Every super bazaar worth its salt has a section devoted to ‘organic products’ in these enlightened times. While this may be some new-fangled term to the uninformed or the uninitiated, the more evolved consumer understands the wealth of thought and action that has gone into the organic product that sits there.
What is organic farming?
Before the advent of synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides, all farming was organic. Booming populations required increased food production, and this drove Man to improve on Mother Nature. This resulted in the widespread use of chemicals in farming- not just the production of food grains but livestock rearing as well.
Organic farming shuns the use of these chemicals. It also rejects genetically modified organisms and seeds, and the use of antibiotics and hormones.
However, this is not the sum total of what the practice entails. It is a holistic system which treats the soil and farming as a living entity; the principal goal is sustainable and harmonious practices which make the human race one with their environment.
The advantages of organic farming are innumerable:
There is a whole world of living organisms and ‘societies’ in the soil and underground. Organic farming aims to protect all this to prevent degradation of soil. For example, though nitrogen makes up 78.09% of air, it is not available to plants unless it is fixed in the soil. Limited soil nitrogen is a big factor curbing food production the world over. Organic farming uses leguminous plants, like peanut, and their symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria to achieve this.
The interdependence of crops to soil organisms is delicate and the harsh use of chemicals destroys this delicate, ecological balance and destroys the soil. Organic methods of farming ensure the wellbeing of the whole.
Material that was considered waste like crop residue and farmyard manure, and fish by- products is used to nourish the soil and the crops. This has the two-pronged benefit of being an environmentally safe waste disposal system as well as limiting the production of greenhouse gases unlike synthetic fertilisers and their detrimental contribution to global warming.
Maintaining biological diversity
Food production is big business today. Unfortunately, when multi -billion dollar corporations peddle their genetically modified ware, they promote homogeneity and monocultures on a gigantic scale. Experts feel that this results in increased vulnerability of crops to climate change, pests and disease. The policy for fitness in nature has always been to adapt and survive.
The other frightening downside to genetic meddling is that the devoted use of a single kind of pesticide that these modified crops encourage might also encourage the development of sinister superbugs and superweeds. This is already a matter of concern.
Livestock health is indeed wealth
An organic livestock farmer must integrate systems that accommodate the natural behaviour and health of the animal. This includes access to the outdoors including fresh air, sunlight, and pasture for ruminants like cows and buffaloes, shade, and shelter.
Livestock feed must be organic too. The manure produced must be managed and recycled to make the most of the nutrients.
Organic livestock farming also turns its back on the use of hormones and antibiotics and other chemicals. For example, hormones used on milch cattle to increase milk production not only harm the animal but have undesirable effects on human health as well. They are suspected to cause early onset of menstruation as well as the development of secondary sexual characteristics in girls. There is also some evidence to suggest consuming such milk causes a variety of cancers like prostate, breast and colorectal.
Indiscriminate use of antibiotics leads to the growth of drug- resistant bacteria. This is an ongoing battle even in the present.
Ensures the safety of human health
Chemicals used in farming cause great harm to human health. Allergies are at the lower end of this spectrum with cancers at the other.
The ill-effects of chemical usage are not limited to the single crop or a particular crop period. They are much more long-lasting, poisoning the soil for many years to come.
Groundwater is also affected. Water that runs off these crops also carries these poisons to other water bodies. The use of chemicals is not self-limiting in any way, and it would be foolish to think that it is containable.
Preparation of organic products
This is part and parcel of the organic way of life. Great emphasis is laid on careful processing and handling methods to ensure that the end-product retains its organic integrity.
No irradiation or chemical pest control methods are used to increase shelf life.
In 2012, the American Academy of Paediatrics had warned about the ill effects and life-altering health problems that the continued use of chemical farming methods has, on children in particular. It advised concerted action to protect children from pesticides.
It might be though that thoroughly washing vegetables or grain is enough to rid them of chemicals, but this is not the case. Sprayed pesticides and chemical fertilisers ‘sit’ deep in the product, under skins, in the flesh, and ingrained in cereals. Not all of them are soluble in water nor are they so superficial as to be washed off.
Homo sapiens are a very self-centred species. Humans feel that the whole of the Earth is at their disposal to do with as they please. This could not be further from the truth. It is time to realise that we are only part of creation and not the whole of it; if we are to inherit the earth, we must leave something to be inherited!
There has been increased awareness that the organic way is the path forward. The organic movement may have been a straggler in the early 1960s, but it is fast on its way to becoming a flood.
Join the movement and protect the environment, yourself and your loved ones before it’s too late. Buy organic.