How companies are helping revolutionise India’s agricultural landscape through organic farming
There’s a growing adoption of bio-farming in the Indian agriculture industry. Its benefits for the environment, farmers and consumers are being recognised, slowly but steadily. And more companies are giving it a push.
Neil Banerjee January 16, 2023
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Health is wealth – goes the old dictum. More and more people are realising the wisdom behind it.
They are opting to buy products that are not only rich in their nutritional and health benefits but are also eco-friendly. And therefore, organic vegetables, fruits and other such edible products are witnessing a surge in popularity. As this behaviour gets more traction and attention, industries are helping farmers to switch to bio-farming by rolling out new initiatives. This has gone a long way in revolutionising the current agricultural landscape of India.
Bio-farming, also known as organic farming, is an agriculture method that utilises natural processes to enrich and strengthen the health and productivity benefits of crops and livestock. This method of farming involves the use of natural fertilisers while steering away from the use of synthetic chemicals and GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Apart from the change in consumer behaviour, this method of farming has taken root as there is growing attention being drawn towards the impact that inorganic farming has on the environment. If not stopped now, inorganic farming will wreak havoc on the environment and the soil and affect human health adversely as well.
There’s more area to be covered
Although India has started focusing on dedicating more land for organic farming in recent years, when compared globally the figure is very low. As of now, Sikkim is the only state that has totally embraced organic farming. Other states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have only converted a small fraction of their lands to organic farming.
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The states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Uttarakhand and Goa have converted more than 10 per cent of their land to organic farming. Union Territories such as Delhi, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshadweep, and Chandigarh have also dedicated 10 per cent or more of their land for organic farming but it should be kept in mind that their agricultural area is relatively very small.
According to an FiBL report, in 2019, there were 3.1 million organic producers. India continues to be the country with the highest number of producers (13,66,000), followed by Uganda (2,10,000), and Ethiopia (2,04,000). Most small-scale producers are certified in groups based on an internal control system.
Industries facilitating an organic turn of events
While a majority of companies are moving ahead with the traditional method of agriculture, some are trying to bring about a change. A change for a better and healthier lifestyle, keeping the sustainability of the environment in mind. From using new products and adopting new techniques to using AI and ML, these firms are utilising technology and optimising it within the agriculture space in India.
A torchbearer of this movement is Dr Ajay Ranka. He is the Co-founder and CMD of Zydex Industries. Zydex is working on multiple aspects to conserve the soil environment which has “lost its carbon content and has become hard and compact due to the use of chemicals over a long period of time”.
“The biology like bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes and their population has been significantly reduced due to the excess use of chemical fertilizers and crop care chemicals. In such conditions, transitioning in one crop cycle to switch from a chemical nutrient supply to a bio nutrient supply mechanism has been the biggest challenge for technology providers,” says Dr Ranka.
“The first breakthrough technology platform is called Zytonic which when combined with biological inoculation like mycorrhiza, NPK consortia, Zinc solubilising bacteria, etc., makes the soil soft and porous in 15 to 30 days’ time, at the cost of Rs 4,000 to 6,000 per acre,” he explains.
He added, “The second breakthrough is a technology called Zytonic Suraksha that improves water absorption in the farm where dew is formed every night/ morning. This technology accelerates the photosynthesis and biological cover on the leaf, which allows it faster growth and improves its immunity and protects it from attacks by pathogens and insects,” he further says.
“The third breakthrough is microencapsulation technology which is the slow release of botanical oils like neem oil to enable the longer retentiveness and spreading of neem oil on the leaf, enabling the repulsion of pathogens and insects. The beneficial aspect of small doses of neem makes the plant leaf recover from the prior disease attacks on it, making it greener and shinier in 7-10 days,” Ranka says.
“The goal is to make organic India feasible in the coming 10 years. This may be a very difficult goal but if the industries through their CSR adopt 10 villages at a cost of Rs 30 lakhs per cluster for a three-year demonstrative effort, then this goal is achievable. For the first time, the transition is profit positive and improves land fertility and conserves water resources. It’s all about seeing is believing and demonstrating and consistently proving to the farming community that it will not only benefit them but will also benefit society as a whole,” he points out.
Another point that Ranka stresses on is the commercial availability of various botanical oils and gomutra. He says,” These products have not been effective in protecting the plants and in arresting the high level of their mortality and hence, crop damage is experienced during bio-farming. Now, if you can make the land rich in organic matter, soft and breathable and maintain its aerobic microbial population, the soil does not need to rest. It is humming with bioactivity and can provide nutrients 24×7 and for 365 days. So, farms don’t need to fill the gap between the crop cycles, and this can be utilised very easily for fodder crops or short-term crops of 60-75 days durations, generating an additional income for the farmers.”
Use of technology for agricultural solutions
In addition to these products, industries in India are also investing in the development of bio-pesticide delivery systems and precision farming technologies. These technologies enable farmers to selectively apply bio-pesticides to specific areas of their fields, reducing the overall amount of pesticides needed and improving the efficiency of pest control. Companies such as Agrotech India are pioneering the use of drones for bio-pesticide application in India.
“Agrotech India has the primary vision of utilising technology for the improvement of Indian agriculture. The approaches used by us like AI/ML, drones, geoinformatics, remote sensing, IoT, sensors, etc., can help in precision farming, optimise the farm management activities and minimise farm labour,” says Akhilesh Jain, Co-founder, Agrotech India.
“The use of AI/ML can be used in alignment with agriculture to monitor crop health and production. It can help in the early detection of biotic and abiotic stress in plants, so that early warning systems can be assimilated to plan combat strategies. The use of technology can optimise agricultural processes and can aid in meeting the precise fertiliser and irrigation demands of crops, which can bring about a significant rise in crop production, resulting in the minimisation of crop losses,” Jain tells us.
What are the challenges faced by bio-farming in India? Jain says, “The lack of awareness amongst the farming community about the benefits of organic farming and about the relevant policies for the implementation of organic farming at the state level, the presence of less organic certification agencies, the decrease in output because the necessary crop nutrient demand isn’t fulfilled, the lack of certain nutrients in the soil and the shorter shelf life of organic commodities due to the absence of preservatives — these are some of the hurdles faced by bio-farming in India.”
How can bio-farming help in cultivating off-season crops? Jain answers, “Off-season farming can provide farmers with better financial benefits due to the low demand and the higher price that a commodity commands during an off season. Organic farming techniques like vermicomposting, integrated pest management assimilated with technically effective polyhouses, and poly-tunnels and greenhouses for vegetable cultivation with climate resilient and high-quality seeds can minimise the risk of loss and low productivity in off-season faming and can double the farming benefits.”
The road ahead
Another factor that can be beneficial in sustaining the soil environment is the use of bio-based fertilisers. Biomass generated during crop harvesting and by food processing units can also be used to generate nutrient-rich compost.
“Bio-based fertilisers are a practical approach towards a circular economy. Biomass plants, while being grown in nature, harness the nutrients from mother earth. Therefore, in principle, crop residues or organic waste, for example from food processing units, should be converted into energy and into bio-based fertilisers. The latter should be recycled back to nature from a sustainable agriculture perspective,” asserts Gaurav Kedia, Chairman, Indian Biogas Association.
Bio-farming is a growing trend in India and for it to grow further we have to work on the multiple aspects and factors that affect it. More industries are investing in research and development to bring out innovative techniques and products. It is important for industries to continue doing so. Bringing innovative products and technologies into the market will support the growth of the bio-farming industry in India. Bio-farming has the potential to revolutionise the agricultural sector in India by reducing the reliance on synthetic inputs and by improving the sustainability of farming practices.