Sunday, 5 September 2021

Promoting Organic Food Exports: Opportunities and Challenges

 The 20th edition of the Organic World Congress (OWC), being hosted at Rennes, France, is  scheduled to be held virtually during 6-10 September 2021. The OWC is expected to bring together more than 2,500 organic stakeholders, farmers, researchers and policymakers to address questions  around resilience, societal transformation, health, and food sovereignty.  Held once in three years, the key priorities of OWC, which is the world’s largest organic gathering, are: (i) innovations to stimulate farmer conversion to organic – increase nutritional revenues from fields while maintaining ecosystem vigour; (ii) organic systems are tied to the living soil and should be enhanced to preserve and develop biodiversity as well as plant and animal integrity; (iii) the organic agriculture movement inspires healthy food systems and a culture of sustainability; (iv) organic agriculture is forward-looking and achieves innovation through the melding of tradition and science; (v) organic agriculture serves as an inspiration for the transformational changes needed within the agricultural sector; (vi) it is time to scale up and harness the benefits reaped from sustainable farming; and (vii) offer alternatives to global challenges and maximize positive impacts on people and the planet.

According to the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture FiBL, organic land is estimated to constitute 1.5% of global agricultural land. Australia had the largest area (35.69 million ha) in the world under organic agriculture in 2019, followed by  Argentina (3.67 million ha), Spain (2.35 million ha), the US (2.33 million ha), India (2.30 million ha), France (2.24 million ha), China (2.22 million ha), Uruguay (2.14 million ha), Italy (1.99 million ha), and Germany (1.61 million ha). These ten countries constitute 75% of the world’s organic agricultural land. India had the highest increase in land under organic cultivation in 2019 by 0.36 million ha, compared to 0.29 million ha in the US and 0.21 million ha in France. The area under organic farming in India grew at a CAGR  of 15.6% during the 10-year period up to 2019.

Traditional farming in India was by default, organic. However, Green Revolution was achieved due to the use of chemical inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, which led to significant  improvement in crop yields and attainment of food security in the country. But, overuse and disproportionate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides had adverse effects on soil health, groundwater  and consumer health. There has, however,  been a growing demand for organic food products both domestically and globally, and there is growing awareness about the need to protect soil and consumer health. While consumption of health and wellness organic products in India is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 11.1% (2015-20), organic packaged food and organic beverages grew at CAGRs of 12.1% and 15%, respectively.

India is a net exporter of organic products. One of the objectives of India’s Agriculture Export Policy, 2018 (AEP),  is to promote novel, indigenous, organic, ethnic, traditional and non-traditional agri products exports.  Therefore, it is indeed heartening to note that India’s exports of organic farm products touched a record $1,040 million, having  surged 51% during FY 21 over that of the previous year, while overcoming Covid-induced supply chain bottlenecks.

Madhya Pradesh is the largest producer of organic food in India, at 0.95 million metric tonnes (MMT), in 2019-20, followed by Maharashtra at 0.91 MMT. These two states together accounted for 69.2% of total organic production in India at 2.67 MMT.

Oilseeds production at 1.07 MMT accounted for 40% of total organic production. There is a need to focus on production of processed food, cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables,  medicinal plants, tea and coffee, in view of a steady increase in consumption demand in India and abroad. It is, therefore,  imperative to develop a comprehensive policy on organic food processing to promote exports.

Sikkim was the first fully organic state. But the state has witnessed some decline in yields following conversion to organic farming. However, there is a need to promote and develop organic agriculture in Sikkim, Eastern and North Eastern Regions, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir  and Ladakh, which have good potential for organic production and exports.  According to the AEP ‘Amul’ style cooperatives need to be developed in the Eastern and North Eastern states, to promote exports of organic products.

The share of organic exports to organic production in India is estimated at 23.3%. With a steady increase in exports and increasing potential for exports, it is possible to raise the share of organic exports  to 30-35% within the next five years The share of processed food in organic exports in terms of value in USD, is the highest at 45%, followed by oilseeds (13.3%), cereals & millets (8.2%) and tea (7.2%). M.P. has the highest share of organic exports at 35.6%, followed by Gujarat (10.9%), and Maharashtra (10.1%). The US has the highest share of India’s organic exports at 51.3%, followed by the EU (36.4%).

Global trade in organic products is dependent on the recognition of standards and processes by the importing countries. To counter this barrier, the EU, the US and other countries have entered into equivalence arrangements whereby a country or region may unilaterally or bilaterally recognise the standards, certification process, label, etc., of its trading partner. Seventy-two countries, including India, have fully implemented organic regulations.

Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) had developed regulations for the export of organic produce in 2002, viz. the National Programme for Organic Production (NPOP). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has recognized NPOP conformity assessment procedures of accreditation as equivalent to that of NOP of the US. APEDA is also in the process of bilateral equivalence arrangements with South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Japan, and other countries.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, GoI,  has established the Participatory Guarantee System for India (PGS-India), which is a self-certification process to encourage small and mid-sized farmers to take up organic farming. The total of PGS-certified producers in India is 1.08 million, which is the highest in the world. India is home to 30% of total certified organic producers in the world, and there are export opportunities for value added fruits and vegetables, dairy products, processed livestock, and ready-to-eat food, as they are in demand in the US, the EU, and the UK, which are India’s major export destinations.

There is a need to develop Organic Clusters (OC) and Organic Product Export Zones (OPEZ), providing common infrastructure for processing, production, certification and export of organic food products. Investments in logistics and connectivity of OC and OPEZ to ports and airports too need to be prioritised. Farmer Producer Organisations  (FPOs) could be linked to OC or OPEZ, which could facilitate significant increase in income of small and marginal farm holders. Further, there is a need to promote  “Jaivik Bharat” certification of organic food,   through diplomatic efforts. Product innovations through R&D could be another important strategy to promote exports of organic products.

Participation by India’s policy makers, researchers, organic exporters and farmers at the OWC could certainly be a good opportunity to learn from global best practices for the development and export of organic food products. 

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