KHERA KALAN: In the world we live today, whether it’s the air we breathe, the water we drink or the food we eat, everything contains a growing share of pollutants. When it comes to food, particularly fruits and vegetables, most of it is grown with the help of synthetic fertilisers, insecticides, and pesticides.

Farmers make excessive use of these, regardless of the consequences to human or environmental health, in order to maximise their profits, but they fail to understand the side effects in the long run, or disregard them because of the effects of competition.

To cope with this situation, organic farming has proved quite effective. Today around 2.5% of arable land in India, or 1.5 million hectares, is cultivated using organic methods.

Organic farming is a production system which eschews the use of synthetically compounded fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators, genetically modified organisms or food additives for livestock. As such it is better for plant and animal life, and can reduce pollution, conserve water, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, and use less energy.

Farming without pesticides is also better for nearby birds and animals as well as people who live close to farms. As many toxic synthetic compounds enter the food chain and eventually our diets, organic farming can also improve our health.

The trend is growing rapidly. Farmers all over India are substituting their methods of farming with organic ones due to these factors.

In a village named Khera Kalan situated in the outer regions of Delhi, farmers have switched to purely organic methods of farming. Khera Kalan is a kind of semi-urban area with people working in all three sectors of the economy. A slight plurality work in the primary sector, and there are also people working in both the primary and secondary sectors.

The farmers here have refrained completely from the use of chemical products over the past 4 to 5 years. When asked why, they say that it’s way healthier to cultivate crops organically than with chemical methods, for consumers as well as the soil.

“Money may come and go over time, but we can't risk the health of our family members for a few bucks. I have observed a significant improvement in my family’s health ever since I stopped using chemical fertilisers to grow my crops, and switched to organic manure,” says Surender Singh Rana, a farmer here.

Organic manure is made using cattle waste, vegetable and fruit waste like rinds and peels, dry leaves, and water.

Another farmer, Mukesh Singh, says he observed his soil’s fertility decrease year by year when he was using chemical fertilisers. This meant he had to use even more fertiliser each year, which affected the soil very badly.

“But when I switched to organic methods, after a year or two the soil’s fertility started to increase again. At first it was slow growth, and I did consider going back to chemical methods, but with some patience the yield was pretty good in the fourth year. That was when I swore I wouldn’t touch the chemical products again.”

When told that the government offers subsidies to buy synthetic fertilisers, Singh exclaimed that he would not take them even for free.

At present the main limitation of organic farming is that organic products are 3 to 4 times more expensive than the industrially produced chemical products. Organic crops are also slightly more prone to catching a crop virus or pests, which sometimes results in low yields. For this reason organic crops require extensive care.

But as another farmer Animesh Singh suggested, “We should prefer eating less but good food rather than more of unhealthy products.” Singh even compared the chemical products to a sort of poison which farmers mix into their crops, while spraying these fertilisers and insecticides.

The exorbitant price of organic products is expected to decrease over time as the trend of organic farming is rapidly spreading its roots to larger areas.

Fertilisers are mostly used to add macronutrients like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus to the soil, but soil health relies on a balance of both macro and micronutrients.

A major problem with excessive use of these macronutrients is that of groundwater contamination. Nitrogen fertilisers break down into nitrates that can travel easily through the soil. Since they are water soluble they can remain in the groundwater for decades, resulting in its pollution.

Groundwater contamination has been observed as a cause of diseases like goitre, stomach cancer, gastric cancer, birth malformations and many more.

Another fertiliser which is commonly used, urea, produces ammonia emanations which contribute to acid rain, as well as ozone depletion due to the release of nitrous oxide.

Pesticides and insecticides also cause many health problems. According to research conducted at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, they are a major cause of weakened immunity and malfunctioning endocrine and nervous systems in foetuses as well as children, which further hampers their learning ability and increases children’s levels of aggression.

Keeping all this mind, organic products seem like a healthier substitute for synthetics. They offer way more nutrients to the soil, and help reduce the health risks associated with consuming chemically treated foods.

Now is the time to switch to organic.