Organic food farming may sound sophisticated for less industrialised countries like Bangladesh, but it is the ideal choice to make future generations healthy.
Organic foods are cultured in highly regulated industries, and these crops are generated in an eco-friendly way. Producing organic food is tricky and laborious as no chemical fertilizers, pesticides or any kind of, or inorganic inputs are used. These foods are pricey as these products contain high nutritional value and have less exposure to various toxic heavy metals.
In Bangladesh, only a fraction of urban farmers produce food organically, but this small fraction can't satisfy the whole country.
Before the 1960s, all agricultural production in Bangladesh was organic. But now, farmers in Bangladesh use urea fertilizers of around 4,000 crore taka every year. As stated by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the use of pesticides increased by 4,46,246.78 metric tonnes per year on average from 1984 to 2010. A World Health Organization study prognosticates that 30,000,00 people are affected by the use of pesticides every year, and the most vulnerable people are the farmers and their families as they come in direct contact with these chemicals.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, Bangladesh is third in the world in vegetable production (FAO, 2015). The diverse agro-ecological zone and arable soil structure allow the farmers to grow multifarious crops in different parts of Bangladesh.
For example, the crops cultivated in the hill tracts can't be raised in low-land areas. Instead of utilising this blessing, farmers are using inorganic chemicals and pesticides to cultivate their desired crop, which result in the soil becoming infertile. As mentioned by Soil Resource Development Institute, SRDI, out of 8.3 million hectares of tillable soil in Bangladesh, around 3.3 million hectares of land have lost about 85% of fertility.
In Bangladesh, organic farming is mostly practised on an experimental basis rather than on a commercial basis.
According to Dr. Nazim Uddin, senior scientist at the Horticulture Research Centre under the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute, organic food is cultivated only 2% of the country's total farmland and approximately 14,000 people are engaged in organic farming.
According to The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, IFOAM, 47 NGOs of the Forum for Regenerative Agriculture Movement in Bangladesh are involved in organic farming.
The journey of organic agriculture started with Proshika, a Non-Government organisation, in 1976, in Koitta of Bangladesh. Later Unnayan Bikalper Nitinirdharoni Gobeshona, UBINIG, officials conducted research and started providing training to farmers on organic farming.
In 1990, the Nayakrishi Andolan was initiated by community-based workers of UBINIG, which is a biodiversity-based ecological agriculture movement. The firm belief of the movement is 'Farming practices must be able to regenerate the elements of the entire ecological system.'
Nayakrishi doesn't mean completely organic but a specific practice that is environment friendly and helps to maintain and regenerate living and fertile soil. Currently, Prakritik Krishi Biponon Kendra, Shoshsho Probortona, WAB Trading Int, Kazi and Kazi Tea Estate (KKTE), BARI farmers, Sahbazpur Tea Company are some organisations that are producing organic products without using chemical pesticides.
Despite having so many positive sides, organic farming is still not well established in our country.
According to agriculture development activist Shykh Seraj, growing organic food for the mass population is not very viable. It is very difficult to produce crops without using inorganic chemicals or getting contaminated with such chemicals, he observes.
Farmers in our country are poor and do not have much capital to run organic farming as it's expensive. Moreover, simultaneously coping with food security and climate change is a difficult balance for us. Additionally, the marketing channel of organic food is not substantial and fraudulent labelling makes consumers skeptical.
Though agricultural lands have increased, the availability of organic fertiliser is still scarce in villages. To protect the crops from pests the farmers are left with no choice but to use inorganic fertilisers. Furthermore, farmers get fewer crops per unit of land from organic farming compared to modern farming. The pressure from untrained farmers, publicity of inorganic fertilisers also plays a great role in this case. They get confused by the contradictory messages and approaches.
In this day and age, people are getting more concerned about their health. Parents are more tense about their children's health. Gradually people are realising the toxic effect of chemical fertilisers.
In these circumstances, people are leaning more towards organic food. To keep a balance between public demand for organic food and organic food farming, we need to improve our present capacity. Development of marketing for organic products is a must to get premium prices.
Also, a proper certification authority should be introduced based on the international standard for the village farmers, so that they can easily examine their organic crops. In creating awareness among untrained farmers, villagers and others, the media can play an important role. The media can improve the understanding of ecologically friendly agriculture among policymakers. Organic farming is way more expensive than modern farming; hence most farmers show little interest. Therefore, businessmen and large companies should come forward with investment.
In the future, it may become difficult to maintain balanced agricultural production for the vast population under the existing scenario of declining soil fertility, decreasing yields, increased and imbalanced use of inorganic fertilisers. Organic farming is an important way of ensuring food safety and food security for this growing population.
Hrishika Barua is pursuing her B.Sc. In Fisheries at Chattogram Veterinary and Animal Sciences University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.