February 19, 2018
ORGANIC FARMING OR MODERN FARMING What should be the option?
Organic farming is a big talk these days. It has become rather a fashion among educated and upper-class people to speak in its favour, without having proper knowledge about it. People from the educated class have started thinking that it is the modern techniques of farming, i.e. taking help of chemicals to increase farm production, which is putting us at risk of dreaded diseases. But it is not correct. The fact is that modern farming is the need of day and agriculture not possible without the use of modern technology.
Before discussing the reasons in favour, let me tell what exactly is meant by organic farming by its advocates. It is production of farm crops without using ANY KIND OF SYNTHETIC CHEMICAL. Let me also tell here that it is not only chemical pesticides that are used in farming. Many other kinds of chemicals are used for achieving different objectives.
The use of chemicals begins right with the treatment of seed with fungicides and pesticides so that the seed reaches farmers in in good health and without carrying any pathogen. Then, help of chemical herbicides is taken by adding these to soil for controlling weeds. This saves cost of labour involved in weeding. Weed control with the use of herbicides has assumed the magnitude of a separate science now and researchers are engaged in continuous research for finding ways to control weeds with chemicals.
After the seed germinates and the plants start growing, pests of various sorts, who also have to stay alive by feeding themselves on these plants, appear on the scene. It is a natural process. These also have to be controlled and the most effective and economic way of doing this is with the use of chemicals. When chemicals were not available for this job, other techniques were used e.g. my mother and grandmother used to sprinkle wood ash from chulha on the bhindi, brinjal and pea plants in their kitchen garden to saving them from the attack of insect pests. There were other few other treatments like that. In our B.Sc. Ag. class in 1958-59, we were taught preparation and use of tobacco decoction as one of the treatments for insect control. I do not know it is whether it is still taught. But I have never seen tobacco decoction being used for insect control during my professional career.
Then comes the period between germination and final crop harvesting. Sixteen elements, viz. hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sulphur, chlorine, boron, iron, manganese, zinc, copper and molybdenum are required for plant growth. Out of these, carbon comes from air through photosynthesis and hydrogen and oxygen received by the plant from the water. Rest of these elements or nutrients, come from the soil. Soil does not contain infinite supply of these nutrients which are removed from soil with every harvest. So, soil has to be replenished for these as in case of deficiency of any of these occurs in soil, growth of plant (and finally the yield) will be affected. This replenishment is done by adding these nutients to soil in the form of manures, fertilizers and nutrient sprays. This is only way to maintain soil productivity.
The organic manures like farm yard manure, compost or vermicompost does add many of these nutrients to the soil but that is not enough. So additional supply of nutrients is required which is done by adding chemical fertilizers and foliar sprays. This is a must. For example, the annual requirement of nitrogen for a fully-grown apple tree has been worked out to be 700 grams. This cannot be supplied by adding farm yard manure alone. As one kilo of farm yard manure contains only 500 mg of nitrogen. Therefore, 1400 kg of farm yard manure will have to be applied to a bearing apple tree for meeting its annual requirement of nitrogen. It is simply not possible and therefore use of chemical fertilizers is a necessity. Same is the case with other elements.
When any plant is grown in very large number in a small area, as is the case in cereal and vegetable crops, diseases do appear. Diseases in plants are mostly caused by fungi, bacteria and viruses. There is no effective way of controlling a plant disease except chemicals which have been developed specially for this purpose by farm scientists over decades of research. These chemicals are released for farm use after thorough testing. These are not evaluated only for their effectiveness to control diseases but for their toxicity and effects on human health.
Then another class of useful chemicals, which are of hormonal nature and regulate many plant growth processes, has been developed by plant scientists for use in agriculture. Spray of 2-chloroethane phosphonic acid, which is sold as Ethrel in market, is being widely used by Himachal apple growers of lowers areas for advancing the maturity and enhancing the red colour in fruits. This treatment was developed during seventies by the researchers of Horticultural University, Solan and thousands of apple growers have been benefitted with its use. The use of gibberellic acid by grape growers of Maharashtra for berry size enhancement and bunch loosening is a regular annual practice there.
Many fruits do not have a very long shelf life and therefore cannot be shipped for long distances. Chemicals, e.g. succinic acid dimethyl hydrazide have now been developed which enhance the shelf life. Fruits like mango, chiku, banana, persimmon etc. have to be picked from trees unripe and then induced to ripen later at the points of sale. This is now being done effectively with the help of chemicals.
What solution do the advocates of organic farming have to offer for protecting the farmers from above problems?
Other effects of organic farming:
This is a proven fact that increase in yield cannot achieved by reverting to old system farming where the plants were left at the mercy of nature. To progress, India has to move with times which means adoption of modern scientific techniques in every field including farming.
There is no denying the fact that Indian farmer is at loss today. They are in this profession today because there is no other choice. Hardly any farmer in India wants his son to be a farmer. Realizing this the present government recently set a target of doubling the farmers’ income by 2022. There are only two ways to achieve this target, either double the production and increase the price. The first option is not possible by adopting “no chemical” organic farming.
Opponents of modern farming:
It can be noted from press reports that the persons opposing modern farming are all laymen having no background of agriculture. Most of them are religious preacher type of persons denigrating modern farming without any tenable logic. None of the farm scientists have ever said that we should revert back to century old farm practices. So, should the country listen to these self-styled organic farming experts without any professional training in agriculture or farm scientists.
What needs to be done:
It is not untrue that there is injudicious use of farm chemicals, especially pesticides. And at times this is a serious health concern. But this is not because of the chemicals but because of the ignorance of the farmers about the proper use of these chemicals. They are not rightly told about the use of chemicals. In most cases the farmers are guided by vendors who also do not have complete knowledge. Then to be safer side, farmers also raise the dose for more safety and this is the root cause of problem. However, it can be easily sorted by training the farmers.
Further research needed:
Though there is no doubt in the fact that it is not possible to achieve increased yield without the help of farm chemicals. But still there are still some people who do not agree with this. To convince them, comprehensive trials comparing the both systems continuously for 5-6 years should be carried out. The effect of both the systems on farmers’ economy should be evaluated and only then decision to revert back to old system should be taken.
In the end I would like to say that chemicals are not adulterants. These are the outcome of scientific advancement. So do not oppose their use in farming.