Despite the Indian government’s National Project on Organic Farming (NPOF) having completed a decade in October, organic farming in India is yet to take off in a meaningful way. Also, data pertaining to the production of organic crops in India remains sketchy and unreliable, and the numbers often don’t add up.
A number of households in India and around the world, especially those who have higher purchasing power, are attracted to organic products as they are produced without the aid of any inorganic compounds — either through pesticides, insecticides or fertilisers. These products are branded and marketed in a manner whereby they command a significant premium to products derived from crops that are grown the traditional way, with the use of insecticides and pesticides.
Even after a decade of NPOF, only 0.3% of India’s 140 million hectares of cropped land is under organic farming. This data is according to The World of Organic Agriculture 2014 report by FiBL-IFOAM (International Foundation for Organic Agriculture).
While, technically, the land under organic cultivation in India stands at 5.2 million hectares, 90% of this is forest land where vegetation grows wildly without any external intervention.
Even the actual production of organic products in India has declined significantly over the last three years. It has more than halved to 1.24 million tonne (mt) at the end of fiscal 2014, from 3.88 mt in fiscal 2011.
The Crop Care Federation of India (CCFI), an industry association for pesticides manufacturers, has attacked the government’s flagship scheme on organic farming in the country, pointing out to irregularities in the way data on organic farming in India has been presented under the NPOF.
CCFI’s chairman Rajju Shroff has written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh and commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman, which states that: “A detailed analysis of data produced by NPOF on progress of organic farming in India brings out deep and widespread data fraud in implementation of organic farming.
Shroff said that one of the Prime Minister’s aides had confirmed receiving the association’s letter and assured that Modi will look into the matter.
One the examples cited in the letter is that of organic farming in Delhi. According to NPOF data, the area under organic farming in Delhi, which is a predominantly urban area, stood at around 1 lakh hectares in 2011-12. This, according to CCFI, is not possible since the entire geographical area of Delhi is only 1.48 lakh hectare.
“From a mere 266 hectares in FY2011, the area under organic farming in Delhi zoomed mysteriously to over 1 lakh hectares in FY2012,” the CCFI letter said. “But surprisingly, the production crashed to a paltry 10kgs from 2,172kgs in the previous year.”
The letter cites examples of other states like Uttar Pradesh and Odisha to argue that there is a disconnect between area under cultivation and production for every financial year, as far as NPOF data was concerned.
In Odisha, for instance, while the land under organic farming has shrunk around 53% since 2009-10 to stand at 43,868 hectares in 2011-12, production in the same period increased a whopping 465 times to stand at 29.01 million tonnes at the end of fiscal 2012.
Terming this as a case of data fraud and calling for appropriate regulatory action (including a forensic audit of the scheme), CCFI said that it was “extremely rare for data fraud to exist without hidden corruption while managing huge budgeted grants and subsidies.”
In addition to being perceived as a healthier option for consumers, organic products were also touted to become a significant source of export earnings for India, but that doesn’t appear to have happened either.
Around 98% of the organic products produced in India are being consumed domestically. This is despite the fact that organic farming comes under the Agricultural Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, which is an agency under the ministry of agriculture.
Even that portion of India’s organic produce that is exported, comprises mostly of animal feed, which doesn’t command a big premium. In fact, CCFI states in its letter that, as per its estimates, the quantum of soy-based animal feed being exported by India as an organic product, was much more than what was organically produced in the country.