There is also a need to remove misconceptions that yield is lesser from organic farming, a conference of Indian agricultural scientists, held from 12-14 May in Srinagar, was told. The conference was hosted by the Shere Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST), in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Only a tiny fraction of arable land is under organic farming in India currently. According to data available from India’s Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, a little over 1 million hectare grew organic food in 2009-10, against the total cultivated land of 180 million hectares.
“Important policy interventions and changes in educational system, particularly on soil management and pest management are needed” to promote organic farming, said Om Rupela, a former scientist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Hyderabad.
He said that India's current policy on chemicals and fertilisers places emphasis on imports. The country imports about 60 per cent of its nitrogenous fertilisers, 80 per cent of its phosphates, and almost all its potash.
“Before the Green Revolution, we were importing bulk of the grains, and now we are importing fertilisers and chemicals in enormous quantities,” he said.
Rupela debunked the notion that India does not have sufficient organic inputs to cater to its farming needs.
“A crop needs over 30 elements for balanced growth, and not only the NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) that are available as fertilisers in the market place,” he observed.
“A typical soil and plant biomass (leaves, twigs) has all these 30-plus nutrients, though the proportion varies from soil to soil and plant to plant.”
Some of the nutrients may not be in a form that can be readily taken up by plants, but they can be converted into available forms by soil microorganisms, or can be derived from biomaterial such as compost and cow dung.
“We need to have more decision makers who understand organic agriculture,” Arun Sharma, senior scientist at the Central Arid Zone Research Institute, Jodhpur, told the congress.
Sharma called for increased funding for research in organic farming to develop sustainable food systems.
Ram Awad Ram, principal scientist, Central Institute for Subtropical Horticulture, Lucknow, said websites should be set up in different regional languages to provide information on organic farming, its benefits and about potential market for organic food products.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.