Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

The organic foods divide in India

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RG_organic_201311_biofach6

The recently-held Biofach India 2013 in Bengaluru – which is an annual meeting about and exhibition of organic producers and products – has helped confirm three disturbing trends concerning Indian organic produce.

These are:
(1) that the urban market for organic products is growing at a rapid pace and a ‘junior’ food retail system (junior as compared with established, large-scale food retail as a consumer goods sub-sector) devoted to these products is aggressively rounding up consumer interest and budgets;
(2) that under central government programmes to encourage and promote cultivation based on organic principles (like the Rashtriya Jaivik Kheti Pariyojana, or National Project on Organic Farming) state governments have administrative and budget capacities (even though small) to develop organic produce but these efforts are evolving into parallel, local-specific knowledge and practice networks; [update in response to the valuable comment below: the networks coming about is a good thing for the long term, but there is apparently less and less connection between the produce from these networks (if there is a surplus townspeople can buy) and the retail frontrunners in the organic foods business. If this separation continues along this path, organic foods and beverages will be an upper middle class consumable that bears no relation with the human-scale cultivation these networks locally are fostering.]
(3) that the connection between the organic farming family in the rural district and the consumer is being exploited in a sophisticated manner by a growing roster of new companies whose profit margins do not lead to higher or necessarily more secure incomes for the cultivating household. [Read the full article at Infochange India.]

A simple poster in Kannada about organic farming methods

A simple poster in Kannada about organic farming methods

The real destiny of most organic foods grown in India, processed and packaged by *Indian organic food traders (under third-party certification), and promoted abroad (particularly in Europe and North America) is as exports. The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), which is responsible for promoting food exports, said that India exported almost 70,000 tons of organic products, valued at around US$ 130 million (around Rs 715 crore) in 2010-11. This rose to 115,000 tons worth over US$ 360 million (around Rs 2,090 crore) for 2011-12. An APEDA statement quoted in the business press attributed the financial assistance it has given the organic foods export sector (about Rs 210 crore) as being responsible for this growth. Furthermore, APEDA has forecast that exports of organic foods and beverages from India could double by 2014.

At Biofach India 2013 (held during 2013 November 14 to 16), the pavilions of the major organic foods and beverages retailers – such as Phalada, Organic Tattva, 24 Mantra, Sanjeevani Organics, Amira Organic, Mother India Farms, Ecolife Organic and Morarka Organic – resembled those to be seen at a conventional food and agriculture industry exposition (like those routinely organised by major industry associations such as CII, FICCI and ASSOCHAM). In contrast were the tables and small kiosks (at times no more than a pair of posters, a desk and two stools) of the state government-supported organic cultivation agencies – yet these were the ones that had brought cultivators to the fair, who were wandering the air-conditioned aisles astonished by the prices they read printed on the packets of the organic foods on display.

2 Responses

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  1. Very interesting piece. However, though I can see exactly why 1 and 3 are problems, but can you explain why 2; “these efforts are evolving into parallel, local-specific knowledge and practice networks” is a disturbing trend, as you put it? as that would seem like a good thing to me, on the face of it.

    Thanks

    between the lines

    November 21, 2013 at 16:29

    • Dear between the lines, thanks for your critical reading. Yes indeed ref point 2, “evolving into parallel, local-specific knowledge and practice networks” is a good thing because it means there is growing recognition of the need to de-industrialise agriculture in districts and in blocks (several of which make a district). I have added to the text to make it clearer and hope this clarifies matters – this post is an extract from an article for Infochange India, and the full text does explain why I find the divergence is a problem to recognise early. Regards

      makanaka

      November 21, 2013 at 19:32


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