Friday, September 23, 2011


World seemed to be divided regarding the current agricultural practices that account for the production of all foods. While the labor intensive traditional cultivation is more or less replaced by input intensive mechanized operations, the organic food sector presents a totally different picture. Added to this some of the people movements like the local foods, whole foods, farmers markets etc have added further confusion to the already complex food production system. The yearning for change is driven by concerns regarding the safety of foods raised by modern technologies involving intensive use of fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides, weedicides, growth regulators, etc which invariably leave residues on the foods and gain access to the stomach of humans capable of causing health damage, short as well as long term. Two of the most controversial changes that continue to influence to day's agriculture are the growing organic food production and genetically modified food production.

Mainstream agricultural practices themselves have changed beyond recognition with mono culture, no-til and minimum-till operations becoming industry standards. The great green revolution that saw quantum jump in food production in nineteen sixties and seventies is characterized by mono culture cultivation without any crop rotation and intensive use of chemical fertilizers and toxic crop protectants. Decades of such practices literally destroyed the soil health in many countries and crop yields are plateauing or actually declining raising concerns all around. This is happening at a juncture when the need of the hour is increasing the production rate at least to keep in tune with the population growth. It is any body's guess as to how many years it will take to rehabilitate the degraded soil to reclaim its original production potential.

Organic way of cultivation and crop rotation only can help if such an objective is to be achieved. There is always the question whether organic cultivation system can really help to increase food production to the extent needed to meet future world requirement. There is no consensus on this issue with protagonists and antagonists ranged against each other. GM foods which are touted as an answer to global food problem cannot achieve increased productivity though losses can be reduced in the field through use of lesser pesticides. Of course the safety of GM foods is a critical issue with sharp divergence of views among scientists and consumers and it is difficult to imagine how consumers can be forced to consume foods not acceptable to them. It is another matter that some countries are hiding the extensive use of GM foods by the processing industry which is unethical and undemocratic.

If organic food production system is as beautiful and lucrative as being claimed, the million dollar question that begs an answer is why more farmers are not jumping into the organic food wagon? It is supposed to be easy besides being remunerative to practice. One of the reasons could be lack of awareness about organic food cultivation among the vast majority of farmers. Similarly the specialized input material sourcing is highly cumbersome and uncertain posing tremendous logistical difficulties. Compost and cover crops are the two main nutrient sources of organic growers. The cost of buying compost and using in the farms can be significantly higher than chemical fertilizers. Similarly if the farms are not located near a city or a livestock operation, compost may not be an option.

Green manure, cover crops that fix nitrogen, though wonderful, may take time during the year to grow and there are costs associated with buying and planting the seed. More important and crucial is training of the farmers on efficient organic farming techniques which calls for an infrastructure that is just not available widely. Under these circumstances one can only expect highly motivated farmers to take the risk of entering the organic food movement.These factors may probably be the reason why GM food lobby is able to make considerable inroads into the farming sector with its astronomical resources for brain washing and seduction. There was a time when organic farms were small in number and size but to day there are large farms owning thousands of hectares of land devoted to organic food production. Probably realizing the inevitability of moving towards a scenario where present "toxic" farm production system will have to yield to newer system of organic food production, it is a question of time before the whole world embraces this safer regime.

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