Posted by: Mahdi Ebrahimi | January 16, 2008

Go organic and live healthy

Hetal Shah living in an upmarket Ahmedabad locality of Ellis Bridge is a lady with a mission she is starting a grocery shop.
So what is so unique about it? It is an organic grocery shop. There are a lot of things in her hand that she needs to do. She has a list of customers whom she is going to provide everything organic right from rice, cereals, vegetables, fruits and moreover ensure that there is a regular supply chain from organic farms to her shop.
Mind you, this is not a one-time job but a daily task. Having seen many of her friends going bankrupt in organic farming, Hetal knows she cannot fail because she wants to prove that organic farming is the right approach towards the betterment of a healthy life. Says Hetal, “If you use inorganic farming products then you are risking your health. Moreover, inorganic farming requires use of pesticides that damages earth permanently and in some cases it can also cause diseases like cancer.”

Though in small numbers, users of organic food are growing in India at a steady pace and people like Hetal believe if they go with the right approach they will surely beat the inorganic farming sector. The general perception of common people is that organic food is expensive, difficult to consume because it tastes differently and in some organic products it takes more time to cook. It is the precise reason people keep away from organic farming but people like Hetal say these are the myths propagated by chemical fertilizer industry to keep their business interests intact.
“These all are myths and notions in people’s mind. People pay extra money in fast food joints but have a problem in paying just a little more money for organic food,” says Hetal. Asked where will she get customers from when people are price sensitive and have no information about organic farming, Hetal says, “In the last one year I have contacted nutritionists and dieticians to get contact of people who have health problems regarding food. I have made a list of them and they know that to remain healthy organic food is the way to go.”
Every kind of fruits and vegetables are available for my consumers. Once I start, I hope to get more and more consumers in word of mouth.”

Will Hetal succeed? Past experiences have shown that most of the new entrants dealing with organic food have always burnt their fingers. There is no immediate profit in the business and the gestation period is long and common people don’t buy organic food because they find it expensive. Says Harpal Singh Grewal, member of Organic Steering Committee of India, “One of the main reasons organic food is not catching up in India is because people want quick profit. Farmers know the fact that organic farming is the right approach to farming but unfortunately there is no support from government and there is no organised group all over India that could give a boast to organic farming.”
He says ruefully, “It is sad that organic farming sector comes under commerce ministry and not under agriculture ministry. There is no policy and there is no proper approach from the government to do anything about this sector. It is only individuals who are trying to keep this sector grow. The day it gets organised and boost from government the business of organic farming will fly.” What are other problems? Harpal himself is a farmer in Sirsa, Haryana, and has organic farms. When he started in 1992 there was no proper guidance and his farmer friends thought he had lost his mind because he believed in something that was not making money immediately and there were no customers for his food.

Says Harpal: “If one has to start organic farming then to make your farm land organic it takes three years. The first year is a zero year because you have to get rid of all pesticides from your land and then the second year is your first year and it is only in the third year your land is certified organic.” Till 100 years ago when there was no chemicals and fertilizers used in farming organic farming was the only way of life.

However a growing population worldwide made scientists to think to bring in more productivity and quantity of food for hungry people. The Green Revolution was one of the classic examples launched in India as with the use of pesticides India saw record level of wheat and rice production to meet its demand for population. However, organic food supporters feel that Green Revolution destroyed and damaged the land of India and today the same land is not giving more food productivity and has become counterproductive.

“It was a Chemical Revolution and not Green Revolution,” says Harpal. “Use of pesticides on farm land is chemi-culture and not agriculture.” Unfortunately in India another big problem is that the farmers who want to turn their land into organic find it difficult to get it certified. There are many European organic companies and in some states even governments give certification to their lands as organic but most of them are based in cities and are far away from farm lands.

“Everyone knows that if you turn your farm into organic your yield too will improve a great deal but the big problem is from chemical fertilizer lobby. They will ensure that organic farming never takes off because it will harm their interest permanently and they will have to shut their shops,” adds Harpal. Is there a future for organic farming? People associated with business feel that it has a great potential that needs to be tapped.

They, however, feel that if more and more state governments take initiative and campaigns like Karnataka government then things will change in a big way. Karnataka government in 2006 took a bold initiative after they converted their Agricultural Research Station at Naganahalli into an organic farming research station. Spread across 25.2 hecatres on the outskirts of Bangalore-Mysore Highway, it has grown leaps and bounds.

It also establishes scientifically claims of organic agricultural products and is empowered to authenticate it. “At this place in Mysore there is a green market held every Sunday. Organic food is sold in good numbers and there are good number of buyers too,” says Vikas Chadha, chief consultant, Satavic Farms, an organisation dealing with organic foods. Satavic is a Sanskrit name for purity and prosperity.

But is it not true that organic food is expensive? Chadha says: “It is just a myth propagated that organic food is expensive. This is not true.” He adds: “It will become much cheaper if more and more people start using organic food. Today, their number is less but eventually they will grow.” And what about the taste of the food which one finds it difficult to consume, Chadha explains: “Organic food is a good quality food. It is therefore necessary to cook it properly. For example, if you take organic cereals and if you don’t cook it properly you will not like the taste.”

He concludes by stating, “There are good number of consumers and good number of sellers. There is also a huge awareness among people. The only problem is that someone has to form a chain between consumers and suppliers of organic food. If you do that you will succeed.”

And this is what Hetal is precisely trying to do in Ahmedabad. Will she succeed? Only time will tell.



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