Just this past March, we attended the Scientific Conference of the 5th National Organic Farming Conference in Chandigarh, India. The organic farming conference took place from February 28th-March 2nd, and the Scientific Conference was held during the final two days as part of the National Organic Farming Conference.

The conference was far larger than the one 2 years earlier. It was a hopeful gathering of organic farmers, scientists, university professors, journalists, policy-makers, and organic farming enthusiasts discussing how we could work to “Mainstream Agro-Ecological Approaches in Farming” in India. While little consensus was formed amidst the colorful discussion, the increased numbers showed that enthusiasm for organic agriculture in India is on the rise!

The excitement for organic agriculture followed from widespread agreement that the past 4 decades of agricultural policy in India have been damaging to the majority of India’s small farmers and the environment. The U.S.-influenced Green Revolution, which began in the 1960s and transformed India’s agriculture by the 1970s, encouraged farmers to abandon traditional methods and adopt U.S. industrial methods. This included using hybrid varieties of seeds that guzzled water, increased pesticides and other farm chemicals, and relying heavily on short term debt to finance growing seasons. The Green Revolution did increase agricultural productivity in the short term, but productivity stagnated soon after and the harmful effects of industrial agriculture set in. As in the U.S., rivers, ground water, and other sources of drinking water became increasingly contaminated with agro-chemicals. Farmers lost bio-diversity as they relied more heavily on a few hybrid varieties, which inhibited their ability to adapt to climactic changes by planting climate resilient varieties and led them to plant the same varieties on diverse pieces of land. Farmers became heavily indebted as their crops failed and as productivity levels began to decline as a result of environmental degradation.

Organic agriculture uses no industrial chemicals, encourages farmers to use biodiversity and intercropping as a resource for dealing with climactic variation, and encourages farmers to use low-cost or free inputs such as seeds saved from previous harvests, organic compost and fertilizers, as well as varieties which require little water for growth. In other words, it offers solutions to the new problems of industrial agriculture and a sustainable future for agriculture in India.

Though many of the farmers, scientists, journalists, and others at the conference were hopeful, not all were equally convinced that organic agriculture was the only solution to the problems caused by industrial agriculture. The diversity of viewpoints reflected by conference participants demonstrated that organic agriculture offers multiple ways to address the same problems, and it is dynamic and adaptable to many situations.

Recently, Gujarat became the 9th state in India to pass official policy to promote organic agriculture, and the state government even apologized for being so slow in developing organic agriculture. As the enthusiasm for organic agriculture continues to grow in India, we expect an increase in public investment and greater public recognition of organic agriculture as a viable agricultural future for India, but this is not a guarantee. Transforming India’s agriculture will require more farmers, consumers, and policy-makers to push for policy changes at the national and state level. With enough hard work, it can be done, and we are confident that it will.