AGRICULTURE

 

HIGHER-VALUE ORGANICS

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By Dr AMANULLAH CHAUDHRY
 Apr 11 - 17, 2005
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The organic craze is spreading worldwide. The global market for organic food is worth $37 billion, set to grow to $102 billion by 2010. The $14 billion global market for organic herbal plants and medicines is growing at 15-25 percent a year and is likely to be worth $5 trillion in 2050. It is an inviting opportunity for exporter. In Pakistan, around 93 percent of farmers are small-scale with 5-12.5 acres of land holding. Under WTO faced with increased competition from more modern, large-scale farmers in west, many farmers in developing countries are expected to quit farming altogether, but organic farming could offer them an ideal means of maintaining their small holdings and continuing to produce agricultural crops on a small scale.

Green revolution in Pakistan has witnessed a jump in agricultural production with the introduction of high yielding varieties of various crops and by following intensive cultivation practices with the use of fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs. Several studies exposed this fallout of green revolution. The intensive use of inputs has not only polluted the soil, water and environment causing their slow degradation but also affected the human beings. With the increase in the country's population, compulsion would be not only to mobilize the agricultural production but also to increase further in a sustainable manner. The scientists have realized that green revolution with high input use has reached a plateau and is now sustained with diminishing return and falling dividend.

Organic farming is a way of agriculture that preserves the ecosystem. It does not use harmful chemicals and fertilizers. Symbiotic life forms are cultured, ensuring weed and pest control and optimal soil biological activity, which maintain fertility. By default, poor farmers practice organic farming in many parts of Pakistan. Although much of the country practices the traditional system of organic farming, but this is not declared or certified. Moreover, five million hectares or 24.4 percent of total cultivated area is rain-fed, where the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is negligible. A number of research studies have shown that organic farming ensures better yields and fetches more income.

WORLD PICTURE OF ORGANIC FARMING AND MARKET TRENDS

The global market for organic food is worth $37 billion, set to grow to $102 billion by 2010, the United States, considered a world leader in transgenic is the largest importer of organic foods, followed by European Union. The "organic craze" is spreading worldwide. The $14 billion global market for organic herbal plants and medicines is growing at 15-25 percent a year and is likely to be worth a mammoth $5 trillion in 2050, according to World Health Organization. The global trade in processed herbal medicines and food supplements is estimated at $60 billion. The progress in different countries is as follows.

UNITED STATES: Sales of organic products reached $8 billion in the USA in 2001, continuing at 20 percent annual growth rate. The 2002 US Farm Bill offers incentives to support the transition from conventional to certified organic production.

CANADA: The organic industry has been increasing at a rate of 15 percent each year over the past decade. Industry estimated of the values of the 2003 organic retail market range from $800 million to $1.3 billion. Projections for 2005 indicate organic retail sales growth may increase to $3.1 billion. Most Canadian organic products are exported to the EU and US and about five percent of Canadian exports go to Japan. Organic grains, seed and flours represent Canada's largest export. Other key organic exports include processed food, beverages, maple syrup, apple and vegetables. In 2005, Canada formed the organic production system task force, which will work towards the development and implementation of an organic standard and certification system for effective consumer protection.

EUROPEAN UNION: The organic market was around euro 10 billion in 2002. The EU has prepared 21-point action plan that covers all areas of the organic trade from rural development and improving farming standards to improving consumer information and introduction of an EU-wide organic food label and is said to be reaction to increasing consumer demand for organic food, often considered 'safer' and 'healthier' than more mainstream food production methods, especially in the wake of various food scares. Organic production has grown steadily over the last 20 years. In 1985, only less than 0.1 percent of EU farmland was certified organic. By the end of 2002, this figure has risen to 3.3 percent of total farmland. But there are still great disparities between the various EU nations. In Austria, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Sweden and the UK, organic farmland exceeds the EU-15 average, but in all the other nations, the levels are still well below average. In 1989, subsidies were introduced in several European countries, like Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway Finland, Austria, and Switzerland, to encourage conversion to organic forming. In Germany where subsidies were available for two years so 7.0 percent of farm and 3.6 percent land changed to organic forming.

OTHER COUNTRIES: In Scandinavian countries 8 percent farmland and Australia has 10 percent certified organic farmers. India's organic farm produces tea, coffee, spices, fruits, vegetables, cotton, rice, oil seeds, pulses and sugarcane has already found markets in several countries. Though organic agriculture accounts for a negligible portion of the country's total farm produce, there is great demand for it in the international market. According to Exim Bank, India accounts for one-third of the global organic tea production. India's share in the $ 150 million global organic coffee market is one percent; its share in the $3.2 million organic spices market is three percent. India also exports some organic basmati rice to EU.

Cambodia's first crop of certified organic rice is about to go on sale. Cambodia's government says it wants to make the country the "green farm of South East Asia". Cambodia wants to reduce its reliance on the garment industry, which accounts for about 80 percent of its exports. The garment industry has been able to compete by attracting ethically minded customers, because of the good working conditions in its factories. Now the government is looking to repeat that success with agriculture. It has just launched a campaign to promote organic farming in conjunction with the European Union.

PAKISTAN: The total farm area in Pakistan is 19.7 million hectares. Small-scale farmers with 5-12.5 acres of land holding are an important component of the agriculture. In Pakistan, they are around 93 percent of the agricultural community. Under WTO faced with increased competition from modern, large-scale farms in the west, many farmers in developing countries are expected to quit farming all together, but organic farming could offer them an ideal means for survival.

HEALTH BENEFITS

The popularity of organic food is creeping up across the Western world as retailers to farmers start to favor this pesticide-free way of food production on the back of growing consumer demand. There are opposite claims that organic food may be healthier than conventional food products. According to some food scientists, organic food is not necessarily better for our health than conventional equivalents.

A food chemist in USA claims that organic tomatoes had higher levels of secondary metabolites and higher level of vitamin C. organic broccoli had significant higher levels of the flavonoids. Flavonoids, metabolites known to act in the body as antioxidants and found in a variety of plants, have been shown to promote several beneficial effects in the cardiovascular system, including decreasing oxidation of LDL cholesterol, inhibiting aggregation of blood platelets (which contributes to the risk of blood clots that produce stroke and heart attack) and decreasing the body's inflammatory immune responses, which contribute to arteriosclerosis. It is recognized that high-intensity agricultural practices can disrupt the natural production of secondary metabolites involved in plant defense mechanisms.

TRENDS IN CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS AND PESTICIDES USAGE IN PAKISTAN.

  1. Chemical Fertilizers: Consumption of chemical fertilizers has increased tremendously in recent years. Nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium are the primary fertilizers nutrients, which are widely used in our country. (See table)

FERTILIZER OFF TAKE AND IMPORTS OF PESTICIDES

 

FERTILIZER OFF-TAKE (000 N/T TONNES

IMPORT OF FERTILIZERS 000N/T

IMPORT OF PESTICIDES QUANTITY (TONNES)

FISCAL YEAR

N

P

K

Total

1990-91

1,471,63

388,50

32,75

1,892,88

685.0

13,030,1

1991-92

1,462,60

398,02

23,30

1,883,92

632.0

15,258.3

1992-93

1,635,34

488,20

24,07

2,147,61

759,1

14,434,8

1993-94

1,659,36

464,24

23,17

2,146,77

903,0

12,100,4

1994-95

1,738,12

428,40

16,54

2,183,06

261,0

21,776,1

1995-96

1,990,90

494,45

29,70

2,515,00

581,0

30,479,0

1996-97

1,985,10

419,51

8,40

2,413,01

878,1

30,855,9

1997-98

2.075,00

551,00

20,00

2,646,00

714,0

29,224,9

1998-99

2,097,00

465,00

21,00

2,583,00

866,0

31,893,4

1999-00

2,217,80

597,16

18,50

2,833,50

662.8

26,123,9

2000-01

2,264,49

676,73

22,75

2,966,03

579,1

21,255,0

2001-02

2,285,30

624,54

18,75

2,196,40

625,7

31,783,2

2002-03

2,349,11

650,17

20,49

3,019,76

766,1

22,242,0

2003-04 p

1,927,98

561,86

17,77

2,507,60

552,2

25,928,0

Provisional, (July-May) Source: 1. Federal Bureau of Statistics
2.National Fertilizer Development Center

 

 

The total consumption of chemical fertilizers is in increasing trends from 189,288 tonnes in 1990-91 to 250,760 tonnes in 2003-04. The same trends in consumption of nitrogenous and phosphatic fertilizer are observed, however decreasing trend in potassium fertilizer consumption is observed.

(b) The trend in consumption of pesticide is increasing from 13,030 tonnes to 259,280 tonnes from 1990-91 to 2003-04.

(c) Problem posed by fertilizers and pesticides.

Fertilizers: Continuous use of inorganic fertilizers mainly containing major nutrients NPK in large quantities and neglecting organic and bio-fertilizers paved the way for deterioration of soil health and in turn ill effects on plants, human being and cattle.

Nitrate pollution: Nitrogen is applied to the soil as urea, which is readily hydrolyzed to ammonium, ammonium nitrate or a combination of ammonium and nitrate. About 40-60 percent of applied nitrogen is lost by volatilization, run off, de-nitrification and leaching. The nitrate that is leached causes a lot of visible and invisible hazardous effect.

Visible effects: Plants become succulent and dark green color thus becoming more susceptible to pests and diseases. It increases the growth, weakens the stem and brings lodging in crops. It reduces the quality of the seed.

Invisible effects: Excess nitrate moves below the root zone or into the ground water. Once ground water becomes polluted it remain for extended periods of time and causes disease called "Methemoglobinemia" where nitrite reduced form of nitrate interferes with oxygen carrying capacity of blood. Nitrosomine illness is caused by the presence of secondary amines, which causes cancer to human beings. Feroxyl nitrate. Alkyl nitrated, vapors of HNO3 and nitrates aerosols causes respiratory illness. HNO3 in aerosols may lead to acid rains causing lot of damage to ecosystem and buildings. Nitrates oxide produced by de-nitrification damages the stratospheric ozone layer.

Eutrophication: This refers to the process of enrichment of surface water bodies with nutrients, addition of plant nutrients particularly phosphorus and nitrogen to surface water bodies such as lakes, reservoirs and streams result in intense proliferation and accumulation of algae and higher aquatic plants in excessive quantities which result in detrimental changes in water quality and can significantly interfere with man's use of the water resources. The continuous application of phosphorous fertilizers can result in the build up of trace metal contaminants such as arsenic and cadmium contained in the fertilizer. Excessive application of potassic fertilizers decreases vitamin C and carotene content in vegetable and fruits. Excessive application of chemical fertilizers leads to malnutrition due to degradation of carbohydrates and proteins both qualitatively and quantitatively. Excessive application of chemical fertilizers effects physical properties of soil such as infiltration, soil aeration, soil structure and bulk density etc.

Pesticides: Pesticides enter environment mainly by air, water and soil. Pesticides enter air by sprayed drift or volatilization from soil or water. The entry of pesticides in water is mainly by surface runoff; sediment transport from treated soil, industrial wastes and directs application of pesticides to control aquatic pests. Soil receives pesticides when the pesticides are directly applied besides runoff from plants, rains and dumping of empty containers of pesticides. Indiscriminate and defective handling of the pesticides causes environmental pollution and leads to health hazardous. Consistent use of pesticide to control pests had led to development of resistance among pests and vectors and adverse effect on non-target organisms. Continuous use of pesticides had an adverse effect on beneficial organisms like honeybees, pollinators, parasites and predators. At the height of American bollworm problem in India in 1986 almost all the predacious bird fauna were totally exterminated. Chlorinated hydrocarbons can accumulate in the adipose tissue of human. It is very difficult to ascertain the extent of safety of residue in human beings. However there are a number of evidences that some forms of wild life are suffering de to bio-magnification of these residues. Pesticides after application are known to persist in crop produce, soil, water and air with harmful effects on human health and the environment.

Fungicides: If the fungicides are used not judiciously they posed serious problem. Improper use of systemic fungicides like (carbendazium) resulted into development of resistant strains of different plant pathogens. Maneb and Streptocycline caused dermities and some people working with Captan or in fields treated with it showed symptoms of skin irritation and rashes.

STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME THE CHALLENGES OF PRESENT SITUATION

After seeing the deleterious effects arising with the use of agrochemicals coupled with the degradation of cultivable land and increasing agricultural pollution has created an unhealthy situation in the country. In order to balance this situation, organic farming which aims at cultivating the land and raising crops in such a way as to keep soil alive and in good health may be an alternative to the present system of farming solely depending on chemicals. It is a method of farming which avoids or largely excludes the use of compound chemicals such as chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Instead of those natural resources such as organic matters, minerals and microbes are used. It gives an idea to use all sources, which are natural so the health is maintained. Organic farming system relies on large-scale application of animal or FYM, compost, crop rotation, residues, green manuring, vermicompost, bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides and biological control.

CHARACTERISTICS

Protecting the long-term fertility of soil by maintaining organic matter levels, fostering soil biological activity and careful mechanical intervention; providing crop nutrients indirectly by using relatively insoluble nutrient sources which are made available to the plant by the action of soil microorganisms; nitrogen self-sufficiency through the use of legumes and biological nitrogen fixation, as well as effective recycling of organic materials including crop residues and livestock wastes; weed, disease and pest control relying primarily on crop rotations, natural predators, diversity, organic manuring, resistant varieties and limited (preferably) thermal, biological and chemical intervention; careful attention to the impact of the farming system on the wider environment and the conservation of wildlife and natural habitats.

ALTERNATIVES FOR CHEMICAL FERTILIZERS

In Pakistan, the use of organic manures in subsistence forming is an age-old practice. Organic manure improves physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil. Addition of organic manure improves structure, aeration, and water holding capacity of soil, reduce phosphorus fixation in acidic soil, forms chilates with metallic ions and reduce their toxicity in crops. For substituting the chemical fertilizers various forms of organic manures and bio-fertilizers are explained below.

FYM: cow dung is an important source of plant nutrients. FYM is composed of dung, urine, bedding and straw. FYM contains approximately 5-6 kg N, 1-1.5 kg phosphorus and 5-6kg potash/ton. It builds up soil health considerably.

Green manuring: it is considered a good source of N and it increases the availability of P, K and secondary and trace elements to the soil.

Coir pith: Preferably biodegraded and amended coir pith can serve as a substitute for FYM or similar organic manure.

Vermicompost: is five times richer in N, seven times in P, 11 times in K, two times in Mg, two times in Ca, and seven times in actinomy than ordinary soil. It is rich source of vitamins and growth hormones like gibberline, which regulate the growth of plant and microbes. The compost prepared by using earthworm is called vermicompost.

Bioferttilizers: These are living cells of different types of microorganisms, which have an ability to mobilize nutritionally important element from non-usable to usable form. They influence the availability of major nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphure to the plants. Rhizobium, Azotobacter, Azospirilum, Blue green algae, Azolla, Mycorrhizae, Phosphate solubilizing bacteria can be used as biofertilizers to increase crop production. These microorganisms require organic matter for their growth and activity in the soil and provide valuable nutrients to the plants in the soil.

PESTICIDES

Many of the pesticide application may be unnecessary and are economically unsound. A range of alternative methods of pest control to be used in organic farming is detailed below:

Deep ploughing the fields during summer season help in killing pests, larvae and eggs.
Clean cultivation by destruction of weeds and other alternate hosts breaks the carry over of the pest in succession, which considerably reduces the pest numbers.
Adopting crop rotations to avoid carry over of pests from one season to next season.
Change in time of sowing.
Draining of water out of fields at times of pest growing in number.
Use of resistant varieties.
Growing of trap crops.
Release of parasites and predators.
Use of pheromone traps and light traps.
Use of biological insecticides.
Use of mechanical weed control.
Cover cropping to control weed seed germination.

Most potential crop pests (almost 99 percent) are held in check not by man but by their natural enemies and by characteristics of the physical environment such as temperature, moisture and availability of breeding sites. The Chinese have developed methods for biological control of rice pest. They use young ducklings, which, are herded, through the rice field. The ducks eat away the pests and leave the crop clean. The ducklings are ultimately sold in the market and fetch good price.

A powder prepared from dried flowers of chrysanthemum is used as pesticide. It is harmless to mammals and are useful against flies, wasp mosquitoes and cattle lice. It has rapid paralytic effect on insects and is now in great demand for domestic insecticide sprays. Nicotine and garlic oil are being used as insecticides.

CONCLUSIONS

* Organic agriculture is a viable alternative because it enlivens the soil, strengthens the natural resource base and sustains biological production at levels to commensurate the carrying capacity of the managed agro eco-system.

* Export market can be tapped by group initiatives in organic farming.

* The efforts from extension, research, supply of inputs, development of market channels, for disposal of organic foods are needed to facilitate the successful adaptation of organic farming by the farmers.

* Small-scale farmers with 5-12.5 acres of land holding are an important component of agriculture. In Pakistan, they are around 93 percent of the agriculture community. By default, poor farmers practice organic farming in many parts of Pakistan, but they are not certified. Under WTO, many small farmers in developing countries are expected to quit farming, however organic farming could offer them an ideal means for survival.

* Initially the organic farming should be practiced in low volume, high value crops like spices, medicinal plants, fruit and vegetables.

* Since certification is a critical issue, farmers should be made aware of the stringent phyto-sanitary measures, which apply to this sector.

The author is from Department of Agronomy University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.
E-mail: uaf_amanullah@yahoo.com