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ANALYSIS

India requires time-bound vision document with sustainable devpt goals
Friday, 01 September, 2017, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Our Bureau, New Delhi
India needs to create a time-bound strategy or vision document, which will take into account sustainable development goals and organic practices to facilitate a holistic growth of the organic food sector.

This was stated by a report released by Ashish Bahuguna, chairperson, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), and Amitabh Kant, chief executive officer, NITI Aayog, at an event organised by  the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER),

It was based on a pan-India survey, which highlights the critical need to establish a uniform standard and clearly lay out the labelling requirements, logo and punishments for fraudulent practices by unscrupulous traders through a comprehensive policy/guidelines.

In the absence of guidelines laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for the domestic market, the growth of the sector is mired in fraudulence and malpractices, such as selling inorganic products as organic. And making the situation worse is the lack of a framework to penalise such offenses.
 
The report underscored the urgent need for creation of a single nodal agency for the organic sector. The majority of the companies surveyed concurred to a recommendation to appoint the ministry of agriculture and farmer’s welfare as the nodal agency for developing standards and regulating organic practices in India.

Speaking at the event, which was attended by policymakers, academics, foreign embassies and industry, Bahuguna said, “Organic farming is a very effective instrument to promote the idea of sustainability and, hopefully, to increase the wealth and prosperity of the farmers.”

“Most policies in agriculture tend to be consumer-centric and, hopefully, this report will correct the biases of agriculture sector in general and organic farming in particular. Very reputed brands and retail outlets are stocking organic products and the consumers actually do not know, which are certified organic products,” he added.

“In India, we do not yet have appropriate regulatory backing, except for the standards introduced for exports,” Bahuguna stated.

“Our statute does not give us the authority to regulate farming practices. That has to be accepted, and we have to work in the framework of these practices. There is a need to build bridges between farmers, producers and consumers to get more authentic products,” he added.

Kant highlighted that the domestic market was always there to fall back on. “India has the heritage to design organic production system – Sikkim being an example. Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland are doing organic farming and doing well,” he added.

“We need to push for organic farming in the eastern part of India. Seeds and availability of planting material is the most limiting factor in organic agriculture. This is critical, and once we are able to provide that, we will be able to produce a consistent quality product, which is very important,” Kant said.

“More investment is required in organic seed breeding. The way forward is to have some role model farmers who are doing well in terms of organic farming,” he added.

“We need successful stories to replicate. We need to make the returns and economics between for organic farmer and others will emulate them,” Kant said.

“Once there is an adequate number of organic farmers, we need to help them with marketing and other things such as training and on-farm demonstration and other supporting infrastructure,” he added.

“Public-private partnership is required and in the initial stages some support is required for certification,” Kant said.

“The mandi model in India poses a challenge for organic farmers as there is direct access to consumers is required. There is a huge market for organic food in Indian metro cities,” he added.
 
The study, which has been funded by Amway India, a first-of-its-kind, was based on a primary survey of 418 farmers and 83 companies and other stakeholders across different states, including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.

It covered food items namely oilseeds, rice, tea, spices, fruits and vegetables, medicinal plants and herbs.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Rajat Kathuria, director and chief executive, ICRIER, said, “India has the world’s largest number of organic producers. With a comprehensive policy package, our study found that organic food sector has a potential to grow at a rate of 20 per cent, attract domestic and foreign investment, create entrepreneurship, generate employment and help to double farmers’ incomes by 2022.”

“For the holistic growth of this sector, we recommend the creation of a vision document - Organic Vision 2022 and Beyond, which lays down the comprehensive policy, including the short-term and long-term objectives of the government,” he added.

According to the report, “The organic food market is growing currently at a rate of 14 per cent, and is expected to rise to 20 per cent in the next five years.”

It assessed the support the farmers expected subsidised inputs of good quality, better input availability and training from the state governments.

At the same time, farmers also expected a uniform method of certification, faster land certification and crop insurance in terms of assistance from the Central government.

Arpita Mukherjee, co-author of the report, said, “To attract foreign investment in this sector and for the success of the prime minister’s Make in India campaign, India should have a comprehensive policy and a uniform standard for organic encompassing the domestic market, exports and imports.”

“A comprehensive policy will help India to sign equivalence arrangements and be a part of global organic supply chain,” she added.

“As of date, India only has export regulations. FSSAI is trying to develop the domestic guidelines. We hope that this report will help the FSSAI to design a policy that will benefit the country,” Mukherjee said.

Another key issue highlighted by the report was the lack of a database of organic processors, suppliers and other elements of the value chain, which makes it difficult for buyers, especially foreign buyers to identify the right partner.

There is no data on India’s trade in organic products. The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) only provides product export data for some years, but there is no data available by a harmonised system of classification, as is done by countries such as the United States.

Siraj Hussain, former secretary, ministry of food processing industries (MoFPI) and ministry of agriculture and farmer’s welfare, said, “Ideally farmers under the Participatory Guarantee System for India (PGS-India) should be able to export, but the study rightly points out that they are not able to, since NPOP (third-party certification) is mandatory for exports.”

“This is a gap in our policy. If our PGS farmers are able to export, trade can happen between India and other developing countries which promote PGS, and it will be a win-win situation for our farmers,” he added.

“For this, we should have a uniform standard, but the certification process (self-certification or mandatory certification) may vary, and farmers should have the right to decide which process they choose and what market they want to access,” Hussain said.  

“The report has highlighted the urgent need to bring clarity on the definition and the Standards for Organic Food Products grown in India and also imported into India, so that there is an uniform standard for the consumers,” said Bejon Misra, founder, Consumer Online Foundation, and member, Central Advisory Committee (CAC), FSSAI.

“The country’s apex food regulator should harmonise with the existing standards of APEDA, and ensure quality of organic food standards and label information are not compromised and deceptive for consumers in India,” he added.

“FSSAI must immediately implement the recommendations emerging from the report, and assure the consumers of the quality and standards of organic food products in the supply chain, so that they do not get misled by false advertisements and misbranding,” Misra said.

The aims of the ICRIER survey were to (a) understand the recent trends and developments in  organic farming in India, (b) identify the global best practices, (c) examine the measures taken by the government to support organic farming and organic food, (d) identify the issues faced by organic farmers and organic processed food producers, exporters, importers and other supply chain agents and (e) make  policy recommendations on how to design a comprehensive policy for India based on the global best practices and the country’s own requirements.
 
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