Organic Revolution – Is India There Yet?

A revolution has come, and is struggling to stay.

Organic food in India is still a ‘restricted’ commodity of sorts. Not because it is available by age, or is unavailable by law, but because it is still a luxury. What with prices of Tur Dal touching three digits and rising levels of unemployment, it has become difficult to afford a square meal for the lower income groups. For an economy that is marching towards attaining the status of the next big stop for manufacturing and services, but still derives a major part of its GDP from agriculture, such an imbalance must be a priority to resolve. Improving standards of living, and securing livelihoods to the very many dependents in the agricultural sector may be a solution. However, is the organic revolution really an answer to the lower strata problem of affordability?

The Organic Revolution came to India in 2001, with the introduction of the National Program for Organic Production (NPOP). The initiative brought with itself special standards for organic cultivation of several products. Starting with Sikkim, by 2016, many hectares in several states have come under the organic farming purview. Karnataka, Rajasthan and Maharashtra currently take the share of the highest volume of organic production. Growth in the sector has been impressive, at about 40 percent since two years, notwithstanding the increasing effects of unprecedented rains.

Acceptance was perhaps quintessential in welcoming organic food aboard. Market entry was a difficult task for the producers, who were faced with criticism as far as allegations that organic food was not a healthier option. After entering a market that was already an extant one with non-organic products that were cheaper and more accessible, survival became a larger issue. For more than half a decade from their introduction into the Indian market, prices remained much higher than non-organic produce. True revolution started some time in 2013, when awareness was brought about by pioneers in organic food production and distribution. Workshops, programs, and brand awareness were used as tools to reach larger segments of people, both demographically and socioeconomically. Awareness regarding health, and especially ones like the effects of pesticides on the fetus and an expectant mother created a divergence of opinions on organic food. Organic food and products, though priced at more than double the conventional food and products, were sold at large supermarkets and departmental stores; attractive displays, and a separate section on the labels about nutritional benefits was a proved to be a major lure. Additionally, India has seen significant rises in incomes of the middle class, in the last five years.  This has also been responsible for increased awareness among buyers. An ‘India Organic’ certification is visibly embossed on all organic products.

Whether the organic revolution is an instrument to improve affordability in the lower and middle class segments, is something to be left to a long-term purview. Prices of organic products have reduced and come to stabilize in the last year. Organic food must slowly become another equally good alternative in the market, taking an equally popular and viable place on shelves. This would create a good chance to introduce a veritable selection of employment opportunities and income.

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