Organic certification process expensive and cumbersome, says TNAU V-C

Coimbatore: Many farmers were interested in organic farming and even certified their process and produce, but certification agencies often make it difficult, said TNAU vice-chancellor N Kumar.
Besides charging a heavy fee for the certification process, these agencies without adequate scientific backing and ground experience, end up banning so many implements that farmers struggle to comply with all their conditions.

However, some agriculture experts justify the stringent regulations stating that maintaining them is critical to make the products of export quality.

Speaking at a brain storming session on organic farming at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University on Tuesday, Kumar said many agencies refuse to certify crops when the seeds are bought from outside.

“They dismiss those seeds claiming that they are genetically modified crops,” he said. “We all know that Trichoderma and Pseudomonas are bio inputs but use of these inputs are not allowed if they are bought from outside,” he said.

Kumar said many of these certification agencies, authorized by the government, do not have scientific people in their employ and do not understand ground realities.

The vice-chancellor also mentioned how organic mango and banana growers face issues because both horticulture crops require a lot of potassium.

“In Europe, farmers are permitted to use naturally available potash elements. We have to identify such elements and train farmers to make them and use them,” he said. “While non-certified organic products do not fetch the market premium, the scattering of organic farming makes it cost intensive,” he said.

While around 12,600 hectares are under organic cultivation, hardly 400 hectares of it are in Coimbatore and even lesser fall under certified organic farms.

“From the horticulture department, we have started four organic farming clusters in the district of around 200 hectares. They have applied for certification, but it takes three years for the certification to come through,” deputy director of horticulture Uma said.

However, many agriculture experts say the certification process must be stringent.

“The Participatory Guarantee Scheme (PGS) certificate is required to be stringent, because once you allow farmers to buy bio pesticides and bio fertilizers, many companies may start selling fake organic goods. It is also critical for exports, because if there is a slip up either in the purchase, production, produce or selling, it could lead to a rejection and sending back of our products which will lead to a setback,” said assistant director general, agronomy, agroforestry and climate change, S Bhaskar.

“Organic produce will always be more expensive than commercially cultivated crops because less than 1% of our farmland is organic,” he said.

Many farmers hesitate to convert their farms completely into organic farms because of a drop in yield during the three-year conversion period, the cumbersome process of getting a certification, issues in getting good pricing for their produce.

“One of the major bottlenecks is the lack of a strong cold supply chain for storage and prolonging the shelf life of organically grown produce, especially vegetables and fruits,” said Kumar.

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