India is a treasure trove of biodiversity and has been home to several field and horticultural crops encompassing an astonishing diversity of taste, nutrition, pest resistance and, especially in this era of climate change and natural disasters, adaptability to a range of conditions. The complexity of soils, topography and climate has created an exceptional variety of biomass and specialized habitats in the country. Although the country’s agricultural production has grown tremendously with the technology of the Green Revolution, the reckless use of chemical agricultural inputs has had adverse effects on soil properties as well as microflora and fauna. In order to recover the soil and its properties, the need for alternative options arose.
Organic agriculture is a production management system that promotes and improves the health of agro-ecosystems, including biodiversity, life cycles, and soil biological activity. It emphasizes the use of management practices in preference to the use of non-agricultural inputs, taking into account that regional conditions require locally adapted systems using, where possible, methods agronomic, biological and mechanical, as opposed to the use of synthetic materials, to fulfill a specific function within the system.
Lack of certification
Agriculture is followed in many parts of the country by using seeds adaptable to local conditions, following crop rotation, using on-farm inputs for soil conditioning and pest and disease management, with better means for soil and water conservation, etc. the principles of organic farming are practiced in these farms, the lack of certification does not allow these products to be labeled as organic. In addition, the lack of an organized chain of custody limited the entry of products into major supply chains. The country also found that the certification and trade system was put in place on the basis of the regulations of importing countries, but with an additional financial burden for producers and exporters.
Considering the commercial potential of Indian products in mainly developed countries, an institutional mechanism has been developed in the country and was notified in 2001 as the National Program for Organic Production (NPOP) under the Development Law of India. Foreign Trade (FTDR) of the General Directorate of Foreign Affairs. Commerce (DGFT).
The NPOP has since been implemented under the general direction of the Ministry of Commerce as the supreme body, while the Authority for the Development of Exports of Processed Food and Agricultural Products (APEDA) serves as the secretariat for its implementation. implemented. Thus, the regulatory system was put in place in India mainly involving the plantation sector which was one of the sectors of organized agricultural trade. However, as market penetration has been successful for other products also in foreign markets, certification has been extended to other crops and agricultural products.
The NPOP has also paved the way for the certification of trade in minor forest products as organic products in addition to crop production ensuring ecosystem balance and sustainability. This made it possible to include parts of herbal products such as stem, flower, bark, root, bud, fruit, etc. in the organic basket.
Value driven business
In most countries, certification in general is a value-driven activity that drives up costs, which ultimately trickle down to the final exported product. However, it has been guaranteed in the NPOP that it gives the opportunity to private and government organizations to create healthy competition and more opportunities, especially for farmers. Thus, state government organizations also function as certification bodies in addition to private organizations on the basis of the established competence and system for inspection and certification according to ISO 17065. At present, out of 32 bodies of certification accredited under the NPOP, 12 are state government organizations that are eligible to operate anywhere in the country.
Although the certification system had been developed in the country, the biggest challenge had been to enroll small and marginal farmers in the system. As they are an integral part of the agricultural sector and also to enable them to meet the requirements of the standard, the certification of producer groups has been introduced under the NPOP. Under this system, a group of farmers collectively obtains certification in an affordable manner, which enables them to supply an adequate quantity of certified products. This has made a revolution in the Indian organic farming community as the certification of cultivable land has spread to almost all states and territories in the Union. In 2020-2021, 1.6 million farmers were certified under the NPOP, making India the largest number of producers in the world. India has also reached the fifth position in the world in terms of certified cultivable land.
Having a national regulation was not only the objective of the NPOP as it does not guarantee the entry of Indian products into an overseas market. Consequently, negotiations have been initiated with the governments of the main importing countries for the acceptance of the NPOP. The European Commission and Switzerland have granted NPOP equivalence for unprocessed plant products, which has helped to improve the export of organic products without additional certification in accordance with the regulations of importing countries. Indian organic products are allowed for export to Great Britain also under a similar agreement based on equivalence with the EU. Efforts are underway to conclude recognition agreements with Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates, etc.
Initially, the NPOP only covered crops and processed food products, but demand for other product categories facilitated the development of production standards for organic livestock, poultry, aquaculture, beekeeping, etc. At the same time, there has been a demand for organic animal feed in organic livestock. and the poultry farming sector of the importing country, resulting in inclusion in the scope of the NPOP. Several other categories such as fungi, algae, aquatic plants and greenhouse crops have also been included in the NPOP. Recently, the processed form of Indian organic fibers and their products has recently been included with organic cosmetics and personal care products on a voluntary basis.
The conformity assessment system was developed under the NPOP and the system has been put in place in the country by APEDA since its inception to regulate and monitor the export of organic products. However, in recent times, the NPOP standard has also been recognized for importing organic products into India and also for domestic trade.
Overcome the obstacle of traceability
The wide range of products with a varied season and cultivation pattern managed by a large number of growers in the country was an obstacle in demonstrating the traceability of each export shipment. However, this was also overcome by the implementation of the very first global traceability system for organic products. The web-based traceability system, Tracenet, not only provides traceability, but also serves as a tool for the regulator to track and monitor certified products.
Despite the major milestones that have been achieved under the NPOP, due to additional requirements from importing countries, third party process certification under the NPOP sometimes requires product certification for a few specific destinations. This makes trading in Indian organic products more expensive and really reliable on analytical methods.
Thanks to efforts over the past two decades to develop and establish the regulatory framework and conclude recognition agreements with importing countries, India was able to record a remarkable record of $ 1.04 billion in exports in 2020- 2021, compared to just $ 13 million in 2002-03. . The fiscal year saw a 51 percent increase in export value in terms of the previous year. Despite this, India has not yet widened its horizon as currently trade is mainly limited to bulk products. To open up opportunities for the processed food sector, provisions have been made in the guidelines of the APEDA financial aid scheme for the benefit of processors and exporters.
A constant supply of raw materials is another challenge in meeting export demands. However, through various awareness programs and buyer-seller meetings, certified operators are brought together under one roof to meet supply and demand.
Consumers are turning to organic foods as they take a closer look at their health, wellness and nutrition. However, India has successfully entered the overseas market by asserting the integrity and traceability of organic products. The merging of the credible system and the potential demand created increased opportunities for Indian organic products through which export was made to 58 countries in 2020-21. India has kept an eye out for new destinations such as Vietnam, Israel, Chile, Malaysia, Australia, etc. doubling exports means ensuring that the recognition of the “India Organic” brand on the world market is also maintained by all stakeholders.
(The author is president of APEDA)