The following article is based on a field experiment in International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), where low cost farming systems that involve use of biological inputs obtained from the field is compared with conventional farming.
Further, the authors offer suggestions for future demonstration and verification experiments, to study the virtues of organic farming.
In their introduction, the authors quote a 1999 United Nations study, that says that around 130 countries produce organic food commercially. The authors acknowledge that a farm product is certified 'organic' only, if one of the 20 organic certification agencies stamp it so. This third party verification is a paid for service, with this certification farmers get a good price for their produce.
The authors highlight the important features that are associated with organic farming. They note that many of these practices have been collated by SRISTI. The practices include integrating animals and diverse crops/plants into farming. They see this as a form of biological mining, as trees bring nutrients from deep soil and deposit on the surface through their roots, while animals produce partially digested biomass which is excellent food for earthworms.
The use of loppings from trees grown on field boundaries, use of farm year manure and weeds provides nutrients to the crop. Here the authors discuss various forms of plant biomass, their use and impact on crop production. Some organic farmers also use biodynamic products, the authors found that some of these had a significant number of g-1 bacteria, antagonistic to disease-causing fungi. The authors also highlight the use of 'Amrit Pani' by organic farmers - this is a decoction made by mixing cow dung with cow urine and jaagery and keeping it for three days before use.
While discussing the features of organic farming, the authors also discuss the ongoing experiment at ICRISAT. For example they find that the soil temperature using plant biomass as mulch was 6.5 to 7.3°C lower than the soil temperature using conventional agriculture on the hottest day of 2002.
The authors then explain the method of setting up an experiment to study crop yields between organic and conventional methods. The method suggested comes from the ongoing ICRISAT experience and other studies. The authors discuss size of experimental plots, inputs required and type of data that can be collected over the experiment.
One of the key conclusions of this paper is that the authors are convinced that some features of organic farming have a scientific basis. They also stress the need for further research into organic farming practices.
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