Optimistic that organic farming is set to expand in India, Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant today suggested that quality standards set by export promotion body Apeda should be followed for organic products to push deeper into global as well as domestic markets. He said the existing wholesale mandi system poses a “serious challenge” for marketing organic produce and therefore, a separate organic market with direct consumer access model is the need of the hour. Besides ensuring better market linkages, he emphasised on making available quality organic seeds and planting material, private investment in organic seed breeding and creating a role model of organic farmers for others to emulate.
“Organic farming has many opportunities and these challenges are like we face in every single sector in India and we need to overcome,” Kant said, after the release of a study on ‘Organic farming in India: Status, Issues and Way Forward’ by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER). He said he was not “despondent” about what has been made out in the report. “I am an optimist… If you want organic farming to take off in India, just keep the government aside,” he added. Food safety regulator FSSAI Chairman Ashish Bahuguna, Amway India CEO Anshu Budhraja and ICRIER Director and Chief Executive Rajat Kathuria and co-author of the report Aripita Mukherjee were present at the event.
Lauding states, especially Sikkim, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh for adopting organic farming, Kant said there is a need to push organic farming in rain-fed areas of central and western India and also in eastern parts where there is very low use of chemical fertilisers. On challenges related to multiple organic standards and certification highlighted in the report, he said, “I think we should go with Apeda (Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority) standards. Get everything else and just push for Apeda standards, which are the export standards.”
Asserting that there are more opportunities for organic agri-business in the country, he called upon private companies to make available organic seeds and planting material which is key for achieving consistent quality production. “Some farmers organisations have made solitary attempts and you need good solid private companies in this area. … Once you are able to get consistent quality product, you will see the organic farming taking off,” he said. The country has organic seed production in certain crops like tomato, okra, beans and others.
Observing that future of organic farming depends on a well-established market, the Niti Aayog chief said there is a need to link small and marginal farmers with market so that they are able to get the right price. Also, the existing mandi model poses serious challenges to organic farming due to the issue of mixing organic and inorganic products and lack of direct access to consumers, he pointed out. Speaking on the issue, Budhraja said the country has huge potential and the company is keen to source more organic produce. At present, it is sourcing nine crops like ginger and cinnamon from six states and helping farmers grow as per its required standards, he added.
Among recommendations, the ICRIER report pitched for a uniform standard and clearly lay out labelling requirements, logo and punishment for fraudulent practices by unscrupulous traders through a comprehensive policy and guideline. In the absence of FSSAI guidelines for the domestic market, the growth of the sector is mired in fraudulence and malpractices such as selling inorganic products as organic, and making things worse is lack of a framework to penalise such offences, it added. The report also underscored the urgent need for creation of a single nodal agency for the organic sector. India’s organic food market is growing at 14 per cent and is expected to rise to 20 per cent in the next five years, it added.