Origins of Organic Farming

Agricultural practices all over the world naturally started out pristine and unsullied. But by the middle of the 19th century with the creation of fertilizers to safeguard and increase production, they gradually became popular in usage. Likewise with the advent of chemical pesticides by the 1940s the pesticide era began in all earnest in the agriculture sector.

These modern techniques were adopted all over the world evidently for the benefits clearly visible. What was not recognized was the serious long term damage that was to occur to the soil, soil fertility, and human health. Today there is no denying that toxic chemicals have entered our food supplies. This is why agricultural scientists had to look for ways to remedy the situation.

While it was imperative to maintain production levels for a burgeoning population, biodynamic agriculture soon became essential for cultivation of organic food. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian visionary made the first known presentation in a series of lectures for what later came to be known as organic agriculture. His study was in response to farmers who were troubled by degrading soil conditions and deterioration in health and quality of crops by use of chemical fertilizers.

Next, Albert Howard and his wife Gabrielle Howard, both skillful botanists, founded an Institute of Plant Industry to improve traditional farming methods in pre-independent India. Working with upgraded implements and scientific methods they incorporated aspects of local traditional methods. These included evolved practices of crop rotation, erosion prevention techniques, and use of composts and manures. Upon return to Britain they carried back these experiences in traditional farming to propagate natural agriculture.

Subsequently, Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, a German soil scientist, author of Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening came to UK at behest of Walter James, 4th Baron Northbourne to make his presentation at the Conference on Biodynamic Farming. The conference brought together several proponents of organic agriculture that broadened the scope and movement. Albert Howard also attended this conference and later Northbourne published his manifesto of organic farming entitled “Look to the Land” in which he first coined the term “organic farming.”

Subsequently Howard too published a book called “An Agricultural Testament” in which he adopted the terminology “organic farming.” Howard’s work spread far and wide and he become famous as “father of organic farming” for his scientific knowledge and principles of various traditional and natural methods. Meanwhile in the United States J.I. Rodale, who was captivated by Howard’s ideas and biodynamics founded a working organic farm – The Rodale Institute along with a Rodale Press that taught and advocated organic methods to a wider public.

In our times increased environmental awareness has brought organic farming to the fore. However it took decades to bring organic farming to its present juncture. Despite offers of grants and subsidies, it was lack of break-even profit line in organic farming that kept farmers tilling the land with fertilizers and pesticides. Later the world realized the ill-effects of soil loss and human health issues and responded with traditional methods that were comparable to organic farming, more or less.

However, even now it is difficult to obtain certified organic produce as some lacunae still exists, largely for economic reasons.  The good thing about organic farming is that it encourages crop diversity. The science of agroecology emphasizes benefits of poly-culture that occurs in organic farming. Planting a variety of vegetable crops supports a wider range of beneficial insects, soil microorganisms, and other factors that add up to overall soil health.

Crop diversity helps environments to flourish and protects species. Soil management is therefore key to organic farming. It relies greatly on the natural breakdown of organic matter, using techniques like manure and composting, necessary to replace nutrients taken from the soil by previous crops. It is a biological process that facilitates microorganisms to be added naturally with nutrients to the soil, what is better known as – feeding the soil to feed the plant!

Today, organic farming is practiced almost all over the world. Nearly hundred odd countries are involved in replenishing soils to counter the ill-effects of earlier used chemicals. The changed mindset of consumers all over the world is evident of a demand driven sector. Most countries promote organic farming in a bid to restore soil health and cleaning up the environment. Global organic tracts measure to nearly 26 million hectares and world over there are 61 standards and 364 certification bodies.

The world organic market in the US alone is worth 26 billion US$. Organic area in India measures to about 2.5 million hectare and includes certified forest areas. Interestingly non-certified organic areas are greater than certified organic area. The National Centre of Organic Farming under Ministry of Agriculture promotes organic farming across the country to provide assistance to organic farmers.

Death by Pollution


Stop Power Projects in Populated Rural Regions

The cost of a polluted environment: 1.7 million child deaths a year, says WHO

Early this month a news release from World Health Organization dated March 6, 2017 stated that more than 1 in 4 deaths of children less than 5 years of age were attributed to unhealthy environments. Environmental risks, that include both indoor and outdoor air pollution, like second-hand smoke, unsafe water, lack of sanitation, and inadequate hygiene take the lives of 1.7 million children under 5 years, every year!

How do we fare on the score in India and closer home around our own urban and
rural environs? Earlier on we were contending with death among children aged 1 month to 5 years with diseases like diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia. These were at least prevented by medical interventions known to reduce risks and with access to safe water and clean cooking fuels.

But polluted environments are now becoming more deadly especially for younger children. The WHO report mentions that – “Their developing organs and immune systems, and smaller bodies and airways, make them especially vulnerable to dirty air and water.” Harmful exposures actually may start even in the mother’s womb to increase risk of premature births.

Further when infants are exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution and second-hand smoke they have increased risks. Exposure to air pollution may also increase their lifelong risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Another WHO report provides a comprehensive overview of the environment’s impact on children’s health. The challenges escalate with each passing year.

We in India too are seeing ongoing and emerging environmental threats to children’s health. HERD Foundation has begun to start investing in removal of environmental risks to children’s health, especially in rural areas. We do not want children to be exposed to harmful chemicals through food, water or air around them.

In the largely agricultural rural communities harmful pesticides do find their way into the food chain. HERD Organic Farms is an effort to reduce the use of hazardous pesticides and to avoid using harmful chemicals of food. Organic farming appears to us to be the way out to ensure healthy lives and promote general well-being, particularly to impact children’s health.


Stop Use of Chemical Pesticides for Agriculture

Healthwise & Moneywise – Go for Organic Produce

Organic Soil

                Allowing Soil to Replenish itself

India, an agricultural economy since times immemorial has had farmers undertaking organic farming from ancient times. It is not really a new-fangled approach as is being made out to be. What it really involves is cultivating crops in a way that does not harm the soil. The use of natural manure is advocated to keep the soil alive and allow it to replenish itself for subsequent use.

It was in the wake of the Green Revolution in agriculture that the advent of modern pesticides for inorganic farming became the norm. Chemical insecticides are used primarily because they ensure healthy crops every time as also sustained produce. Realizing the feat of pesticides, agronomy the world over has come to rely heavily on them, that subsequently launched the mushrooming pesticide industry.

What was taken up with such grand intentions has in a space of half a century, backfired on us, woefully. Inorganic fertilizers or synthetic fertilizers are a big time manufacturing plus as they do not decompose before usage and are readily absorbed by plants. These compounds are not entirely composed of the nutrients needed by the plants though. They also contain salts and other elements that are not absorbed by plants. They are in fact left behind in the soil that builds up in time to create hazards.

When overtime such compounds are found in large amounts in the soil they can alter the chemistry of the soil. The soil actually becomes less ideal for cultivation. Although methods like neutralizing the soil and so on are undertaken to allow soil to revert back to its original state, but that does not really happen.  In fact, actually toxic compounds leech into the ground, seeping into groundwater. That’s double the jeopardy!

On the contrary organic manure made of wastes like crop remnants, farm, animal and aquatic wastes or other biological materials are better off for cultivation. They allow beneficial microbes called bio-fertilizers to be released as nutrients into the crops that benefit much more. Aside from being eco- friendly they help in restoring a pollution free environment.

This is why organic farming is encouraged so as to avoid or minimize use of synthetic pesticides. The promotion of crop residues, animal manures, off-farm organic waste and biological nutrients is considered effective for the long run for cultivation. Organic farming offers unique soil management to enhance agro-ecosystem health. This is accomplished by using on-farm agronomic, biological manure.

The increase in population should be all the more reason to stabilize agricultural production in a sustained way. While earlier food production was accelerated to feed an escalating population through the Green Revolution, we now need to go back to using organic inputs since to sustain the very soil that should be conserved for future generations.

With sizeable thrusts given to organic farming, we are witnessing positive outcomes. Organic produce now commands premium pricing and more farmers are getting into it to cater to a growing demand to accrue benefits. It really is a win-win situation for both producer and consumer. As ill effects of inorganic farm produce becoming clearer organic produce is being sought, creating its own niche market.

Organic Produce at a Premium

                  Organic Produce at a Premium