Organic Food: Changing Face Of The Indian Agriculture

Sujit Jain, Chairman & MD, Netsurf CommunicationsAn inspirational speaker, Sujit manages the colossus commercial projects, strengthening the technical infrastructure & expanding the organization's scope of business in India & across the globe

It's a wonderful Sunday morning. Though it's a holiday, you have done your daily exercise early in the morning. As you are enjoying your Sunday, you are being asked to get vegetables of your liking. Delighted, you walk in the supermarket just to be confounded. You see two sections, both having same vegetables but one section with a different tag predominantly displayed `Organic Vegetables'. Wondering what's so special about these vegetables, you move towards the pulses section. There too, you come across some items that mention 'Organic Certified' tag on the packets. Then, you move towards the fruit section only to find two types- 'organic' and the 'regular' ones. You also notice the price difference, organic items being priced higher. Now you are really perplexed. You have often heard the word 'organic' relation to healthy eating, but you keep asking yourself, does it really matter to me and are they really worth paying extra for the same food item?

'Organic' has certainly become a buzzword in today's market, which is often related to the luxury. Number of food items i.e. tea, spices, flour, cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk, honey are being sold under the organic label at a premium price. There are many special as well as general e-markets that are offering exotic organic food directly to the end consumers. But what organic food means and how do you know if what you are eating is really organic?

Organic food, cultivated using organic farming techniques, is the produce that is grown with nil or minimal use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and in its processing no chemical, artificial colour, flavour or additive has been added. Often, they are produced using organic manures, bio fertilizers and bio pesticides. Organic farming techniques keep a long term perspective on aspects like soil fertility, effective control of pests and diseases without hurting the environment, judicious utilization of the farmer's resources to reduce the input cost and producing the higher quantity of the quality crops to fetch higher returns. There are various Government of India authorised certification agencies that look at the cultivation practices before certifying any food as organic. However, since
the green revolution it has become a common practice to use synthetic agricultural inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and growth enhancers and regulators to expedite the harvesting cycle at the same time increase the yield.

The synthetic fertilizers, undoubtedly prove to be helpful in increasing the production per unit of land while chemical pesticides help contain infestation within hours of spraying and of course, synthetic growth regulators give us fruits in whatever size, texture and as and when we wish. But, in pursuit of the short term goals, long term ill effects of such practices are not realised. These chemicals deplete the soil off its nutrients by destroying the natural microbial contents and they may remain in the residual form in the harvested crops that we may consume posing great health risk.

Looking at the demand for bio-inputs, companies are manufacturing effective result oriented bio-inputs based on advanced biotechnology

The organic food cultivation practices eliminate the health risk linked to the residual effects of hazardous chemical. Apart from this, there is now increasing awareness with regard to health benefits of organic food, for instance, it contains higher antioxidant levels it tastes better and it's environment friendly. Coupled with the rising disposable income, increasing number of consumers from Tier-I and Tier-II cities are now ready to pay premium price, about 20-25 percent higher, for the healthier organic food. This has translated in the significant increase in organic food demand in the domestic market, with 40 percent growth while the exports grew between 25-30 percent (2015) on account of increase in the world-wide demand.

Realizing the market potential, farmers also started exploring the realm of organic farming by eschewing the use of agrochemicals. As a result of which, with about 650,000 organic producers (2013) and 720,000 Hectares of organic agriculture land (2014) at present, more and more farmers are making use of bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and organic growth promoters to improve the quality and quantity of their agri-produce and significantly reduce their input cost.

Looking at the demand for bio-inputs, companies are manufacturing effective result oriented bio-inputs based on advanced biotechnology. For example, bio-fertilizers like Bio fit N/P/K, micro organisms based fertilizers, can replace their chemical counterparts by 50 percent for similar productivity and reduce the input cost by almost 25 percent. In addition, enterprises now have started testing the innovative ways, for example, the direct selling rout adopted by Net surf, to reach to farmers and create awareness about the rising demand for organic food.

We have been able to reach to four million farmers to offer our bioproducts. However, as consumer demand will increase and more farmers will look for the alternative to agrochemicals, we aim at establishing effective backward integration with farmers. We are also predicting the disruptive innovations in farm-to-fork model. This will ultimately benefit the end consumers by reducing the prices and wider sections of the society can opt for organic food as a way of life.

The organic food market, thus, poses a win-win situation for the farmers by offering a great market potential for their produce with handsome returns as well as the consumers by offering the healthy food option. Many venture capitalists have also been attracted towards the organic food segment considering the scale of opportunity and the margins offered. As estimated, the organic food consumption in India is not even 0.1 percent of India's total annual food consumption of `300 billion; the Indian organic food stage is set to witness many more `organic agripreneurs' in the recent future.