Shimla : Going organic is the new mantra in Himachal Pradesh, with over 25,000 farmers cashing in on the high demand and remunerative prices of organic food – be it fruits, vegetables or pulses.
“We are promoting organic farming to make agriculture a sustainable, environment-friendly and remunerative proposition,” Director Agriculture J.C. Rana said .
He said to promote organic farming and crop diversification, the government last year launched a Rs.321 crore project with the assistance of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
According to the government, around 25,000 farmers in the state are engaged in organic farming.
The state is producing 16 lakh tonnes of organic manure against the requirement of 20 lakh tonnes, Rana said. It has 400,000 vermi-compost units.
Agriculture is the mainstay of people in the hill state, providing direct employment to about 71 percent population.
As organic farming is gaining ground, the government in December last year announced the creation of an agency for scientific validation and certification of organic produce.
Interestingly, farmers in the state’s landlocked valleys like Pangi in Chamba district and Dodra Kwar in Shimla district have never used pesticides and fertilisers for growing crops.
“The demand for organic pulses is quite good in big cities,” said Vinay Sharma, a known organic rajma grower in Rampur area in Shimla district.
“It is, of course, a remunerative business too but the growers should be encouraged to substitute chemical fertilisers with organic manure,” he added.
Vegetable grower Shyam Singh of Bilaspur town said the volume of organic produce is currently not very large and the farmers are facing problems in its marketing. Moreover, there is hardly any agency that certifies that the produce is organic.
To overcome the problems, several progressive fruit, pulses and vegetable growers have come together and formed the Himachal Organic Farmers Forum to promote the eco-friendly cultivation.
Gopal Mehta, a prominent apple grower of Kothgarh village in Shimla district and president of the forum, said by adopting organic means “we are able to cut more than 70 percent of the cultivation cost”.
“It also helped to improve the health of the soil. Even the yield has increased,” he added.
Currently, the forum has 3,000 members who together own 2,600 hectares.
Most of the farmers who opted for organic farming belong to Shimla, Kullu, Mandi and Kangra districts.
Mehta, who started cultivating apple and other stone fruits by using environment-friendly techniques in the late 1990s, believes organic farming is the only way for fruit growers to make their presence felt in the global market.
He said organic produce is fetching 10 to 20 percent higher prices even in the domestic market.
The forum has contacted Aurangabad-based Ecocert India for certification of its farm produce. “A team of Ecocert will tour the state next month to inspect the fields and evaluate the rating,” Mehta added.
According to the agriculture department, the state’s food grain production increased from 200 thousand tonnes in 1951-1952 to 1,579 thousand tonnes in 2010-2011.
Maize is the major crop of the state. Ginger, peas and potato are the main vegetable crops.
The economy of the state is also highly dependent on horticulture with the annual industry being worth about Rs.2,000 crore. Over 200,000 families are engaged in the cultivation of apple alone.