How to enhance organic and natural food production in India

CSE report addresses key issues

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'Market Access in India for Organic and Natural Produce: Case Studies' by the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)

A new report on ‘Market Access in India for Organic and Natural Produce: Case Studies’ by the Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) highlights the possibilities and challenges related to farmer producer organizations (FPOs), retail food corporations, and state food programs in helping farmers access the market.

Experts taking part in a panel discussion during the virtual release of the report on 21 June spoke on the coherence in certification and building trust among consumers and the importance of aggregation through FPOs. The webinar also highlighted the need for support through government-led schemes for the working capital needs of FPOs.

The success of India’s aim in organic and natural farming is highly dependent on proper market access to the farmers. Many discussions have taken and are taking place among the policymakers to promote food production through organic farming, But without ensuring proper market access to the farmers, the goal will remain far-fetched,” said Amit Khurana, head of the CSE’s sustainable food systems program.

Besides Khurana, speakers at the webinar included experts and entrepreneurs such as Dinesh Balam, state coordinator, Odisha Millet Mission; Akash Badave, chief executive officer, Bhoomgaadi Organic Farmers Produce Company; G V Ramanjaneyulu, expert director, Sahaja Aharam Producer Company; Rajashekar Reddy Seelam, managing director, Sresta Natural Bioproducts; and Manoj Gupta, principal scientist, State Project Implementing Unit, Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojna.

Through carefully selected six case studies, the CSE report highlights three categories of stakeholders: FPOs/federation of FPOs, food retail corporations, and state government programs – how they procure, process, and sell organic and natural produce while trying to ensure remunerative prices to farmers. It discusses some of the challenges they face.

The case studies include Bhoomgaadi Farmers Producer Company, Dantewada, Chhattisgarh; Sahaja Aharam Producer Company, Hyderabad, Sresta Bioproducts; Odisha Millet Mission; and Prakritik Kheti Khushhal Kisan Yojana of Himachal Pradesh.

Talking about the lack of connectivity in a district like Dantewada, Akash Badave described the challenges faced by the farmers of organic food. “Due to the remoteness of the location, the farmers find it difficult to access the market, thereby depending on the local markets and the very erratic government orders. The online market strategy can never work here,” says Bavade.

The government should come up with a good working capital, better infrastructure, and better certification systems,” Bavade said while pitching some solutions to enhance organic food productivity and better market access.

FPOs can play a major role in upscaling the organic and natural movement, but depending fully on FPOs to manage the whole business is too much to ask for. The current ecosystem is not in favor of small farmers, leave aside organic farmers,” says Ramanjaneyulu. “We need to look for new ways of certification as well. In the current scenario, the large number of certificates is leading to heavy prices, which is not affordable.”

Pointing out the issue of affordability, Rajashekar Seelam said, “The 40-50% hike in the cost of organic products is due to the certification, storage without chemical fumigation, and many more add-on charges. So this creates a hurdle to compete in the price with conventional farmers, thereby reducing the market acceptance of organic foods.” He added, “The consumers need to change their thought process towards organic food in order to increase demand, thereby stabilizing the erratic prices.”

Dinesh Balam discussed the success of the Odisha Millet Mission and expressed his desire for something similar to the ‘International Year of Millet’ to increase awareness about organic food.

Online certification system for organic farming eased the process of certification and many apple farmers have adopted organic farming. Currently, more than 20,000 hectares of land are being used for natural and organic farming in Himachal Pradesh,” Manoj Gupta said, addressing the success of organic farming in Himachal Pradesh.

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