The Tamil Nadu government’s announcement that it will table a separate agriculture budget has led to numerous discussions among farmers and agri forums. While they welcome the announcement, there are various demands cropping up each day, with hopes that the state’s first ever agriculture budget will meet them.
A section of farmers feels the budget should provide a major push to organic farming. The demands range from the setting up of exclusive retail shops for organic products, to establishing the state’s own crop insurance agency, to launching an income commission to guarantee a minimum income for those involved in organic farming.
‘Make it a mass practice’
The Safe Food Alliance Tamil Nadu (SFAT), a farmers’ organisation, has gone so far as to say the budget needs to make a separate allocation — about 30% of the total agri budget — for organic farming.
“It is true that organic farming is still an elitist concept in Tamil Nadu. That’s how the majority of concepts in the past came through — from being elitist first. If you want it to expand it, then the government should be involved in it,” said M Ananthoo, coordinator of SFAT.
At present, organic farming is mostly carried out by individuals, typically as subsistence farming (for their own consumption). It can be scaled up and converted into a mass agricultural practice only with the help of the government, said Ananthoo. That’s why there’s a demand for a separate allocation in the budget, he added.
“The Centre had allocated ₹100 crore in 2014 for the development of organic farming. It was after that that many states showed an interest in taking up natural farming,” he pointed out. “Take Andhra Pradesh, for example. They started organic farming in 2018 in just three villages and now about 70,000 acres are cultivated through organic farming. There are a lot of lessons Tamil Nadu can take from Andhra.”
Though organic farming is rather fashionable today, it faces several practical problems. A 2018 research paper published by Alagappa University, Karaikudi, listed out some, such as issues in marketing the output (like obtaining certification), lack of support for marketing and distribution of inputs such as bio-fertilisers, low yield, lack of financial support from the government and inability to meet export demand.
Subsidy for certification
The MK Stalin government in the state should also consider several procedural improvements while making a big announcement with regard to organic farming, said industry observers. One of the main demands of farmers who are into organic farming is to decrease the fee charged for organic certification by private bodies.
“When compared to private certification agencies, the state organic certification agency charges a very low fee,” said R Sellammal, organic certification inspector, Tamil Nadu Organic Certification Department (TNOCD).
The TNOCD, established in 2007, started to issue accreditation certificates to farmers from 2009. Till date it has certified about 1,400 individual farmers.
“We have three grades — small farmers, big farmers and groups. The farmers who own lands less than 5 acres are small farmers and they need to pay ₹2,700 as fee for yearly certification. Those who own more than 5 acres are big farmers and they need to pay ₹3, 200. These fees were fixed in 2007 and after that they were not revised or hiked,” Sellammal said.
Private agencies collect fees on various basis such as acreage and products. The farmers also need to pay for their accommodation and traveling, etc, before collecting their certificates. So, the fee would work out 10 times higher, she said.
“To alleviate the fears of farmers over certification fee, the government can think of providing them subsidies,” Sellammal added.
E Somasundaram, professor and head, Department of Sustainable Organic Agriculture, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), said it would be more than sufficient if the government fully implements the existing Organic Farming Policy.
“The policy was submitted to the government five years before. It was formed with the help of departments like horticulture, plantation and crops, agriculture, animal husbandry and the University. But it has not been implemented yet. The policy has a lot of positives and it will be easy for the government to implement it once they make any big announcements with regard to organic farming,” said Somasundaram.
In Tamil Nadu, about 5,000 individual farmers — mostly small and marginal farmers — are carrying out organic farming. Of these, just a few have organic certification, he said.
“There are nearly 32 certification agencies in the state. We have data only on those who register with TNOCD. The farmers who register with the remaining agencies have not come into the picture,” he said.
Three key initiatives
Somasundaram further suggested recognising organic farmers with awards and honours to take the segment to new heights. According to him, to make organic farming successful in the state, the government should work on three fronts: subsidising inputs, providing incentives to farmers who prepare organic inputs on their own, and creating a marketing network.
“Besides, the government can provide seeds, bio input materials, etc. These are available in large numbers at TNAU. These can be distributed not only to organic farmers but also conventional farmers. Once the latter see the results of using organic inputs, in the long run, they too can turn to natural farming,” he added.