What was the state of organic in India when the country hosted the Organic World Congress (OWC) in 2017?
There was an organic movement two, three decades before the OWC came to India. The ministry of agriculture had an agricultural policy in place. However, the OWC helped to tilt the policy to organic. Before, policy focused mostly on having greater production.
However, after Shri Radha Singh Mohan, the Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India, came to the OWC, he was very impressed by the information and experiences shared.
The Green Revolution helped to increase production but the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has destroyed thousands of hectares of land and brought about a crisis in Indian agriculture.
How did the OWC impact the organic movement in India?
It catalysed the organic movement in India and even enabled it to grow much more. The Organic Farming Association of India (OFAI) hosted the OWC whose impact was immense. The OWC uplifted the organic movement and brought everyone from all-over the globe together. You might get to experience something similar in the next OWC that will be in France from 6 – 10 September 2021.
India is a huge country (about 3.287 million km²) with 28 states. So to have farmers and organic entities from all the different regions coming together to share and learn was such a powerful experience. Organic farmers received recognition and also respect from their states as well as internationally.
Before winning the bid to host the OWC, we had the government on one side and civil society on the other. However, when we got the confirmation that we were to host the congress, the government recognised us (OFAI) as a credible and important farmers’ organisation that has local, national and global impact.
Because of approaching different state and national organic ministries in the country, many different government departments opened their doors for civil societies like OFAI. With such a gap bridged on both national and state level, we were able to get support from the government and work together to organise the congress.
After the OWC, BIOFACH India also collaborated with OFAI to organise a special feature at the event where farmers’ market and a farmer focussed conference were organised.
Why did India host the OWC in 2017?
When we were in the previous OWC in Turkey (2014), we were so inspired and also learnt a lot. However, we hardly saw any farmers presenting or coming together to share. We knew that if we hosted the OWC, we would show the rest of the world that organic farmers are the main producers of this value chain and an integral part of discussions on food security. That is why we put in a bid to host and when we won it, we never looked back.
We knew organic farmers would be addressed in the status of an expert and could present in the organic world congress about their work. That is what led us to develop the Farmers’ track where farmers from different continents presented their experiences. That track gave the opportunity for the farmers to share their knowledge, learn and also share a sense of bonding among each other.
How did the OWC benefit INOFO?
We were happy that 43% of those who joined the OWC in India were farmers which was an aim of ours when hosting; to put farmers at the forefront. The Intercontinental Network of Organic Farmers Organisations (INOFO) helped farmers put their presentations together for the Farmers’ track.
It became a sort of trend where farmers track is one of the side events at any conference. At the Africa organic congress in Senegal, INOFO organised the Farmers’ track and continues to do so in other events.
The OWC gave not only INOFO but the organic movement a boost and much awaited visibility.
As an organic farmer, how did the OWC impact you?
It helped farmers come from different regions of India and the world to come closer. It was a unique opportunity for an organic farmer like me to meet farmers from south America, Africa, Europe, North America, Australia and other parts of Asia to share our sentiments of being a farmer.
Sometimes we have preconceptions that large-scale farmers don’t understand small-scale farmers, but when we interact, we find out that we have lots of similarities regarding the challenges we face. We may have varying degrees of the same challenge, but we are affected almost in the same way. Because of the OWC, I was able to interact and learn from other farmers for example, from Japan or Ghana that I ordinarily would not have had the chance to have a personal exchange with.
Why is a congress like the OWC relevant?
It catalyses and accelerates the process of the organic movement. I actually advise all future hosts to take advantage of the opportunity when hosting to include all stakeholders of the value chain; from producers, regulators, to consumers.
It is relevant for scientists to know of the farmers’ work on the ground and for the farmers to learn about discoveries and experiences from the scientists. When all stakeholders are included in the conversation, a lot of exchange happens and this can have an enormous impact on policy advocacy.