On the (In)feasibility of Organic Farming

Natalia P. Hule, who writes about agriculture and development in India, had a great post a few weeks ago titled “My Tryst with Organic Farming,” in which she discussed how she tried to implement organic sugarcane farming in Tamil Nadu Mandla, Madhya Pradesh as part of her work.

Natalia begins her story as follows:

When I was working in Mandla, I was keen upon the introduction of organic sugarcane production as many farmers near the town of Mandla have access to irrigation. The town is practically surrounded on 3 sides by the Narmada. I went about this in a thorough fashion and chose to do what is recommended by the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University for organic sugarcane production. Below is a description of how reality smacked me straight in the face.

And she concludes as follows:

Organic farming is difficult because

1. Adding the requisite amount of NPK is very difficult due to a lack of organic materials in necessary amounts and exactly when they are needed;

2. The non-availability of inputs for biological pest control in many locations as compared to the ease of access to chemical inputs; and

3. The high cost of organic inputs.

I know that organic farming enthusiasts will be offended by some or the other part above. I won’t even touch upon the part concerning the alleged higher nutritive values of organic food. I doubt that myself. It is pesticide-free but more nutritious? Haven’t got a clue. I continue to harbor the hope that there should be some way to practically implement organic farming on the farm, outside control conditions. I continue to hope that WorldWatch is right and Dr. Borlaug was not. What is to be done? Many are sitting on the fence. I’ve jumped from the “enthusiast” camp to the ‘on-the-fence’ camp. Paul Neate on CGIAR Climate is right that organic farming needs more debate. If it is organic, it needn’t necessarily be right.

Natalia’s post is long, but it is well worth reading in full because she came at it from the position of someone who was a true believer, only to realize that for smallholders, organic farming might not be very practical.

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  1. Natalia P Hule

    Thank you very much for you praise and having chosen to write about my work here. I wanted to share my learning with others. I’m glad you found many takeaways from it. Looking back on my experience, I have also come to realise that many of my difficulties arose from the fact that a good part of research done in Indian agricultural institutions is not being marketed properly or is not marketed at all. Improved varieties and other biological control methods such as insects that are bioagents need to be made available for purchase in stores. I haven’t been paid by Syngenta to say this but I think they should bring Bioline to India. I now plan to document the work of successful Indian organic farmers to see how they manage inputs on their farms and more importantly, how they managed to break even . Thanks again for sharing.

  2. Pingback: On the (In)feasibility of Organic Farming | Marc F. Bellemare | plantlawyer