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Organic Path to Health and Sustainable Living

8 June 2014 07:07 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Industrial civilization that flourished in the West over the last two centuries has made significant inroads into the rest of the world, particularly over the last few decades on the back of neo-liberal economic reforms adopted even by so-called socialist regimes.

The hallmark of industrial development was the possibility of mass consumption of all sorts of commodities and services. Most people sought to work hard to have access to industrial goods and services that made life comfortable, convenient and enjoyable. Scientific inventions and discoveries were quickly made use of by industrialists to produce a plethora of useful machines, gadgets, equipment, commodities, drugs, services, etc. Agriculture became increasingly industrialized.

Machines, chemical fertilizers, agro-chemicals, preservatives, hybrid and genetically modified seeds to produce large quantities of food, new breeding and feeding methods to produce livestock in large quantities and industrial methods to process and package meat and other meat products, etc. became part and parcel of industrial agriculture and livestock farming. Modern supermarkets that came up across industrial countries brought all the food that the masses needed to their neighbourhoods. It took many years for ordinary people to realize that what they consumed was not necessarily good for their health and wellbeing. Evidence began to mount, pointing to the negative effects of mass consumption of certain industrially produced food containing chemical residues and excessive amounts of salt and sugar. While some people have begun to look for non-industrially produced food like organically grown fruits and vegetables, the vast majority of people in all countries continue to consume easily available and more affordable industrial food.




Organic agriculture has the potential to bring together the state, civil society and the private sector for a common purpose. As for the private sector, the promotion of organic agricultural produce can make a lot of business sense





As mentioned before, modern agricultural methods involving agro-chemicals, new seed varieties and chemical fertilizers were also adopted in non-industrial countries like Sri Lanka where agricultural production was previously based on traditional methods. In more recent years, excessive use of pesticides, weedicides, chemical fertilizers, etc. has posed a grave threat to the health and wellbeing of the population at large, not just the farming population exposed to such chemicals directly. For instance, a rapidly spreading chronic kidney disease in certain parts of the country is widely believed to be the result of the exposure to agro-chemical residues in drinking water. It seems reasonable to assume that agro-chemicals also contribute to other diseases such as cancers.

It is against this background that an urgent need has arisen to find a way out of the careless use of toxic agro-chemicals. It is also in this context that more human and environment friendly organic methods of agriculture have become increasingly relevant. Given the many benefits of organic agriculture, every effort has to be made to facilitate the transition to organic farming in all branches of agriculture. To achieve this objective, we could use the distinct advantages that we have in this country, in particular, climatic conditions that are favourable for organic agriculture.

The drive towards organic agriculture has the potential to bring together the state, civil society and the private sector for a common purpose, simply because it can be a win-win-win situation. As for the private sector, the promotion of organic agricultural produce can make a lot of business sense. Private firms can get involved in the entire food chain from input supply through production, sale and popularization of organic food through hotels and restaurants. Civil society could play a major role through public education and community mobilization while the state, of course has the main responsibility in safeguarding public interest. The latter could best be done through right public policies, appropriate state interventions, and support and incentives extended to both civil society and the private sector.

Farmers in this country, particularly food producers, face serious challenges, often due to the increasing cost of production and market fluctuation. Organic farming methods could potentially empower farmers with the state being responsible to develop and refine organic farming techniques. Private companies can also join in. If the inputs required for organic farming could be produced locally, it would be possible to cut down imported inputs and reduce prices so that farmers could produce organic food at a price affordable to the wider public leading to the creation of a large enough market to make organic farming commercially viable.

If we could contain the diseases that are assumed to be caused by the contamination of the food chain by toxic substances; the economic, health and social benefits for the whole country can no doubt be enormous. But the challenges involved in mainstreaming organic farming are quite daunting. Firstly, there is a general tendency in society to resist change, particularly when the desired change is radical and drastic. Secondly, vested interests that benefit from the status quo do not want to abandon present practices. And finally, the transition from conventional to organic farming requires both institutional as well as attitudinal change on the part of the general public. On the other hand, if a broad national consensus could be built on the basis of scientific evidence and humanitarian considerations, the transition could be easier. But, we need to build a broad coalition involving doctors, agricultural scientists, community leaders, publicly spirited politicians, corporate entities, media institutions, intellectuals, etc.

Organic farming has the potential to provide a sound basis for a new, integrated rural economy that can address a range of economic and social issues facing the country today. New rural industries could be established to produce organic fertilizers, natural pesticides, seeds, etc. The money that we spend on imported agro-chemicals today could pay for these inputs provided the government reallocates it to support new rural industries. Women who go to the Middle East as domestic slaves can earn a living in their own villages, while keeping an eye on their own children. Youth who are sent to Korea as itinerant workers can be trained and deployed to perform various tasks along the new food chain. However,  it is only a concerted national effort that could bring about the changes outlined above.
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