Is Sri Lanka’s experience in organic farming a lesson for Kerala? | Subhiksham Surakshitham | organic farming campaign in Kerala


The sudden switch to organic farming in Sri Lanka, which ended in disaster, raised many questions about the effectiveness and practicality of the concept. In the meantime, the Chief Minister of Kerala recently announced an organic farming campaign in the state aimed at achieving self-sufficiency in the production of safe and wholesome food. However, the developments in the island nation have been widely noticed and many have become suspicious of the project. Although the government has decided to implement the organic campaign step by step, the concerns surrounding it have not yet subsided.

Disaster in Sri Lanka

The decision to completely avoid the use of agrochemicals and promote organic alternatives in Sri Lanka failed to deliver the desired result and instead turned into a disaster. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced a ban on the import of agrochemicals, including fertilizers and pesticides, in April this year, aimed at ending the contamination of water resources and the spread of chronic diseases. The country also hoped to become the world’s first exclusively organic country with this initiative. They believed that the huge amount spent on importing chemical pesticides and fertilizers could be saved with this move.

Things took a new turn in a matter of months when the price of basic food items skyrocketed and the export of local products was hit. Food hoarding and rising cooking gas prices were some of the negative outcomes of the decision. This had a negative impact on the economy which was already going through a difficult period after the pandemic epidemic and the restrictions that followed. Several agricultural experts and scientists have pointed out the implementation of the poorly documented organic movement and the government has come under heavy criticism for the same.

Drive bio in Kerala

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan announced the expansion of the “Subhiksham Surakshitham” organic farming program in the state with the aim of achieving self-sufficiency in food production and encouraging safe and healthy food consumption. The program envisions organic farming on 84,000 hectares of land across the state. In the initial phase, crops will be grown organically on approximately 5,000 hectares.

However, the switch to organic farming has raised doubts, as a similar movement in Sri Lanka has yielded tragic results. Former Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar, who was one of the brains behind the organic farming campaign, told Mathrubhumi.com that the government launched the program after extensive research and a feasibility study. The main objective of the program is to ensure food security and food security. The central government sponsored Bharatiya Prakartik Krishi Padhathi (BPKP) program has been changed to an agroecologically based biodiversity conservation program that is suitable for the climatic and soil conditions of the state and is being implemented under the title “Subhiksham Surakshitham”. Unlike Sri Lanka, the organic farming campaign initiated in Kerala is well documented, he said.

A farm in Kerala | Photo: Mathrubhumi archives

The Subhiksham Surakshitham program envisions an agricultural method focused on soil health, biodiversity conservation as well as promotion of organic food production. Within this framework, state lands were divided into five agro-ecological zones based on climatic conditions and soil types. Breeding methods are adopted according to this. For example, the paddy cultivation strategy followed in Lower Kuttanad is different from that of Upper Kuttanad. This is the case with the kole fields in the Thrissur region. It should be noted that the type and amount of fertilizers and other products should be determined depending on the type of soil, water availability and other factors.

Adoption of scientific methods

The former minister also claimed that pesticide use had fallen by at least 40 percent the previous year while paddy production increased during this period. This indicates that speculations regarding the effectiveness of organic farming are unfounded. Instead of sticking to fully organic politics, proper farming methods are developed with the help of scientific studies. Through this, the lack of nutrients or other factors that affect plant growth and soil health can be accurately identified and addressed, he said.

As part of the mission, a biological control laboratory was opened in Thrissur and a quality control laboratory for biofertilizers and organic fertilizers was set up in Pattambi de Palakkad, the first of its kind in the state and the second in the country. They are researching the technology to artificially develop biological control agents so that pests can be safely and effectively removed from plants. This will help reduce the use of pesticides.

The Practice Packages (POPs) were designed for the maintenance of crops. These are the disease and pest control methods adopted for each type of crop on the basis of scientific studies. It’s all part of the search for alternatives to conventional growing methods.

Vegetables
A vegetable garden | Photo: Mathrubhumi archives

The government offers full support to the farmers to apply the organic and scientific farming methods so that the sale of the products does not cause headaches to the farmers. Although organically grown vegetables and fruits cost more than others, customers are willing to pay for safe items. They realized the positive sides of organic motivation, said Sunil Kumar.

Pesticide consumption halved

Dr P Rajasekharan, chairman of the Agricultural Prices Board who led the research team studying the Subhiksham Surakshitham program, told Mathrubhumi.com that the use of pesticides in the state has declined significantly in recent years. . It is a major achievement that the state has been able to reduce pesticide consumption by almost half within five years. This is clear from the statistics of the Directorate of Plant Protection, Quarantine and Storage. Pesticide consumption in Kerala increased from 895 units in 2016-17 to 585 units in 2020-21.

When crops are exported to foreign countries, they must undergo various tests to ensure that they are edible. Different countries follow different methods for this. In Kerala organic farming, the certification of Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS), a locally targeted quality assurance system, is used to ensure the quality of organic products. It is a guided peer review and knowledge sharing system.

Going organic is not something we can achieve in one day. This should be done step by step by evaluating the impact and the results. Even the organic farming campaign announced in Kerala is under consideration. The project will be gradually expanded after analysis of progress and effectiveness. The most important goal of the state is to reduce the consumption of pesticides and avoid the health risks that result from them. This has been partially fulfilled and efforts are being made to achieve better results, he added.


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