Nonpareil benefits of organic agriculture | Sunday Observer

Nonpareil benefits of organic agriculture

11 July, 2021

Organic agriculture is a system that either completely avoids or largely keeps out the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms. Organic farming relies upon crop rotations, use of crop residues, animal excretion, and off-farm organic waste. Organic methods used in agriculture can increase productivity, repair environmental damage, and protect nature in the long run. If managed properly, organic farming is one of the best ways to promote food self-sufficiency and security in a country and also to ensure environmental protection.

Abandoning traditional methods

Since the introduction of chemical fertiliser to agriculture in Sri Lanka, over a while, farmers gradually became dependent and mostly abandoned traditional cultivation methods done with natural fertiliser. Using chemical fertiliser has become an easier method compared to that of organic substances.

The bold decision of the Government, under the direction of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to completely stop the importation of chemical fertiliser, has become a national issue overnight with sheer admiration and some criticisms. Except for a tiny fraction in the society, almost every citizen in the country, including a majority of farmers’ unions around the country, welcomed the decision. Whilst farmers in certain areas genuinely confront hardship due to lack of fertiliser, almost all other critics are those who are politically influenced and those who hold sinister monetary interests.

This opposing segment mainly comprises opposition parties predominantly and those who are influenced by the financially powerful fertiliser importers. Additionally, a small segment of media, both print and electronic, also resist the move for possible financial gains.

Protests for personal benefits

It is clearly evident that most of the protests around the country on fertiliser shortage are politically motivated. These despicable elements that are attempting to create unrest in the society are either using the situation for cheap political gains or acting with the backing of chemical fertiliser importers for personal benefits.

Globally, organic agriculture has grown by 20% yearly as per many research papers published recently. Growers throughout the world, most often encouraged by Governments, attempt to make healthier food choices, display genuine concern about human health and the deteriorating environment due to the usage of chemical fertiliser.

They intend to increase the level of food security and to create a more imperishable environment for future generations.

In Sri Lanka, the theme of organic farming was an important topic of discussion even though no proactive measures were taken by respective Governments. The implementation of organic agriculture has always been forced back and postponed due to several obstacles.

For example, farmers, mostly influenced by importers, developed a negative attitude towards transforming to organic fertiliser. Other blockages were unavailability of structured information, poor infrastructure, the inadequacy of consumer awareness, fear of declined harvest, and so forth.

In the context of the environment, experts reveal that if every farmer converted to organic production, an enormous amount of persistent and harmful chemicals can be eliminated from entering the environment annually.

Everyone agrees that harmful substances of chemicals used on plants contaminate soil, water resources, and can remain active for many years.

In contrast, organic farming builds healthy soil that in turn helps to grow healthy food. Treatment of soil by chemical fertiliser can irreparably damage the soil. Not only organic farming produces healthy soil but also it helps combat soil and land issues such as erosion.

High price for organic food

Nevertheless, in situations where farmers have limited physical resources and also low access to modern technologies, yields produced can be sometimes less than that of conventional farming. However, with proper education and awareness programs, the use of organic fertiliser can produce a significantly higher yield. Deploying organic soil management practices also can help reduce the yield vulnerability to extreme weather conditions as per expert opinion.

Crops produced by using organic fertiliser can obtain significantly higher price premiums in the local market. Also, such certified organic products can retain a significantly high price in the world markets where opportunities are plentiful. Organic food at retail levels had been fast becoming popular in the urban communities, although the price was mostly affordable to upper-middle-income customer segments. However, mass production in the future can create competition in the market and thus most likely reduce consumer price.

If local resources are managed efficiently, organic agriculture can create meaningful socio-economic benefits. Organic products have enormous growth prospects both locally and internationally for growers and prospective exporters. These are undeniable facts, but not mere anticipations, based on the prevailing world demand for organic products. This is an excellent opportunity for the farming community in Sri Lanka to improve their existing income levels and living conditions as well.

Organic farming practices can improve soil fertility and conserve local flora and fauna. Cultivation of a range of products helps stabilise the ecosystem in the country, reduce drought threats and pest infestations.

With reduced exposure to chemicals, organic food produce increased nutritional quality. The food people eat, the water resources they consume, or the air they breathe have to be taken into consideration to understand the whole picture. As for human health, organic food produced through organic agriculture can keep humans healthy without producing toxic effects of chemical fertilisers.

Money saved for agricultural community

President Rajapaksa several times reiterated that his decision to ban the chemical fertiliser was not taken hastily and that he has pledged organic farming in his manifesto. He repeatedly said that the move was a result of many discussions with the best available expertise of the country and inputs from foreign specialists as well.

He intends to create a healthy future generation with the food produced from organic agriculture. The President further assures that the staggering amount of 80 billion rupees spent on import of chemical fertiliser imports will be utilised for the welfare of the agricultural community.

The Government has already initiated a number of programs in support of the organic farming concept. In addition to the reactivation of the ‘Farmers Insurance scheme’ that was non-functional for several years, the Ministry of Agriculture has plans to increase the payments of pension scheme for farmers. The Government also is planning to build 105 new storage facilities to maintain buffer stocks of paddy in the near future. The upper limit of the existing two million rupees for farmers’ organisations will be increased to 10 million for the renovation and rehabilitation of tanks and canals.

In another optimistic move, President Rajapaksa also has directed Army engineers to explore the possibility of building machinery for the production of organic fertiliser in State-owned factories. He reiterates that according to specialists, the raw material to manufacture organic fertiliser can be found in the rural environment in the country. His intention is to create a new rural economy network with the assistance of the low-income rural community.

Apparently, organic agriculture is growing worldwide, especially in countries with a relatively small landscape where farming lands are becoming degraded rapidly. Non-production factors such as health issues in farming areas and rapidly increasing chronic diseases is an extremely valid reason to encourage farmers to shift to organic agriculture in addition to the premium price that farmers can obtain from the market.

However, regrettably, the effort to make proper awareness about the positives of organic fertiliser vis-à-vis chemical fertiliser use does not seem adequate by any means as yet. Sri Lankan farmers are perfectly aware of the adverse consequences of chemicals, yet succumbing to billions of rupees spent on chemical fertiliser which overshadow the seemingly lame counter-actions of the Government.

Therefore, apart from media conferences, the Government propaganda machinery must organise themselves better to communicate with the grassroots. The battle with a multi-billion-dollar fertiliser industry is by no means easy even for the Government that has more legislative powers than any recent Government in Sri Lanka. In order to safeguard the 80-billion-rupee chemical fertiliser market in the country, the marketers will go the extra mile with their massive financial backing by sponsoring political parties, bribing officials, and even promoting anarchy.

The most important factor in promoting organic agriculture in the country is to create a positive attitude in all stakeholders, particularly farmers and consumers. No sane human being wishes to consume food destructive to them or their peers. However, if consumers demand uncontaminated healthy food, growers will not have alternatives other than switching to organic farming. Therefore, organic agriculture must be discussed with an open mind as a serious national issue that needs extra urgent solutions.