CHENNAI: For three decades, awareness about organic farming and the importance of consuming products produced through organic farming has been gaining momentum in Tamil Nadu with experts such as the late Nammazhvar working overtime across the State. However, the awareness has been created mostly by activists rather than by intervention of the government.
So far, only States like Sikkim, Kerala, Karnataka, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have declared their own organic farming policy while many others on the process to implement organic farming vigorously.
In Tamil Nadu too, environmental and agricultural experts have been urging the government to evolve its own policy for long.
Pamayan, one of the key organic farming activists and many others under the banner Thalaanmai Uzhavar Iyakkam (Self Reliant Farmers Movement) submitted a draft organic farming policy to the then Deputy Chief Minister, M K Stalin, during the DMK regime. But no action was taken on that. Later, the DMK government formed a committee for framing the policy and it submitted the draft policy, but it was put on the backburner for unknown reasons.
In September 2012, the State government formed a committee to draft the organic farming policy with contributions of many experts and it was ready in 2013. However, the draft policy never got the approval of the State government.
Meanwhile, awareness about organic products has increased manifold among the public and the number of activists working at the ground level has gone up.
R Selvam, coordinator, Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers Federation, Arachalur in Erode district, who has 25-year experience in organic farming and as an activist, explains why the State government should evolve an exclusive organic farming policy immediately.
"Without a policy, a government cannot promote or implement a major programme like organic farming. Now, some governments have missions. A mission is a mere idea. But when it takes the form of a policy, it will get authenticity and will have much more impact on the implementation. As many other States have such a policy and more are moving towards it, we also should have a policy."
Another important use of having a policy is that if, after evolving an organic farming policy, any state government goes against it, we can even move the court. For example, organic farming is against promoting genetically modified crops. If the government moves in that direction, we can check it by moving the court."
Asked how this policy would be beneficial to the farmers, Selvam said that only after evolving the policy, the government can design the programmes and action plan based on it. Special allocations can also be done. Only when there is a policy, the government and the farmers could take further steps towards achieving the goals designed in that policy.
Giving a plainspeak, Selvam also pointed out that having a policy would not mean that it would bring about drastic changes immediately. On the other hand, the farmers in the State, which has organic farming policy, now have a hold. They could question the government to put pressure when there is inaction.
Dr Claude Alvares, Director, Goa Foundation, an environmental action group, who has been moving High Courts across the country over several environmental issues for over 25 years, is concerned about non-action on evolving an organic farming policy.
"Many State governments, say, Kerala, Rajasthan and Karnataka, are serious about implementing organic farming. But despite having a large number of organic farmers, Tamil Nadu is yet to act on it," Alvares told Express.
"India has to go organic since it is an essential matter because use of chemicals in agriculture is dangerous. When there is a very good way of alternative way of producing food, we should not continue with chemicals," Alvares added.
Selvam, who is also a managing committee member of the Organic Farming Association of India which has been moving State and Central governments to install and follow policies geared towards the promotion of organic farming, feels that since much water had flowed during the past five and half years since the last draft policy was submitted, there is a need for constituting another committee to draft a fresh policy, taking into account the changes.
The mere presence of farmers' representatives and officials won't suffice. The committee should include practising organic farmers who are working at ground zero. Because they alone can give valuable inputs about the nature of different kinds of soil available in different parts of the State."
Selvam reasons out why organic farming should be promoted urgently. "The primary objectives are to ensure the income security of the farmers and health security of the people, that is, the organic farming produces should be available to the daily wage worker at an affordable cost. (Now organic farming produces are priced higher than regular produces)."
Selvam says organic farming should be implemented in the entire State as a whole and not in selective areas and for certain selective crops. "Now, there is a premium price for organic products because the production using organic farming is lesser than the demand. When the entire production is by organic farming, the common man will get them at affordable price," he points out.
Selvam is hopeful that the transition to organic farming would be a smooth affair in Tamil Nadu because of the ground work already done by numerous activists in creating awareness. "Tamil Nadu is the only State with so much organic farmers in small and marginal farmers' category. Almost in every block, even the remotest panchayat, we have organic farmers and most of them are in it not with the ambition of getting premium price. They do sell their produce in the regular channel that they had sold earlier. This is unusual and unique to our State," Selvam points out.
Organic farmers across the State also point out another vital reason for shifting to organic farming. Being a water-starved State, Tamil Nadu has to choose organic farming as it consumes less water. In the long-term, this would be vital as the water crisis is going to aggravate in one or other form in the coming years.