have rather than trying to source unnatural means to grow crops. More than 80% of our water is used for agriculture of which around 20% is wasted due to overflowing and ill management of resources,” he said.

Activists, who have been strongly opposing GM crops, said that the technology brought in to cater to the agricultural problems of our country isn’t solving them but leading to a monster problem.

“BT crops are DNA alterations that protect the crop from certain type of bugs. These lead to creation of super bugs that slowly become immune to these inbuilt pesticides due to nature’s resistance. Now, a stronger, costlier strain of BT crop has to be developed that simultaneously leads to the bugs becoming more immune,” said Tejal Dhulla, an individual activist against GM crops, who said this option becomes unviable for farmers as the price increases.

“The traditional knowledge of farming is getting lost as their children move to better professions due to the lack of scope as well as pride that a farmer carried. We say we have no food to feed our millions, but what about huge amounts of food that is being wasted? There is no proper management and government support to these farmers, which is what they need. GM farming will not sustain our agriculture for even a decade,” said Kavita Mukhi, founder of the Farmer’s Market, an organic farming venture that brings farmers from all over to Maharashtra to directly sell their chemical-free produce to Mumbaikars.

Experts said organic farming can become sustainable only with proper government support and a little patience. Whereas GM crops will probably lead to deterioration of the soil and, ultimately, India’s traditional farming culture.

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