The union budget has proposed increasing the area under organic farming in the country to five lakh acres in next three years. However, Punjab does not appear to be geared up to take full advantage of the government’s initiatives in this regard, given the dismal progress it has made till date.
The current certified area under organic farming in Punjab is a negligible 2,000 acres only and nowhere near the target of 3,000 acres set for the end of March 2016, as per data available from Punjab Agro Industries Corporation Limited (PAICL).
Punjab’s laidback approach in organic farming, which can bring substantially higher dividends to farmers for their crop, can be gauged from the fact that a much smaller state, Sikkim, which recently declared itself fully organic state, has more than 1.85 lakh acres of area under organic farming.
With no scheme of its own till now, the Punjab government depends on ‘Paramparagat Krishi Vighyan Yojna’, which was launched by the union government last year to promote organic farming with a budget of Rs 300 crore.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had announced in May 2015 that an organic farming Board, solely dedicated to promote chemical free farming in state, would be setup. However, the announcement has remained only on paper and no progress has been made in this regard.
Even Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) Ludhiana, which is one of the 20 research centers across India under network project on organic farming of Indian Agricultural and Research Center (ICAR), New Delhi, falls short of expectations in the field of organic farming. It has been a party of the network project since 2004 but has failed to bring out any substantial research since the last 12 years.
PAICL officials, however, claim that since past one year, when the state ‘officially’ started promoting organic farming, it has achieved a lot. “We have a separate organic farming cell with 12-15 employees and 5,000 organic farmers are in touch with us. We have tied up with a German firm to get certification of organic farms for farmers. We are clustering them under Paramgararat Krishi Yojana of the center. We procured 400 tons of organic wheat 400 tons and 250 tons of rice for the first time this year and also helped farmers in marketing them,” said KS Pannu, Managing Director, PAICL.
Pannu also said that work on the composition of advisory board announced by CM is also under progress.
CS Aulakh, a senior agronomist from PAU and author of a book, ‘Organic Farming: Prospects and Constraints in Punjab’, said that the biggest constraint is the non-availability of the organic manure for the farmers required for the procedure.
“It takes minimum three years for a farm to be completely organic. But we have insufficient organic manure which comes from animal and agriculture waste. Farmers would need to keep more animals if we want organic manure to provide similar amount of nutrients to the crop as it gets through chemical laden fertilizers. Another constraint is lack of response from market. Farmers do not adopt organic farming when produce is not sold. There is no organized markets for organic products,” said Aulakh.
Umendra Dutt, Director, Kheti Viraasat Mission and member of national task force on organic farming said Punjab stands way behind when it comes to organic farming. “There has been no clear-cut policy to promote organic farming in Punjab, either from state department or PunjabAgro. PAU is still conducting research on the lines of green revolution which led to degradation of Punjab’s soil and overuse of water and fertilizers. Punjab which was pioneer in every agricultural aspect stands the most backward in organic farming,” he concluded.
It is only due to the efforts of NGOs, individuals and farmers groups that a few Kisan Huts (shops that directly sell organic fruit and vegetables, without involving middlemen) were started in districts like Hoshiarpur, Mansa, Ludhiana without any support from the government. Farmers allege officials ask for bribes when approached for certification for their organic farms.
“Most organic farmers have not got certification. It is because bribes are demanded openly. This is the reason why there are no accurate number on how much area is under organic cultivation in Punjab. It is the lack of trust and communication between Punjab Agro and farmers,” said Harnek Singh, a farmer.
Despite the lack of state patronage, the concept of organic farming is being given a boost by self motivated individuals who are making the maximum of what is on offer. According to Joga Singh, project officer, Skill Training Center, Guru Nanak Dev Polytechnic College, who recently hosted a direct selling fair for farmers said, “There is a scheme called Community Development Through Polytechnics (CDTP) offered by HRD Ministry to promote organic farmers and help them in selling their produce directly to the customers. I decided to use this scheme and host farmers. We offered them free of cost platform to sell their products and response was overwhelming. Such schemes need to be optimized well to help farmers,” he says.