The Union Budget of 2022 emphasised the need to encourage organic farming in India, especially along the river Ganga. The 2,525 km-long river originates from the Gangotri glacier in the Himalayas and drains into the Bay of Bengal.

Along its journey, the river passes through a total of 10 states including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Bihar and West Bengal. Its total catchment area is about 8,61,404 square kilometers. This is the area where the government has been encouraging organic farming as reflected in the announcements made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The Bihar government had a headstart on this concept, having launched its own organic corridor around two years ago in 13 districts along the banks of the Ganga – Patna, Buxar, Bhojpur, Saran, Vaishali, Samastipur, Khagaria, Begusarai, Lakhisarai, Bhagalpur, Munger, Katihar and Nalanda.

However, neither the Bihar government nor the Centre has specified the basis on which these corridors around the Ganga have being earmarked.

The Organic Farming Corridor Scheme is an ambitious programme of the Bihar government. For the scheme to be implemented, a cluster of at least 25 acres of farmland, with a minimum of 25 farmers, is a prerequisite. Farmers involved in organic activities are given Rs 11,500 per acre every year. This grant is given for a maximum of two acres of land.

As per the scheme, the grant is given for a maximum period of three years. Also, out of the grant of Rs 11,500, the farmer has to spend at least Rs 6,500 on buying certified compost and plastic drum from the National Programme for Organic Production. A structure of vermicompost also needs to be prepared from the remaining Rs 5,000.

No market

Rusulpur Turki is a village about 45 km away from Patna. The village has a total of 414 acres of land being cultivated under the organic farming scheme, with 351 farmers taking part in the initiative.

Among them is Buddhan Singh who has about two acres of his land earmarked under the scheme. Pointing towards his tomato fields, he says, “Producing 1 kg of tomatoes by organic method has cost me Rs 10 per kg but buyers are not willing to pay the price. I talked to one trader who was willing to pay Rs 12 per kg, while another was willing to pay at Rs 14 per kg. But for this, I must sell the tomatoes immediately. If I even delay by two or three days, the price will fall and I won’t be able to recover the cost.”

The problem of limited market is also true for other crops. “We get the same price for paddy and wheat as farmers who produce using chemical fertilisers,” Singh says. “If I go to the vegetable market and tell traders that I have grown vegetables organically. They have a good laugh.”

In Rusulpur Turki village of Vaishali district, 414 acres of farmland is part of the organic corridor, with 351 farmers taking part. Credit: Umesh Kumar Ray.

Rusulpur Turki Producers Company Limited is an association of farmers who have chosen to go the organic way. The association’s managing director Kameshwar Singh Kushwaha blames the unavailability of market as a major hurdle in the success of organic farming.

He says, “There is no separate market for organic products. Its disadvantage is that farmers have to sell the produce at throwaway prices, while the investment becomes high. There should be a registered organic market for the sale of organic products and there should be a separate market for each cluster,” Kushwaha told Mongabay-Hindi. He also added that despite reaching out to District Agriculture Office several times in this regard, there has been no positive response.

Not only in Rulsulpur Turki, farmers from Mokama and Buxar along the banks of Ganga are also facing this problem. Talking to Mongabay-Hindi, these farmers also stressed the need to have a market exclusively focused on organic products.

Low yield, pest infestations

Conversations with farmers from Mokama to Vaishali makes two things apparent – low yield and large-scale pest infestation. Farmers reveal that because organic pesticides are ineffective they are forced to opt for chemical pesticides.

Buddhan Singh’s brinjal field is full of pests. “Pests have become frequent. Just last week the crop was infested as biological pesticides were ineffective. If we don’t use chemical pesticide the crop will be totally ruined.” This impact is on crops other than brinjal as well.

Farmers at the organic cluster in Mokama show samples of wheat, pea, gram and brinjal, which look weak and have fewer pods compared to crops grown chemically.

One of the farmers showed brinjal plants that, despite being a year old, did not bear any flowers. Similarly, the number of pods was also less in organically grown plants of peas and grams.

Another farmer from Mokama, Nitesh Kumar says, “I used to get eight quintals of wheat in one acre with chemical fertilisers. However, ever since I started organic farming, I get a produce of less than four quintals of wheat. Earlier we used to sell wheat, but now the production is so less that we end up consuming it all at home,” says Kumar, who has been doing organic farming in one acre land for the last two years.

Insufficient funds

While Bihar government had allocated Rs 250 crore in the 2020-’21 financial year, the allocation was slashed massively in the budget of 2021-’22 and 2022-’23, with Rs 145-145 crore being approved by the state.

The farmers say that a grant of Rs 11,500 per acre is insufficient. Moreover, this grant is available only once a year, whereas in many areas, farmers grow two to three crops in their field in a year.

Rajeshwar Patel is engaged in organic farming on two acres of land in Vaishali. His input cost is Rs 22,000-23,000 per season, while he gets only half of this in the grant. “We also have pressure from the agriculture department to buy only NPOP [National Programme for Organic Production]-approved organic fertilisers that are twice the price of what is available in the open market.”

This field is part of the organic corridor in Mokama. Farmers here complain that they are not getting any profit from organic farming. Credit: Umesh Kumar Ray.

Patel’s view is supported by farmers from Mokama. One farmer, on the condition of anonymity, reveals, “NPK [nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium]is available at Rs 200 per litre in the open market, while NPOP-certified NPK is available for Rs 500. Besides, Phosphate Rich Organic Manure sells at Rs 200 for 50 kg in the open market, but we have to buy 50 kg of this NPOP-certified fertiliser for Rs 1,000. Same is the case with other fertilisers.”

Preparing vermicompost from the grant money also has a different ground reality. Mongabay-Hindi talked with two farmers in Mokama, neither of whom had a structure for vermicompost ready.

Kushwaha reveals, “Vermicompost requires cattle dung. Most of the farmers do not have cattle, so what is the point of preparing a structure for vermicompost?”

Another source confirms that only 10-15% of the 351 farmers associated with Rusulpur Turki Producer Company Limited have made vermicompost structures.

Many turn to chemicals

According to data maintained by the Bihar State Seed and Organic Certification Agency, 21,608 farmers were engaged in organic farming across 13 districts of Bihar till June 2021. As many as 25,000 farmers have been given organic certificates and another 25,000 are in the process of certification.

Sunil Kumar Pankaj, director, Bihar State Seed and Organic Certification Agency, says, “After receiving applications from farmers for certificates, our team conducts field visits thrice and collects samples for testing. Out of the total farmers who apply, the samples of 2-3% fail the lab test due to the presence of chemical fertilisers.

This means that many farmers who are availing grants in the name of organic farming are using chemical fertilisers. A field visit to farmers in Buxar, Patna and Vaishali also reveals that several farmers are not doing organic farming despite receiving grants from the government.

A reliable source from Buxar further reveals, “Officially, about 1,000 farmers are part of the organic corridor. But only 25% of them are doing organic farming. Rest are using chemical means and also taking grant from the government.”

A farmers group in Patna with more than 60 members is also officially part of the organic corridor. However, a source reveals that out of these, barely four to five farmers are doing genuine organic farming. A similar situation persists in Buxar.

Agriculture officials are also aware of this fact. Manoj Kumar, District Agriculture Officer of Buxar district, says, “Around 50% of the farmers involved in the organic corridor in the district are using chemical fertilisers. It is difficult to stop them as it requires close monitoring. The most effective way is to make farmers aware. We are doing that work.”

Anjan Kumar, Internal Inspector of Mokama’s Taal Farmer Producer Ltd, which operates an organic cluster, says, “Farmers are constantly complaining to us that they are getting less produce through organic methods and also not getting market for the same. Even though they are not getting profit from organic farming, we are still encouraging them.”

Fundamental flaws

The problems being faced by these organic farmers are not new. Similar problems were reported in 2017, in a paper published in the Journal of Crop and Weed. The report was based on conversations with farmers of Srichandpur Kothia, an organic village in Bihar’s Samastipur district. The village is said to be the first organic village of Bihar.

Based on the detailed interviews of about 100 farmers, researchers had found that costly organic inputs, limited markets, less productivity and low yield are major hurdles in the way of organic farming.

When Mongabay-Hindi visited the organic clusters of Vaishali and Mokama, many farmers complained that no meetings were held to train the farmers to reduce their input cost and get high yield business. A farmer from Mokama said that in the last two years, hardly one or two such meetings took place regarding organic farming.

There is also concern regarding the future of Farmer Producer Companies. As Vinod Tiwari, who is associated with a Buxar-based Farmer Producer Companies, reveals, “Farmers do not have any training in organic farming. Apart from limited markets, there are many other problems. If the government does not pay due attention to these, organic farming will remain on paper only.”

Meanwhile, organic farming experts complain that the model adopted by the state government for organic farming is bound to fail due to its fundamental flaws.

Kavitha Kuruganti, who is associated with Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture, maintains, “Market is a big problem in the country. But if farmers are lured by market, then organic farming will not be sustainable. The day market support is not available, they will move towards chemical farming. The government should focus on how to increase the income of the farmers by reducing the input cost in organic farming.”

She adds, “If farmers are switching to chemical pesticides, then it is not their fault but the fault of the government, which has not adopted the right model.”

Citing the example of Andhra Pradesh, she says, “It seems that organic farming is being done in Bihar under the component of Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana of the central government. In Andhra Pradesh, the guidelines of PKVI [Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana] were changed and implemented; due to which seven lakh farmers are now successfully doing organic farming, with new farmers joining every year. In Andhra Pradesh, the government did not give any grants and neither did they lure them in the name of market. The state enriched the knowledge base of the farmers by teaching them how to get more produce at less cost. A similar model needs to be adopted in Bihar as well.”

Acknowledging the growing reluctance among farmers to go the organic way, Bankatesh Narayan Singh, Director of Soil Conservation, Agriculture Department of Bihar, underlines factors such as low production and market access.

Expressing hope, he adds, “If farmers adopt organic farming on their own, it will be more effective. We are going to run training programmes to make farmers understand the nuances of organic farming. Along with this, we are also working on creating a separate market for organic products in the district.”

This article first appeared on Mongabay.