Organic farms provide a clue for India’s struggling farms

New Delhi, June 25:

As India struggles to deal with stagnation in its crucial agricultural sector, small-scale organic farming initiatives near the capital are providing clues on how to reap healthy profits from the land.

Many farmers in India, where more than 70 per cent of the people depend on the land, eke out a living — or else fall steadily into debt — trying to grow water, fertiliser and pesticide-heavy crops on an acre or two of land. Growth has clocked in at a mere two percent — far behind the wider figure of nine per cent — leading the government to wager six billion dollars in a push for large-scale, industrial farms.

“Small and marginal farms have become an unviable proposition,” said Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh last month, announcing the four-year investment in farm technology and infrastructure. “Till we make farming as a whole viable at this scale, it would be virtually impossible to reduce rural poverty and distress,” he said. But around New Delhi, free-range and organic goods from newcomers to farming are showing that money can be made by growing specialty products that consumers are willing to pay more for. At the French Farm in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi known mainly for its call centres, Roger Langbour raises thousands of free-range Peking and Muscovy ducks on feed that is free of pesticide and antibiotics.

On an early morning visit, white ducks sat placidly on the ground in a large enclosure with wire fencing. Elsewhere turkeys and even a small number of quail and pheasants strutted and pecked at the ground.

“People said ‘you are crazy, no one will buy your ducks’,” said Langbour, who started the three-acre farm 14 years ago after a career in the French air force, which sent him to India on his last post.

A healthy strategy:

NEW DELHI: Indian organic farmers can look abroad too, an export promoter said.

“Organic exports are growing by 100 per cent a year,” said S Dave, of the country’s agricultural export council APEDA. “Many people are still going in for traditional farming, which is mostly organic,” he said,

explaining that small farmers in states where pesticide use is not widespread could easily stay green. Four million hectares of land are now devoted to certified organic farming for export, Dave said, including of mangoes, spices and nuts. — HNS