Organic Vegetables for Health and Environment
Authors: Nangsol D. Bhutia, Boniface Lepcha, Pradeep. P.Kumar

Vegetables constitute the major portion of human diet and it is referred as “protective food” as they are rich source of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, glucosinolates, antioxidants and fibre. Modern intensive agriculture has led to the indiscriminate use of chemicals that have resulted in food contamination and environment degradation. The morphological structures of some of the vegetable crops are such that, it has a capacity to retain applied chemical substances leading to residual toxicity. This in turn affects the human health as vegetables are often consumed raw or in semi -cooked form. In view of growing awareness of health and environment issues, an emphasis has been given towards alternate forms of agriculture to produce food free of contaminants. Organic farming is one among the broad spectrum of production methods that has multidimensional advantages for all stakeholders. Organic farming improves soil health condition and leads to sustainable production of healthy food. It helps to reduce pollutions, protects ecosystem, conserves biodiversity and protects natural resources as well.

In the present years, organic farming of vegetables is gaining momentum across the world and emerging as an attractive source of income for rural settlements. In world, over 43.7 million hectares of land (1% of total agricultural land) is being managed organically by 2 million producers across 172 countries. Globally, India ranks 9th in Organic Farming according to International Federation of Organic Agriculture Moment (IFOAM) with Australia on top with 22.7 million hectares of land used for organic farming. To promote and encourage organic farming, the government of India on January 2016 declared Sikkim as an organic state.

Principles of Organic farming

The principle of health : Organic farming should sustain and enhance the health of soil, plant, animal, human and planet as one and indivisible.

The principle of ecology : Organic farming should be based on living ecological systems and cycles, work with them, emulate them and help sustain them.

The principles of fairness : Organic farming should build on relationships that ensure fairness with regard to the common environment and life opportunities.

The principle of care : Organic farming should be managed in a precautionary and responsible manner to protect the health and well-being of current and future generations and the environment.

Crop productivity:

The productivity of vegetables in organic farming is low during initial 3-4 years before soil systems regains and crop yields come to comparable level. Hence, it is desirable to have phase approach. Some of the vegetables like cabbage, tomato and pea produced comparable yield to conventional system during third year in organic farming. Whereas crop like cowpea, comparable yield was observed in fourth year of organic farming.

Mixtures of different organic sources like FYM, Vermicompost, Poultry Manure with the bio inoculation with Azotobacter and PSB proved equally effective as compared to inorganic system in crops like tomato, okra and pea.

As organic farming involves use of farm derived inputs, the cost of production is less and this provides feasibility and profitability to farmers. This approach also contributes to more crops per drop and less land, less resource/time and more production strategies of the government.

Soil health

Organic farming improves the soil fertility and quality through addition of organic manure to the soil, which facilitates slow release of nutrients and improves the water holding capacity of the soil. It also improves microbial activity and thus contributes towards improved soil health.

Vegetable quality

The quality, taste and flavour of organically raised vegetables are improved due to increased dry matter content, vitamins, and protein contents and decreased free nitrates. Organic farming also improves the physical attributes like colour, lustre and texture of vegetables.

Disease and pest management: In general, the incidence of pests and diseases are comparatively low under organic production system compared to inorganic systems due to several factors such as application of oil cakes having insecticidal properties, use of green leaf manures such as calotrophis and slightly higher content of phenols in plant parts under organic management. Similarly, decomposed mixture of cow dung, cow urine, curd and wild ocimum reduced DBM and aphid population in cabbage. Natural enemies of crop pests and diseases such as Coccinellids, which naturally reduce hoppers and leaf folders, spiders and Chrysopa. All these components of farming act complementary and supplementary to each other, encouraging natural predators and parasites to act positively thereby, reducing the incidence of pest and diseases. Some of the important crops grown under organic cultivation are Vegetables – Cauliflower, Cabbage, Broccoli, Radish, Carrot, Pea, Capsicum, Tomato, leafy vegetables,Cucurbits; Fruits like Mango, Pineapple, Banana and Spices like Ginger, Turmeric, etc.

Future initiatives

Vegetable crop generally produces a lot of biomass. Through recycling of biomass, vermicompost can be produced. Diversity of flora and fauna can be created by planting Gliricidia on the boundary of organic block and neem tree in the residue management block. Vegetable crops that are potent source of capturing atmospheric nitrogen should be grown as main, inter or green manure crop in the cropping systems. The success of organic farming of vegetables can be achieved by enhancing cropping intensity and encouraging crop diversification through inclusions of different components of vegetables as per climate and soil availability.

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