Developing the Northeast as the country’s ‘organic capital’ is an idea whose full implementation is long overdue. But the region is taking its time with it, for there are problems on the ground that needs to be appreciated thoroughly. Prime Minister rendra Modi speaks glowingly of the region’s vast agro-potential. A second green revolution in this ‘tural economic zone’ could make it a bountiful provider of organic food to the country and much of the world. To help boost organic farming in the region, the budgetary allocation this year has been hiked nearly 200 per cent to Rs 125 crore. The Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yoja (RKVY) launched by the Central government is promoting organic farming and thereby reduce the dependence on chemical inputs. In all these efforts, the Northeast has a central role because of its strengths. It is one of the 18 mega biodiversity hot spots of the world, with botanical zones ranging from tropical to alpine. Its soils are rich in organic matter. Its farmers have long practiced traditiol agriculture, lacking money to buy costly chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This made farming in the region organic by default, but it was good for the soil. This has now become a boon with changing consumer tastes favouring healthy organic foods. Recognizing this, Mizoram and Sikkim are striding swiftly to be fully organic. Meghalaya is rolling too, providing its farmers free bio-pesticides, bio-agents and training.
It is estimated that the domestic trade in organic food will rise to Rs 6,000 crore by the end of this year. Experts believe the Northeast can contribute at least Rs 1,250 crore in this sector. The region already has 60,000 hectares of organic-certified area. But while its farmers are mostly engaged in organic cultivation, they are uware of the premium their products can fetch in the domestic and export markets. Many farmers also lack awareness about organic standards set by tiol and intertiol bodies. So considerable parts of NE organic food production do not receive certification. Unless the high value of certification works in the beginning does not receive governmental support, it is not cost-effective for farmers who sacrifice a lot to convert their land to organic farming. The NE state governments need to do much more to carry out awareness drives among farmers, as well as building up infrastructure for storage, marketing and processing food. The farmers need modern training to refine their age-old organic methods of crop rotations, using animal and green manure, alterting cereals with legumes, biological pest control, as well as a variety of mechanical and cultural methods. The retailing of organic farm produce also needs direct links between farmers and retailers/exporters. Strong linkages may be crucial in deciding the pace of growth of organic farming in the country.
Despite its vast potential, India’s share in the global organic food market is just around 0.18 per cent currently. The Northeast can easily help raise this contribution to 1 per cent if it receives adequate support from the Central and state governments. Organic farming is practiced mainly in 12 states, of which Sikkim and Mizoram are likely to become fully organic in the next few years. After a pilot project in 1996, Mizoram decided to go the full distance after its Assembly passed the Organic Farming Bill in July 2004. Sikkim too has been planning to go organic since 2003, and this year it aims to bring 50,000 hectares of farmland under organic farming. The thinking in these states is to support farmers and also maintain the quality of environment. As for Assam, a marketing hub for organic agricultural products has been set up in Guwahati while the State government is planning organic farming centers in all the 126 legislative assembly constituencies and conducting regular training for farmers. But these moves need high publicity in mission mode if they are not to remain mere slogans on paper. Over the past decade, the intertiol trade in organic foods has shown an annual growth of around 20 per cent and is likely to touch $100 billion soon. India needs to aim for a large slice of this pie, the lion’s share of which the Northeast can grab if it seizes the ‘organic’ opportunity with both hands.