Organic farming is a method of cultivation that relies on natural processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions rather than the use of artificial inputs such as synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. It places a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability and the health of the soil. But, a common question that often arises is about its impact on agricultural yields.
Organic farming is of utmost importance due to its numerous benefits for the environment, human health, and long-term sustainability. Pakistan, with a current population of 231.4 million, faces significant challenges in terms of food security and shortages, which are critical not only for the country but also globally.
Considering the projected world population of 9.4 billion, the future calls for maximizing resource utilization to address these challenges. It is worth noting that more than 60-70% of Pakistan’s population relies on agriculture for their livelihoods.
What is Organic Farming
Organic farming is an agricultural approach that focuses on sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. It emphasizes the use of natural inputs, biological processes, and ecological balance to promote soil health, biodiversity, and the production of organic food. Organic farming avoids the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and growth hormones.
Organic farming emphasizes ‘working with nature,’ prioritizing soil management and ecosystem preservation, while avoiding synthetic inputs. It utilizes crop rotation, green manure, compost, biological pest control, and mechanical cultivation to maintain soil productivity and control pests.
Organic Farming and Yield
A common misconception about organic farming is that it produces lower yields than conventional farming. While it’s true that Natural farming might produce slightly lower yields initially, especially during the transition period from conventional to organic farming, long-term studies have shown that organic farms are competitive with conventional farms in terms of yield.
A study published in the journal ‘Nature’ that compared organic and conventional agriculture across 40 years of data found that while Natural farming systems produce lower yields in the initial years, they match or surpass conventional farming systems over the long term. This is because Natural farming improves the health of the soil, increases water retention, and enhances nutrient availability.
Ethics of Natural Farming
The ethics of organic farming: environmental sustainability, animal welfare, reduced chemical exposure, transparency, and local food systems. Organic practices prioritize planet, animal, and human well-being, minimizing negative impacts and ensuring high standards of care.
They also aim to reduce chemical residues and foster a transparent and sustainable food production system.
Types of Organic Farming Methods
Organic farming encompasses various methods and techniques that prioritize sustainable practices, soil health, biodiversity conservation, and the avoidance of synthetic inputs. Crop rotation prevents soil erosion and nutrient depletion, while composting enhances soil fertility. Cover cropping protects against erosion and promotes biodiversity. Integrated Pest Management focuses on natural pest control.
Organic agriculture aims for a safe environment, climate resilience, and enhanced natural resources. Efficient practices seek to work with nature, emphasizing biodiversity, soil health, water conservation, and ecological pest management. Value-added strategies increase profitability while maintaining sustainability in Natural farming.
We adopted a cover crop with a short duration that acts as a beneficial green manure. It covers fallow land, suppresses weeds, improves water holding capacity, and prevents nutrient leaching. Major crops benefit when the cover crop is incorporated into the soil. Examples of cover crops are sesbania, alfalfa, berseem, and cowpea.
Utilizing plant residue after crop harvesting provides significant benefits. Residue mulching and composting enhance soil fertility. Vermicomposting effectively utilizes earthworms to enrich the soil with nutrients. Vermicomposting takes around 80 days, completing the earthworm lifecycle within 90 days, multiplying in 40-50 days. Maintaining 40-50% residue in pits helps control termite and ant attacks.
Apply vermicompost @ 2.5 t/acre at the time of sowing for almost all crops. The soil shouldn’t be warmer than 35°C. No water stagnation for more than 45 days. Due to a higher rate of multiplication, adding cow dung and pieces of banana pseudostem in a 1:1 ratio increases the number of worms.
Recycling of organic residue
Agro-industrial byproducts include oil cakes, paddy husk, bran, bagasse, press mud, sawdust, fruit and vegetable waste, tea, and tobacco waste. Animal manure contains a high percentage (80-90%) of inorganic nutrients derived from their feed, faeces, and urine. Factors such as animal age, type, workload, feed composition, and bedding material influence the nutrient content of the manure. About 40% of organic matter intake is represented by the amount of organic matter excreted.
The microorganisms in biofertilizers rebuild the soil’s organic matter and nutrient cycle. Healthy plants can be grown with the help of biofertilizers, which also improve soil health and sustainability.
Up to 20% more seeds are borne. enhanced seedling emergence and development. 2) Raise the yield from 10% to 40%. 3) Increase fruit quality while maintaining quality. 4) Savings on inorganic fertilisers of 25 to 35 percent. 5) Increase the availability and uptake of N and P in plants. 6) Increase crop productivity and soil fertility while maintaining good soil health.
Benefits of Organic Farming Beyond Yield
While yield is a critical factor in the success of a farm, it’s not the only one. Organic farming offers several other benefits:
- Soil Health: Organic farming practices promote soil health, increase biodiversity, and enhance the fertility of the soil. Healthy soils are more productive and provide more robust crops.
- Environmental Impact: Natural farming practices have less environmental impact compared to conventional farming. They reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy.
- Resilience to Climate Change: Organic farms tend to be more resilient to climate change due to increased soil health and biodiversity. They are better able to withstand extreme weather events and have a lower risk of crop failure.
- Biodiversity: Organic farms harbor more biodiversity than conventional farms, which benefits the ecosystem as a whole, and can also help with pest and disease control.
- Health and Nutrition: Many studies have shown that organically grown food has lower pesticide residues and potentially more nutrients.
Why we adopted organic farming
- To Produce nutritious food by cooperating with natural systems, not dominating them.
- Enhance biological cycles within farming, including microorganisms, soil, plants, and animals.
- To Maintain and improve soil fertility using renewable resources for long-term sustainability.
- Operate in a closed system, minimizing organic matter and nutrient loss.
- To Enable livestock to express natural behaviour and prevent agricultural pollution.
- Preserve genetic diversity in agriculture and surrounding habitats, supporting agriculture.
The question under debate by adopted organic farming:
Does organic farming have the capacity to feed everyone?
The capacity of organic farming to feed everyone is a topic of debate. While proponents argue that Natural farming can provide sufficient food through sustainable practices, critics raise concerns about lower yields compared to conventional farming and potential limitations in meeting increasing food demand.
Is it possible to completely supply crops’ nutritional needs from organic sources?
Supporters of organic farming believe that crops’ nutritional needs can be met through organic sources such as compost and crop rotation. They emphasize sustainable practices that prioritize soil health and nutrient cycling. However, opponents argue that organic farming may face challenges in providing specific nutrients at optimal levels, potentially requiring additional supplementation.
Does organic farming have any noteworthy advantages?
Organic farming is associated with several advantages according to its proponents. These include reduced chemical inputs, improved soil health, biodiversity conservation, and potentially lower environmental impacts. Organic practices prioritize natural resource conservation, ecological sustainability, and the promotion of ecosystem services.
Is the food made by organic farming of a higher calibre?
The quality of food produced by Natural farming is a subject of debate. Supporters claim that organic food is of higher calibre due to the absence of synthetic pesticides and GMOs. They argue that organic crops may contain higher nutrient levels and lower pesticide residues. However, critics argue that nutritional differences between organic and conventionally grown food are minimal and that overall dietary diversity and balanced nutrition are more important than the organic label.
Is organic farming financially viable?
The financial viability of organic farming is a complex issue. Proponents argue that it can be financially viable, with potential advantages such as premium prices for organic products, market demand, and reduced input costs over the long term. However, sceptics contend that organic farming may require higher labour inputs, face greater pest and disease management challenges, and potentially have lower yields, which can impact profitability. Supportive policies, market access, and economies of scale are seen as important factors for enhancing the financial viability of Natural farming.
Can diseases and pests be controlled in organic farming?
Controlling diseases and pests in organic farming is accomplished through integrated pest management (IPM) practices. Proponents emphasize the use of crop rotation, biological controls, and cultural practices to manage pests and diseases. They argue that organic systems encourage natural predator-prey relationships and overall ecological balance. However, ongoing research and innovation are necessary to address potential challenges in disease and pest control effectively.
It is now practised in about >130 countries, with as many as 6,23,000 organic farms managing 31.5 mha of land. With an annual growth rate of 20–25%, demand for organic food is steadily rising in both developed and developing nations. There was only 0.1% organic farming in Pakistan.
Challenges of Organic Farming
Challenges in organic farming include lower yields, pest management difficulties, weed control challenges, nutrient complexities, and specialized knowledge. Research and support are crucial for enhancing sustainability and productivity.
Abdul Rehman Javed
B.Sc. Hons Agriculture (Agronomy)