Sustainable and organic farming: how are they different? – BusinessLine

 Farming communities worldwide have been slow to adopt organic farming | Photo Credit: PERIASAMY M
Consumers worldwide are becoming more aware of the risks of consuming pesticides and chemical fertilisers through their fruits and vegetables and are moving towards produce grown through more environmentally friendly and cost-effective farming methods. However, most people still do not understand the difference between sustainable and organic farming, and they use the terms interchangeably to describe similar practices. Even though they both work toward the same larger aim of environmental protection, they are very different. So let us delve deep to understand organic and sustainable farming. 
Organic farming has three parts: nutrient management, pest and disease management, and weed management. In organic farming, cattle manure, or farmyard manure (FYM), and other organic products, like city compost, and vermicompost, are used to provide nutrients to crops. These organic components improve the soil’s organic carbon, bulk density, and water retention capacity. However, in terms of nutrients, they aren’t rich sources.  
Even though organic farming is environmentally friendly and sustainable in certain respects, farming communities worldwide have been slow to adopt it. This is because of the high input costs and low yields, at least during the initial years. Above all, carrying out organic farming practices on larger land areas is challenging to implement and sustain. Moreover, the timely availability of organic fertiliser is a big challenge.  
On the other hand, sustainable farming focusses on meeting current demands without jeopardising future generations’ ability to meet their own. As a result, both natural and human resource management are critical. Sustainable farming, unlike organic, is concerned with providing food in the long term. It focusses on a balanced crop nutrition approach that uses organic and inorganic fertilisers and specific microorganisms to increase nutrient availability and efficacy. Besides this, it focuses on water conservation strategies for agriculture, such as water harvesting, recharging aquifers, and storage, because water management is critical for long-term food production and economic security. Furthermore, carbon farming through carbon sequestration plays an essential role in tackling the climate problem. These agricultural practices allow the land to retain more carbon while emitting fewer greenhouse gases, minimising climate adversity. 
Sustainable farming practices are viable for smallholder farmers and help them reap the benefits of climate-smart crops, quality crop yields, and healthier soil, along with additional opportunities to earn extra income for their farming operations through carbon credit generation. 
The Indian subcontinent is diverse, and we have a vast population and about 140 crore mouths to feed; therefore, contemplating a sustainable agriculture method is a smart alternative. But it does not imply that we must go 100 per cent organic. According to the FAO’s revised prediction, global food production should be 60 per cent higher by 2050 than it was in 2005-2007 to feed a projected global population of over 9 billion people, which is 2 billion more than the current population. As a result, the need for food and food security will grow. However, if the soil does not have that amount of nutrient-supplying capacity, the yield would be less, and productivity would suffer, resulting in hunger, food insecurity, and many other problems. 
Considering the gravity of the situation with basic human existence, we need to produce more rather than create something which breaks food security and keeps us hungry. We should consider using organic fertilisers as a supplementary component to preserve soil health and help plants reach their full potential rather than as a substitute for inorganic fertilisers. 
An adequate food supply is essential for the well-being of every living organism, yet, contrary to popular belief, organic farming practices are not always the most sustainable option. Sri Lanka’s current situation suffices to prove this. In April of last year, the Sri Lankan government placed a comprehensive and immediate ban on chemical fertiliser imports. And this impulsive decision resulted in a food crisis in the country. Hence, taking lessons from them, India should focus on following a balanced approach. Once this balanced strategy takes shape, less inorganic fertiliser will be required to grow food. 
(The author is Lead Agronomist, India, Agoro Carbon Alliance)