Saturday, December 10, 2011

Organic agriculture and the environment

(The Nation) Organic agriculture is considered to be a holistic food production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. This system is a set of natural ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, which discourages the use of inputs that adversely affect the environment. Further, this method avoids the use of hybrid seeds, synthetic pesticides, fertilisers and genetically modified organism to influence the growth of crops. The main objective of organic farming is to protect the earth’s resources and produce safe, healthy food with almost zero residual impact on the soil and environment. 

The main source of organic matter is top and roots of the plants, especially Jantar, Barseem and Guvara (leguminous crops), while animal and poultry wastes are deemed to be a second source. Its (organic matter) chemical composition shows that it consists of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and content of water. The microorganisms present in the soil decompose the matter that not only increase the water, but also the air and water flow rates through fine textured present in sandy soils. The organic matter also act as a mulch thus reducing erosion, shades of the soil and keep it cool in summer and warm in winter. 

The other way is conventional farming system characterised by mechanisation, monocultures and the use of synthetic inputs, such as hybrid seeds, fertilisers and pesticides, with an emphasis on maximising productivity and profitability. Scientists believe that It degrades the soil structure, texture and topography. Therefore, besides maintaining the soil quality, the organic system sustains biodiversity. 

According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement (IFOAM), organic cultivation is developing rapidly. The statistical data obtained from 141 countries indicate that the share of organically operated agricultural land continues to grow in many countries. Reportedly, “32.2 million hectares of agricultural land are managed organically by more than 1.2 million producers, including smallholders. In addition to the agricultural land, there are 0.4 million hectares of certified organic aquaculture.” The regions with the largest areas of organically managed agricultural land are Oceania, Europe, and Latin America. 

Pakistan is quite different as the farming community here is mainly concerned with productivity, instead of quality which usually motivates the producers to adopt farming methods that help to boost their production/profits. The Green Revolution in Pakistan during the 1960s brought substantial changes in the farming system. But with the passage of time, it proved ineffective and deteriorated the soil fertility due to the excessive use of chemical fertilisers. Its impacts on human and animal health were also disastrous. The improper use of pesticides started to pollute land, air and underground water resources, while pests gradually develop resistance to chemical pesticides. 

Agriculturists and researchers believe that organic farming has long lasting and positive effects not only on soil texture, but also on human and animal health. Various studies conducted by agricultural economists to compare organic and conventional farming in Pakistan reveal that initially the yield obtained through organic method is less than conventional method. But over the passage of time it will either become equal or surpass the quantity obtained through conventional method. The organic products would also fetch higher prices than the conventionally produced products, if they would reach in specialised organic markets. Although the supply of animal/poultry manure in Pakistan is very low as compared to the demand. However, proper management of the farming system can overcome the shortage specifically by growing leguminous crops. 

Regrettably, in Pakistan no specialised organic market exists where organic products can be sold at reasonable prices. That is why local organic produce cannot be sold at better prices. It is high time that the government, in collaboration with local NGOs, make an effort to promote organic agriculture to save the environment. More so, there is need to develop markets for local organic products in the cities to encourage cultivators by selling their produce at higher rates, besides motivating consumers to purchase residual free fruit and vegetables at cheap rates.

Yasir Mehmood, Muhammad Bahzad Anjum and Mukhtar Ahmad
The writers are freelance columnists.

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