India, primarily an agrarian country has witnessed the growth of organic farming in the past few years. Though the majority of it is meant for export the increase of organic stores in the country also indicates its use internally. Organic farming was being practiced in India for thousands of years, until it took a setback in 1960’s when chemical farming took over as a part of the ‘Green Revolution’. Lately, a number of reports have been doing the rounds about an immense shift in the land use to organic farming but the truth remains to be told.
Agriculture might be the backbone of the Indian economy, but various constraints like fragmentation of landholding, low productivity, conversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural uses and expensive organic certifications has restricted the growth of organic farming. Renowned Indian urban planner Jit Kumar Gupta feels that ‘land has become a commercial commodity to be traded and is being exhausted which is terrible for countries like India where there is such a lot of population to be fed’.
Architecture the world over today is talking about sustainable and green buildings; looking at urban agriculture, a new concept to further this cause. When green buildings are spoken about, green landscaping and terraces being used for agriculture are critical. Ar Jit Gupta adds: “There have been instances of roof gardens and green terraces being most critical for a building. And these roofs are and can be used for organic farming.”
Organic farming in India is being promoted under the National Horticulture Mission, Technology Mission for North East, Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and the National Project on Organic Farming under the Ministry of Agriculture as a part of the Central Government’s tenth five year plan.
A number of states including Maharashtra, Orissa, Nagaland, Sikkim, Gujarat, Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal
Pradesh are involved in organic farming in India. While some states have declared their intention to go 100 percent organic, other states have defined schemes to promote it. Organisations like Navdanya advocate organic farming and train farmers about organic methods. Hence it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the organic movement has again commenced in India.
Famed Indian architect Parul Zaveri, known for her approach to sustainable architecture, has been associated with organic farming through her Kaninneka Foundation and feels that when one talks about conservation, it should mean conserving everything. She questions the news reports about the increase in organic farming and adds that the whole purpose of organic farming is getting defeated by big players coming into the scene.
Whatever the increase may be is it enough for people to see a reverse flow from the cities to the rural areas? Zaveri chuckles: “I am waiting for the day when that happens. That would be the correct mode to reduce the migration to urban cities. Sadly, none of the cities whose models we are following have been able to solve their own problems and nor are we learning from their mistakes. We should just concentrate on the good things that we have in India and organic farming is one of them”.
To which Ashish Gupta, National Steering Committee Member of the Organic Farming Association of India adds, “Unlikely, the factors regarding outward movement from village to cities are flawed government and economic policies. Organic agriculture has no correlation to reverse this flow.” Ditto for Jit Kumar Gupta who feels that the figures of the sudden increase in organic farming being quoted look abnormal. Referring to the data he adds: “Globally the area devoted to organic farming in the world is 0.65% while in India it is 0.3%.
Organic farming does have in it a capacity to redefine architecture. Few examples in Mumbai validate the fact how terraces have been designed to capture sunlight for organic farming. Architecture and Organic farming do have a symbiotic relationship. Organic and kitchen waste generated from buildings are made into manure which is used for organic farming, thus cutting the need of any pesticides.
Organic farming is looking to introduce the concept of urban agriculture which will mitigate the need of transportation of products from rural places, and contribute to the definition of sustainability as a whole, an issue that architecture is trying to confront presently. Adding to this, Ar Gupta says, “If cities are to be made sustainable, cities need to produce their own products and this can only happen when
the land under organic farming increases”.
With the scarcity of land in India, what solutions can we then look to? Ar Gupta advises, “Land should become a national resource in India so that the differences are mitigated - for example there are people who have 4-6 acres of barren land and then there are those people who don’t have a land to stay on too”. He also adds that organic farming needn’t be done in rural areas only, but can step in cities too which can make these cities sustainable. He avers: “Within cities too land must not go out of agriculture but sadly though lots of land is being designated for agriculture but it’s not being used for the same; thus the system needs to be checked and agriculture needs to be safeguarded. We build master plans and keep lands locked for 20 years. Where land is not being immediately required, why not put it to agriculture?”
So, what does the future of organic farming look like in India and architecture in turn? As everyone agrees, it will have to return to the roots. Ashish concludes saying, “What the west calls organic today existed in India long before agriculture itself was established in the west. I would reckon that if government frames bad policies around organic farming, it will end up like the west. But if the policies are pro-India then we will see agriculture returning to its roots as existed for centuries; a healthier India in villages and cities; clean environment and a overall happier country.”
Ar Jit Gupta concludes, “With high rise building and land becoming expansive today it is necessary for architecture to create such spaces where organic farming can be practiced. Rise in organic farming will invariably lead to a greener and more sustainable environment”.
Bengaluru based architect Apurva Bose Duttais an architectural journalist, composing articles for various national and international architectural and interior publications. She can be contacted at email@example.com or reached at www.apurvabose.com
Editorial , London
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