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India: organic sector makes better use of its potential

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The Indian subcontinent, with its vast population, has not only a huge number of small farmers and over four million hectares of organically managed land but also an increasing number of well organized and professionally run organic companies. This became apparent at BioFach India together with India Organic in Kochi/Kerala in November 2014 and during a tour to projects in the federal state of Kerala. A number of states are actively promoting organic agriculture and even plan to convert all their farming to organic in the near future. The Himalaya state Uttarakhand seeks to preserve its natural resources through organic agriculture.

Interesting exhibitors - here Organic Uttarakhand - from all parts of India presented themselves at BioFach India together with India Organic. Photo Karin Heinze

Buyers delegation



An international group of company representatives and buyers who travelled to BioFach India)

Many companies offer raw material for export. Photo Karin Heinze

Many companies offer raw material for export. Photo Karin Heinze

The Indian organic sector is becoming more professional year on year (see our earlier reports). In part this is down to the initiative of a number of pioneers, but it is pleasing to see that there is also a younger generation operating successfully in the organic industry. The best example is the young managing director of Terra Greens Organic, Likitha Bhanu. She has taken over the marketing of the products grown on her mother’s organic farm and by 2,000 small farmers who collaborate with Terra Greens Organic. The product range encompasses fresh vegetables, herbs, fruit, cereals and cereal products, pulses, spices, honey, tea and conserves. Under the Terra Greens Organic brand, she markets over 90 products via home delivery, an online shop and specialist stores and supermarkets.

Likitha Bhanu is a young entrepreneur who is convinced that organic food is not a luxury but is a necessity for healthy nutrition and a healthy environment – all of which is encapsulated in the slogan “Choosing organic is not just about eating healthy and natural food but also about caring for the environment”.
(Pictures: Terra Greens Organic at BioFach India, left. Agronic Inc. with its brand Green Sense, right)

Opening ceremony

Opening ceremony at BioFach India. Photo Karin Heinze

Both the national government and the governments of the federal states are increasingly recognising the benefits of organic agriculture and the marketing opportunities. This was emphasised at various points during the opening ceremony. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quoted: “Today we see huge demand for organic products. The people who are interested in holistic health are prepared to spend a lot of money on organic food, and the Indian government wants to be involved in satisfying this global demand.” Without a doubt there is worldwide demand for organic raw materials, but on the domestic market too demand is growing just as strongly, especially in the big cities (we have already reported on this phenomenon).

At the Biofach show.

Big crowds at BioFach India together with India Organic in the ADLUX International Convention Centre in Kochi. Photo Karin Heinze

Governments at national and federal state level have made finance available for a series of programmes, and in the forefront are some Himalaya states (Sikkim, Uttarakhand) and also Kerala in the south of India. The organic umbrella organization, the International Competence Center for Organic Agriculture (ICCOA), is involved in the project work, advisory services and training.

Visiting an organic farm

Visiting an organic farm. Photo Karin Heinze

According to official data, 600,000 hectares are currently certified for organic cultivation, and a vast 4.12 million hectares are certified for wild collecting. According to the ICCOA, over 165,000 tonnes of products valued at 534 million US dollars were exported in 2012-13. Turnover on the domestic market comes to approximately the equivalent of 95 million US dollars. The aim of the organic industry is to raise total turnover to a billion US dollars in 2015-16. Experts agree that the potential is there, but the biggest obstacles continue to be the lack of infrastructure and the training and then the further training of farmers. Regarding the domestic market, there is still a great deal to be done in terms of educating consumers in all things organic. (Picture: Small farmers in Kerala with cocoa fruits)

Pictures: Impressions of the trade fair: entrance to the fair, Tattva inc., one of the big Indian organic enterprises, Cgh Earth hotels presenting its concept on the fair. Photos Karin Heinze

Entrance to BioFach India trade fair

Photo Karin Heinze

The specifically organized B2B meetings made an important contribution to market development and the success of this year’s BioFach India. In the Buyers’ Lounge, 188 discussions were held between organic exhibitors and 21 company buyers from Germany, France, Holland, Italy, Austria, Uganda, the USA and the United Arab Emirates. Participants in the group from Europe said they were very pleased with the organization and efficiency of the discussions. The buyers from Germany, Holland and Italy were looking for suppliers of tea, coffee, spices, cereals, pulses, oil seed and coconut products. (Picture: In-depth discussions in the Buyers´ Lounge at BioFach India together with India Organic)

organic farmer

Organic farmer  Photo Karin Heinze

When the trade fair came to an end, we were able to take part in a five-day trip to farms and organic enterprises – an opportunity to get a first-hand impression of farming and processing. The tour took us to small- farmer projects in the mountainous Idukki district, to Nutmeg Greens, a small organic resort with extensive organic farming, and finally to Poabs, which is one of the biggest Demeter farms in the world. First stop was the Bathel family farm, where Joseph Uppumakkal and his family farm surrounded by the forest to the east of Kochi.
(Pictures: Small farmers in Kerala produce a wide variety of crops)

Several generations are involved in farming the roughly three hectares of land that produce a surprising variety of crops - pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves and cocoa, and in addition they get rubber from a small plantation. Their own tree nursery and an irrigation system make the farm self-sufficient. All their surplus is sold via an agent; they are still looking for a partner for exporting. The livelihood of the extended family is ensured by fruit trees (bananas, papaya, mango), by growing staple foods like yams and by cattle keeping.

Nutmeg Greens is the name of the eco resort plus farm to the north-east of Kochi. Entrepreneur Mathew Urumbath bought the property a few years ago, and here he lives his love of botany, animal keeping and organic farming. He has planted hundreds of productive and decorative trees on the extensive site – they surround the farmhouse, in which there are five rooms for guests. Nutmeg Greens is ideal for family celebrations, business meetings and holidaying. At the weekend, lots of urbanites and families come and enjoy the biodiversity of plants and animals.

Pictures: Nutmeg Greens familiarises consumers with organic farming and organic food. Initiator and owner Mathew Urumbath, rubber plantation. Photos Karin Heinze

organic farm

Rubber plantation
Rubber plantation Photo Karin Heinze

Where the Western Ghats mountain range comes to an end, in a fabulous location in the Nelliampathy Hills you find the extensive Poabs Estates, that lie at different altitudes ranging from 1000 m to ca. 1,500 m. Tea, coffee (Arabica, Robusta) and spices (pepper, cardamom, vanilla, etc.) are grown on 350 hectares in keeping with bio-dynamic principles, and this makes Poabs the biggest multi-crop Demeter farm in family ownership in the world. The history of the farm goes back more than 100 years. It was bought in 1988 by the Jacob family and, at great cost, completely converted to bio-dynamic cultivation. Since 2001, Poabs Estates has been certified Demeter.

Video interview with Abraham and Joseph Jacob, Poabs Estates. © Karin Heinze

Poabs is a flagship farm on account of 230 cows, an extensive composting facility, a garden for growing plants for special Demeter preparations plus a laboratory to create other beneficial Demeter substances and a fully equipped laboratory for producing organic fertilizers and plant strengthening agents. The hillsides, with their stone-wall terraces and an irrigation system fed by four artificially created ponds, were largely laid out afresh with new tea and coffee bushes and spice plants.

Picture: Poabs Tea, Coffee and Spices Estates is in all respects an exemplary farm. Photos Karin Heinze

In two more plantationsRainforest Alliance and Fairtrade-certified – there are more than 700,000 tea and coffee bushes. Up to 700 people are employed during the peak season at Poabs Farm in Nelliampathy, that as well as plantations and agriculture has a processing plant for the coffee beans and a tea factory. The Jacob family does a great deal for the welfare of their workers: there’s a primary school and a bus to a high school, loans for children’s education, a church/temple, medical facilities and the opportunity to grow vegetables, keep ducks and fish in the irrigation ponds.





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