Jumping into organic farming immediately without having sufficient inputs and resources, technical services and pest and disease management solutions will be like running into the darkness.
Although the modern production system has been found to solve food problem, it has created many other problems. The haphazard use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has resulted in deleterious effects on the human health causing immune-suppression, skin cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive abnormalities, birth defects and liver and kidney problems.
Also the long term use of agro-chemicals has declined soil fertility and imbalanced natural ecosystem. In order to address these problems, some people are promoting organic agriculture. But the question is “can organic agriculture produce enough to feed the growing population of the country”? I fear that a large-scale and quick shift in organic farming may cause thousands of people to starve. Going organic is not an easy task.
Organic farming can be our long term vision. At present, safe food production should be our first priority. It is because nutrition security and availability of safe food are the constitutional rights of the Nepali people. So we need to produce enough safe and healthy food to feed our growing population. It is possible through the implementation of good agricultural practices (GAPs). GAPs offers benefits to farmers and consumers to meet specific objectives of food security, food quality, production efficiency, livelihood and environmental protection. In a broad sense, GAPs apply available knowledge in addressing environmental, economic and social sustainability for on-farm production and post-production processing, resulting in safe and healthy food and non-food agricultural products.
One of the GAPs of producing safe and healthy food without decreasing productivity and degrading environment is the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The protection of crops by combating the negative effects of pests on crop production is of major importance for food security especially in a developing country like Nepal. IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. It combines the aims of agricultural productivity, environmental sustainability and cost effectiveness. Using IPM can help food producers to produce safe products for protecting public health.
Slowly and selectively
Organic farming is a method of crop and livestock production that involves much more than choosing not to use pesticides, fertilizers, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics and growth hormones. It is a holistic system designed to optimize the productivity and fitness of diverse communities within the agro-ecosystem, including soil organisms, plants, livestock and people.
According to International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), it is an integrated farming system, which embraces four principles: the principle of health, ecology, fairness and care. These basic principles envisage promoting a socially just and economically and ecologically sound production system with the use of locally available inputs, resources and technologies.
Though organic farming is very similar to traditional farming and produces ecologically suitable crops that play the vital role to minimize the negative impact on environment and human beings, it requires organic inputs to control pests and diseases. Currently, there are no adequate organic solutions available in the market. The available inputs are also costly and are not affordable for smallholder farmers. There is also inadequate investment in research and technology for generating organic solutions needed for organic farming. So Nepal should go on organic production gradually and selectively. Selection of places and commodities for organic production is very important. At the movement urban areas like the vicinities of Pokhara, Kathmandu and commodity specific area can be selected for organic production. Studies and experiences have shown that organic farming is possible only in certain commodities such as vegetables, fruits, tea coffee ginger, cardamom and some other spices. In case of cereal crops, safe and healthy production is recommended.
Follow the standards
Organic agricultural methods are internationally regulated and legally enforced by many nations, based in large part on the standards set by the IFOAM, an international umbrella organization for organic farming established in 1972. In Nepal, there are various private organizations that provide Organic Certification. Certification is guided by certain standards which involve process of growing, storage, processing, packaging and marketing. The National Organic Agriculture Accreditation Body (NOAAB) and the National Coordination Committee for Organic Agriculture Production and Processing System (NCCOAPPS) have been established to create enabling environment for organic production. The national standard for organic agriculture has also been established and endorsed by the government and working guidelines for two certification systems (Internal Control System and Participatory Guarantee System) are being developed.
The certification and proper branding ensures that the product is truly organic on the basis of which consumers can pay premium for organic produce. In case of Nepal, where majority of farmers are smallholders, they cannot bear the cost and effort required for certification. Certification is costly, time consuming and needs documentation which is an arduous task for Nepali farmers. If the products are not certified, there is no way one can guarantee the products as being organic. A lot of food products are sold as organic without proper branding and certification. This definitely won’t help gain the trust of consumers to pay premium price for such products.
In general, soils in Nepal have low NPK (Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus). Organic matter content is also quite low—around one percent against the ideal level of four to five percent. Soil health can be revived gradually which takes time. It requires balanced application of both chemical and organic fertilizers. On the one hand, organic fertilizers alone cannot improve fertility of poor soils in the short run. On the other hand, not enough resources are available in the country for organic fertilizers. Thus organic farming by only using organic fertilizers won’t be possible.
Some NGOs and entrepreneurs are keen to promote organic farming in Nepal. This is encouraging but it requires careful consideration and commitment. Jumping into organic farming immediately without having availability of sufficient inputs and resources, technical services and pest and disease management solutions, will be like running in the dark. Developing the adequate knowledge and skills on organic farming, soil testing, balanced use of chemical and organic fertilizers, research on organic solutions for pest and disease management could be the immediate steps ahead. Farmers should be aware and trained in safe and healthy food production.