Why Modi’s ‘advice’ neglects Sri Lanka’s disastrous experience

By NS Venkataraman*
Addressing a conclave in Gujarat virtually, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged farmers to embrace natural farming (organic farming) to protect the soil from the harmful impact of chemicals. Furthermore, the Prime Minister said that crops produced from a chemical-free process will fetch higher prices in the international market due to the growing demand for organic products.
The Prime Minister pointed out that 90,000 clusters have been established across India under the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY) and the target is to cover 10 lakh hectares under the organic farming scheme.
The above statement of the Prime Minister clearly indicates his target and his hope to massively promote organic agriculture in India. All the information he gave is factually accurate.
However, a careful study of the soil conditions and considering the need to support and promote the production of food grains in a massive way and the problems of agricultural productivity in organic farming, one has to cross one’s fingers as to whether the Large-scale organic farming would happen anytime in the near future.
Sri Lanka‘s recent experience of suspending the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and opting for organic farming and the consequent drop in agricultural production is fresh in memory. In fact, due to the total switch to organic farming in Sri Lanka, the production of tea, paddy and other agricultural products has declined sharply, plunging Sri Lanka into a state of severe food crisis.
The chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board said that Sri Lanka is now focusing on scaling up the application of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides, which gives hope for increased tea production to compensate for losses in the previous year due to organic farming.

As it is well known, in organic agriculture, inputs such as vermicompost, green manures, bio-pesticides, cakes and bio-digester liquids, bio-fertilizers are used, instead of synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides.

The use of bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides also poses practical problems due to the short shelf life.

In the use of bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides, there are also practical problems due to the short shelf life, the need for controlled temperature conditions, etc.
Arguments in favor of organic farming are that it is environmentally friendly, saves Mother Earth by protecting soil quality, and fetches a higher price in the market compared to to products made from synthetic materials.
The question is about agricultural productivity and yield in organic farming. While some organic farms operated under ideal conditions by researchers and investigators have reportedly yielded yields comparable to those obtained with synthetic equipment, farmers are not convinced that the yield from organic farming would match that of agriculture practiced with synthetic material. in commercial farms, also due to various factors such as different climatic conditions, soil conditions in different places.
The reality on the ground is that nowhere in the world are there any takers for farms based on 100% organic farming. Clearly, organic farming is good enough for crops bred on a smaller acreage to meet the needs of consumers willing to pay a higher price for organically grown produce.
In such a situation, considering that organic farming should be considered the alpha and omega of agricultural operations is misleading and risks being counterproductive.
Sri Lanka’s disastrous experience with total organic farming can only be ignored at the risk of facing a national food shortage.

*Administrator, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, Chennai

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