The approach and outlook towards agriculture and marketing of food has seen a quantum change worldwide over the last few decades. Whereas earlier the seasons and the climate of an area determined what would be grown and when, today it is the "market" that determines what it wants and what should be grown. The focus is now more on quantity and "outer" quality (appearance) rather than intrinsic or nutritional quality, also called "vitality". Pesticide and other chemical residues in food and an overall reduced quality of food have led to a marked increase in various diseases, mainly various forms of cancer and reduced bodily immunity.
This immense commercialisation of agriculture has also had a very negative effect on the environment. The use of pesticides has led to enormous levels of chemical buildup in our environment, in soil, water, air, in animals and even in our own bodies. Fertilisers have a short-term effect on productivity but a longer-term negative effect on the environment where they remain for years after leaching and running off, contaminating ground water and water bodies. The use of hybrid seeds and the practice of monoculture has led to a severe threat to local and indigenous varieties, whose germplasm can be lost for ever. All this for "productivity".
In the name of growing more to feed the earth, we have taken the wrong road of unsustainability. The effects already show - farmers committing suicide in growing numbers with every passing year; the horrendous effects of pesticide sprays (endosulphan) by a government-owned plantation in Kerala, India some years ago; the pesticide-contaminated bottled water and aerated beverages are only some instances. The bigger picture that rarely makes news however is that millions of people are still underfed, and where they do get enough to eat, the food they eat has the capability to eventually kill them. Yet, the picture painted for the future by agro-chemical and seed companies and governments is rosy and bright.
Another negative effect of this trend has been on the fortunes of the farming communities worldwide. Despite this so-called increased productivity, farmers in practically every country around the world have seen a downturn in their fortunes. The only beneficiaries of this new outlook towards food and agriculture seem to be the agro-chemical companies, seed companies and - though not related to the chemicalisation of agriculture, but equally part of the "big money syndrome" responsible for the farmers' troubles - the large, multi-national companies that trade in food, especially foodgrains.
With the increase in population our compulsion would be not only to stabilize agricultural production but to increase it further in sustainable manner. The scientists have realized that the ‘Green Revolution’ with high input use has reached a plateau and is now sustained with diminishing return of falling dividends. Thus, a natural balance needs to be maintained at all cost for existence of life and property. The obvious choice for that would be more relevant in the present era, when these agrochemicals which are produced from fossil fuel and are not renewable and are diminishing in availability. It may also cost heavily on our foreign exchange in future.
There is more and more evidence that chemical based fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are extremely harmful to our health. Conventional agriculture relies heavily on chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, which are harmful to human health, and which enter the food supply, penetrate water sources, harm the livestock, deplete the soil, devastate natural eco-systems, and contaminate the foods grown for the general public. In addition to which, there are over 7000 artificial and/or chemical preservatives and additives permitted in non-organic food including colorings, stabilizers, fillers, residual antibiotics, hydrogenated fats, etc. none of which are permitted in organic foods.
Not only do whole communities become subject to the dangers of toxic agricultural chemicals, they seep into the food on which they are applied; and the foods grown for the general pubic become contaminated as well. In many places trees have stopped bearing fruit because the heavy use of pesticides has killed the pollinators – the bees and butterflies.
This is where organic farming comes in. Organic farming has the capability to take care of each of these problems. Besides the obvious immediate and positive effects organic or natural farming has on the environment and quality of food, it also greatly helps a farmer to become self-sufficient in his requirements for agro-inputs and reduce his costs.