Organic farming can transform lives of small farmers of Goa
It has long been thought that if Goa were to emerge as a major producer of organic food it could change the Goan farmers’ lives. It is a matter worth noting that finally the state government has set a goal to promote organic farming in a big way. In the first phase 500 organic farming clusters would be set up. The promotion of organic farming is being done under Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (Traditional agricultural development scheme) of the central government. The main aim of the scheme is to encourage cultivation without fertilisers and pesticides. The government has already formed 40 such village-level clusters comprising 900 farmers from Salcete and Mormugao talukas. Around 200 hectares of agricultural land in each of the 40 clusters has been brought under organic farming. The government has set a target to complete the formation of the village-level organic farming clusters in a year. Deputy Chief Minister Chandrakant Kavlekar, who holds the agriculture portfolio, hopes the process of forming organic clusters and identifying land for organic farming would be completed within the stipulated time.
The agricultural produce by the farmers in each cluster would carry organic certification issued by the government and would help the farmers get better prices for their products. There is a growing demand for organic produce inside and outside Goa. Supermarkets and hypermarkets in big cities have a special section of organic food produce. Among the main reasons for people switching to organic foods are that they are better for overall health and have antioxidant content. They are known to improve the heart condition, besides adding to antibiotic resistance. They also help in developing stronger immune systems and are known to be toxin free. These qualities have led to growing public belief in organic foods vis-a-vis those produced with chemical inputs over the past few decades. However, though there is a growing demand for organic food items inside and outside the state, Goa has not woken up to its big potential to claim a share of the expanding market for organic produce.
There have been quite a good number of success stories of the farmers who gave up ‘modern’ farming and went back to organic farming. Among them is Caeser Gomes from Chandor who did farming from 1952 to 1976 using chemical nutrients and pesticides and even achieved the record of producing 4,000 kg of rice with just 15 kg of seeds. However, Gomes was concerned when the yield in his fields started falling despite higher doses of fertilizers. It was then that he realized that chemicals were killing the microorganisms which enrich the soil. That was the turning point of life of a successful ‘modern’ farmer who had believed in the high potency of chemical inputs. The chemicals were not only ruining the soil but also causing onset of diseases. It was then he switched over to organic farming, which has been a success after initial toil. He adopted four principles of organic farming – no cultivation, no chemical fertilizers, no weeding and no pesticides — and stressed natural order that led to replenishment of nature’s goodness and bounty.
Identifying land and forming clusters alone would not promote organic farming. The government should help the farmers by imparting them proper training. The officials of the agriculture department and agricultural scientists have to play an important role in leading the farmers up the right way. Constant guidance would help solve the problems that are bound to arise in the initial phase. There are enough traditional farming skills available in the state; the agricultural scientists and officials have to just harness them. The Goan farmers use less chemicals, but organic farming is a different expertise, and that has to be built up.
Organic produce fetches higher prices and will improve farmers’ incomes and lives. The success of some would prompt others to switch to organic farming. However, much of success will depend on the setting up of farmer producer organisations (FPOs). Goan farmers hold small pieces of land. Alone, no farmer can stand up to the market, but together, 20 or 40 farmers can. They can deal with the market together and negotiate good prices.