Organic farming, the only way out | Sunday Observer

Organic farming, the only way out

31 October, 2021

The Government has successfully launched its ambitious  ‘100 percent organic farming' program across the country  in keeping with  President Gotabaya  Rajapaksa’s  National Policy Framework, “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour.” The President in his Manifesto has affirmed that his Government would take correct policy decisions to ensure the right of the people to access a nontoxic and balanced diet.

Though there have been varying views on opportunities and challenges involved in 100 percent organic farming, environmentalists, health experts, climate activists and food sovereignty advocates  have always been in high favour of  organic farming, a move which is rapidly gaining popularity across the world.

Australia has the world’s largest organic farming areas while our regional giant India, Asia’s leader in organic farming,  has been ranked first in the number of organic farmers and ninth in terms of Area under organic farming.

 Prudent decision

India’s leading environmental activist and scholar Dr. Vandana Shiva hails the Government’s timely  and prudent decision to shift to 100 percent Organic fertiliser use in cultivations.

In an interview with the Sunday Observer the veteran said that organic farming is the only possibility if we want to avoid extinction as a species and  it is the only answer to the  multiple emergencies that chemical agriculture has created. Dr. Shiva’s definition of organic farming as opposed to conventional farming makes a striking distinction between the two, putting great emphasis on the importance of organic farming. 

“Organic farming is based on ecological principles of diversity and the circular economy of soil fertility with no external inputs. What is called “conventional farming” is convention of less than a century based on using war chemicals as external inputs to grow monocultures of commodities," she said. 

Climate change

As highlighted by Dr. Shiva,  fifty percent of  Greenhouse gases that are causing climate change are from chemical intensive industrial globalised agriculture. Seventy-five percent  of the destruction of soil and water is because of chemical intensive farming. More than eighty percent of  biodiversity loss and species extinction is due to pesticides and herbicides and large-scale monocultures. Seventy percent of the chronic diseases are due to chemicals and chemicals and processed food.

“If chemical farming spreads, we face climate catastrophe, the ecological and health emergency will intensify and aggravate,” she added.

True meaning of organic farming 

As highlighted by Dr. Shiva  it is of paramount importance to know  exactly what Organic farming means. “It is an internal input regenerative system which regenerates the soil, biodiversity, and the earth’s climate balance by working according to nature’s ecological processes and laws. Organic farming is not an input substitution system where industrial chemical inputs are substituted by industrial organic inputs,” Dr. Shiva said.

She debunked the ungrounded argument which questions the practical  possibility of creating sufficient organic fertiliser and gaining sufficient yield. 

Shifting from a disease-causing degenerative system to a healthy regenerative organic system does not create problems for farmers, she said. Organic farming  helps the farmers grow more nutritious food while lowering costs for purchased chemical inputs which are a major reason for rural debt. The methods for regenerating the soil are the same in the short- and long-term  growing intensity of  biodiversity and biomass  on the farm, instead of  intensifying chemical inputs. Ecological intensification rather than chemical intensification is the answer, Dr. Shiva added.   

Financial competitiveness

Dispelling yet another ungrounded view that largely questions the economic viability of non-conventional farming, Dr.Shiva said that organic farming is the only viable system because it works according to nature’s laws, and regenerates the health of the earth and the health of people while lowering the costs of purchased inputs-fertiliser and pesticides  and improving the quality of food and its nutrition content. 

“Our research on Health per acre shows how organic is producing more food when measured in terms of nutrition,” she said.

“When externalities of chemical farming in terms of environment, social and health damage are internalised into the true costs of production and new incomes, organic farmers are economically more viable. Our book Wealth per Acre record a 10-fold increase in net incomes of farmers,” she added.

“Globally, the concern for health is increasing. Countries that produce chemical free, healthy, nutritious food will win. We need a tradition from quantity to quality, from degenerative systems that are destroying the health of the planet and people to organic systems that regenerate both,”  the veteran said. She sees no option other than organic farming to ensure food security and nutrition for future generations. “When we shift from chemical farming to organic farming, the nutrition in the food increases, the nutrition per acre increases,” she said and highlighted the importance of adhering to organic farming methods.

Dangers of industrially farmed soils

Industrially farmed soils pose a major threat to human health and wellbeing. 

“Industrially farmed soils with external inputs of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser destroys soil organisms such as the mycorrhizal fungi which are creative filters that bring nourishment to plants. Plants are left to deal with a toxic cocktail of synthetic fertiliser, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides which contaminate our food. Plants have to live on a chemical diet and are deprived of the symbiotic help of fungi to find essential nutrients such as zinc and magnesium. Yet these are the nutrients plants and animals, including humans, need to create enzymes necessary to regulate our metabolism and biochemistry, build immunity, fight disease, and stay healthy,” she said.

It is quite evident that by destroying Soil Biodiversity, industrial agriculture produces nutritionally empty, toxic food which is harming our health. Citing major studies published in the journal of the American College of Nutrition (ACN) and the American Journal of Agricultural Sciences (AJAS) in Washington, DC., she explained how the nutritional content of vegetables and fruits has been declining in the United States for the past 70 years.

“Our food is becoming less nutritious: The nutritional content of vegetables and fruits has been declining in the United States for the past 70 years. An exhaustive study by Prof. Donald Davis at the University of Texas quantified the amount of nutrients loss in fruits and vegetables over during the last 70 years — 6 percent decline in protein content, 9 percent decline in phosphorus, 15 percent decline in iron and Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), 16 percent decline in calcium, 18 percent decline in Vitamin A, and 38 percent decline in Vitamin B (Riboflavin)." (See Table 1 and Graph 1)

She cited  more research to prove her stand.

“A British meta study covering more than 400 studies has found that organic foods can have up to 60 percentmore beneficial nutrients than chemically produced food. “The study was published online by Cambridge University Press on July 15, 2014, under the title “Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses.”

A Navdanya study published in 2018 comparing soils under chemical and organic over 20 years has also shown a dramatic decline in Soil nutrients under chemical farming, and a significant increase in diverse nutrients under organic farming. (See Table 2)

“Not only have beneficial nutrients increased in the soils of organic farms, but beneficial soil organisms have also dramatically increased .the fungi population increased 6-36-fold in organic farms. It declined 2.5-49.7 percent in chemical farms. 50-241% increase in bacterial population was found in organic soils,” she said. 

The study had been carried out to understand the soil health under continuous cultivation after using organic and chemical inputs. A survey had been conducted under Uttarakhand, Navdanya farm areas, India where farmers were selected who were practising both chemical and organic inputs under different crops for at least more than five years.

Life begins with photosynthesis

Dr. Shiva has written the foreword for Andre Leu’s Growing Life which was launched on October 22. The core content of the book is that life begins with photosynthesis which takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and with the help of the energy of the sun. Organic farming intensifies photosynthesis thus growing more life and more food.

“Since a COP on Climate is starting in Glasgow in November, I have connected photosynthesis and climate change,”  she said.

In one of her recent speeches Dr. Shiva  dismissed the misconception  that  farmers have resorted to chemical fertiliser expecting a bumper harvest in return.  

Commenting on the topic she added that industrial chemical agriculture is based on external inputs of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, and on industrial monocultures of globally traded commodities. The latter is destroying biodiversity, the former are disrupting the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.  “The more nitrogen fertiliser you use the more you must use, because nitrogen fertiliser kills the live organisms in the soil,” she said.

Research evidence on fertiliser response 

Fertiliser response has dramatically reduced. Sharma and Sharma (2009) mentioned about the declining fertiliser response for the past thirty years from 13.4 kg grain kg nutrient in 1970 to 3.7 kg grain kg nutrient in 2005 in irrigated areas. According to Biswas and Sharma (2008) while only 54 kg NPK / ha was required to produce around 2 t /ha in 1970, around 218 kg NPK/ha was used in 2005 to sustain the same yield.

“Chemical fertiliser is leading to a decline in productivity because they are destroying soil health. During three and a half decades fertiliser productivity has declined from 48 kg food grains/kg NPK fertiliser in 1970-71 to 10 kg food grains/kg NPK fertiliser in 2007-08,” she explained based on the findings of a study titled Enhancing fertiliser use efficiency in 2008.  ( Source: Aulakh, M.S. and Benbi, D.K. 2008. Enhancing fertiliser use efficiency. In  Proceedings of FAI Annual Seminar 2008, 4-6 December, 2008. The Fertiliser Association of India, New Delhi, India.)

“Since synthetic fertiliser is fossil fuel based, they contribute to the disruption of the carbon cycle. But they also disrupt the nitrogen cycle. And they disrupt the hydrological cycle, both because chemical agriculture needs ten times more water to produce the same amount of food than organic farming, and it pollutes the water in rivers and oceans,” she said. 

“Pulses fix nitrogen nonviolently in the soil, instead of increasing dependence on synthetic fertiliser produced violently by heating fossil fuels to 550 degrees centigrade. Chick-pea can fix up to 140 kg nitrogen per hectare and pigeon-pea can fix up to 200 kg nitrogen per hectare that fix nitrogen nonviolently. Returning organic matter to the soil builds up soil nitrogen.

A recent study we are undertaking shows that organic farming has increased nitrogen content of soil between 44-144 percent, depending on the crops. Since war expertise does not provide expertise about how plants work, how the soil works, how ecological processes work, the potential of biodiversity and organic farming was totally ignored by the militarised model of industrial agriculture," she said. 


When asked what key lessons Sri Lanka can learn from India regarding  Organic agriculture she advised that we should look at the harm of the Green Revolution in Punjab. Her book "The Violence of the Green Revolution” contains detailed research .

“Sri Lanka should also take lessons from what Albert Howard  wrote in the Agricultural Testament.” Dr. Shiva  also recommended Navdanya’s Research on how we can increase nutrition and food availability while increasing farmers’ income  in terms of Health per Acre, Wealth per Acre. 

Organic agriculture during a pandemic 

She highlighted the importance of shifting to  organic agriculture at a time when the entire world is struggling with a deadly pandemic. “The  new pandemics are a result of a globalised industrialised commodity producing system that is invading our forests and taking animal viruses and human emerging diseases. “Organic farming is production for food, not bio-fuel and animal feed .

By being richer in nutrition, it also builds our immunity. “During the pandemic it became clear that those with chronic diseases due to an unhealthy industrial food system were more at risk. Risks of mortality for those with cancer increased to 7.6 percent, for diabetics, it rose by 9.2 percent. Both to avoid emergence of new pandemics, and for resilience and immunity during pandemics, biodiverse organic  farming is the answer,” she said.