There’s no denying that the world is edging towards the green way. People are opting for organic things – from rice to vegetables to cosmetics – and labels selling such products are rising in popularity. It would be best to understand how these products come to being, and the methods used in organic farming. While these products are free of harmful chemicals, pesticides, and fertilizers, did you know that organic products are healthy and eco-friendly because of certain methods and practices used in farming?
Here’s a rundown of the top 7 organic farming methods used in India and why they are beneficial.
1. Crop diversity
Topping the list of organic farming methods is crop diversity. Earlier, the practice followed in agricultural fields was monoculture where only one type of crop was cultivated and harvested in one location. Organic farming encourages polyculture or the practice of cultivating multiple crops in the same place at the same time. According to studies in the field of agroecology, polyculture is a far more beneficial and eco-friendly farming method than monoculture.
Benefits: By cultivating a variety of crops simultaneously, organic farming supports a wide range of microorganisms in the soil and co-existence of species of plants. This enhances the overall farm health and protects the species, thereby helping the environment thrive. An added benefit of crop diversity is that it helps meet the growing demand for crops in the current food market.
2. Crop rotation
Farmers engaged in non-organic agriculture plant and cultivate the same crop in the same field, season after season. Organic cultivators on the other hand, are encouraged to rotate the crops in sequenced seasons rather than growing a single crop on the same land repeatedly. This practice of cultivating different kinds of crops in the same field in a specified and sequenced order is called crop rotation.
Benefits: There are many benefits of crop rotation. For starters, diverse plants donate nutrients to the soil and as a result, the soil is replenished in a natural way. Besides this, crop rotation increases the yield and soil fertility, improves the soil structure, and reduces soil erosion. Moreover, it helps disrupt the life cycle and habitats of pests and weeds.
3. Soil management through natural manures
The soil gets depleted of its nutrients after each season of cultivation and harvest. In non-organic farming, farmers resort to chemicals to replenish the soil and restore its quality. Organic farming, uses naturally available nourishment like green manure and compost to replace the lost nutrients in the soil. Once natural manures are added to the soil, the microorganisms in them start producing nutrients and as a result, the field is replenished naturally.
Benefits: Chemicals added to the soil are often associated with many kinds of illnesses and health hazards while naturally derived nourishment is safe to use. They strengthen the microbe community in the soil and lead to higher yields as compared to soil treated with chemicals. In other words, this method nourishes humans and the planet alike and makes organic rice, millets, pulses, vegetables, and other products healthier than their non-organic variants.
4. Weed management
We all know weeds are bad, don’t we? These unwanted plants that grow with crops negatively affect the yield by aggressively competing for water, sunlight, and nutrients. As if that were not enough, they also act as a host plant for different kinds of diseases and pests. Weed management is integral to all kinds of farming, organic or otherwise. Non-organic farming methods eliminate weeds from the field using synthetic herbicides while organic farming focuses on suppressing them through physical, mechanical, cultural, and biological techniques. These include crop competition, crop rotation, allelopathy, sanitation, tillage, mowing and cutting, mulching, and thermal weeding, among others. Certain naturally sourced chemicals like acetic acid and essential oils are also used to suppress weeds.
Benefits: Chemical herbicides come with their own set of side effects and cause health issues if inhaled or ingested. What’s more, these chemicals might wash away and reach water bodies, groundwater, soil, and other natural resources, thereby damaging the environment. As the organic methods used for weed management are chemical-free, they are safe for us and the planet we live in.
5. Controlling harmful organisms through natural methods
Crops and organisms in the field are friends and foes at the same. While some organisms are beneficial to crops and increase the overall health of the farm, certain others are extremely harmful to crops and the soil alike. Both organic and non-organic farming curtail the growth of such harmful organisms to protect crops and the field. The difference, however, is in the methods used to control them. Instead of chemical herbicides and pesticides, organic farming makes use of natural strategies like biocontrol – that is, the practice of controlling organisms/insects using other predatory and beneficial organisms/insects such as pirate bugs and ladybugs. Natural herbicides and pesticides, proper sanitation of the agricultural field, crop rotation, and pest-repelling companion plants are among the other popular practices used by organic farmers.
Benefits: The methods used in organic farming are extremely specific. For instance, in biocontrol, predator insects only target the pest they are meant to destroy and don’t harm crops or other beneficial organisms in the field. This, combined with health and environmental benefits, make such practices the safest and healthiest alternatives to their chemical counterparts.
6. Raising animals and livestock on the farm
The activities in organic farms are not limited to cultivation alone. Domestic animals and livestock like cattle and poultry are also raised on the farm to complement the ecosystem. In other words, animals and livestock are provided with food and natural living conditions. They are raised without any growth-promoting drugs and given organic-certified animal feed, in accordance with regulations.
Benefits: One of the indisputable benefits of raising animals and livestock on farms is that it promotes sustainability in the truest sense of the term. By introducing animals to the farming equation, organic farms are able to function more efficiently as a self-renewing and self-sustainable unit. Farms where crops are cultivated and livestock are raised side by side in a natural way take us back to a time in history where co-existence was the way of life.
7. No genetic modification
Genetic modification – the much-debated topic of the food and agriculture world. To put it simply, it is the process of manipulating the genetic make-up of an organism, especially to add a new trait that is not naturally found in it. It is widely used in the industry and many food and products available in the market today – from corn and soybean to potato and papaya – are genetically engineered. Organic farming steers clear of genetically modified crops, plants, and animals.
Benefits: Genetically modified food, also called GM food, has been attracting a lot of criticism of late due to the ill effects it has on health and the environment. It is believed that such products might lead to allergies, antibiotic resistance, diseases, and disruption of biodiversity. By staying away from genetically engineered organisms and crops, organic farming contributes to a healthy lifestyle and an eco-friendly world. So next time you visit the supermarket or do online grocery shopping, pick up that packet of organic soybean. With chronic diseases rising and the quality of food declining, organic farming has become the need of the hour. And – wait a little further – it will soon become the norm. States like Sikkim are already spearheading the movement, so it’s high time we get on the bandwagon, don’t you think?