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Appetite for organic food spurs debate in India

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In a seven-acre plot of farmland south of the city, T. Mohan hunches over to weed the soil he recently planted with sesame. He just harvested his paddy crop, which - as it has for the past 30 years - had a good yield.

In three decades, Mr. Mohan has gone from a struggling paddy farmer to a prosperous one - using methods that are now discouraged by proponents of organic farming.

More than 30 years ago, India eagerly embraced the genetically engineered high-yielding seed stock, chemical pesticides, and fertilizers of the Green Revolution to combat frequent famines. Dams and irrigation projects were built, enabling farmers to plant two or more crops a year without being dependent on the vagaries of the monsoon.

The Green Revolution was so successful in India that it ramped up food grain production from 797 pounds per acre of cultivated land in 1967, when it began, to 1,697 pounds per acre in 2000. [Editor's note: The original version gave incorrect units of measurement for grain production.]

Now some of these gains that allowed India to feed itself are being challenged by the increasing European and American demand for organic food, from pesticide-free cashews to cold-pressed coconut oil.

The spread of organic farming in India is beginning to pit concerns about the supply of food for the masses against what are widely considered the environmentally unsustainable practices of the Green Revolution.

"The Green Revolution definitely had benefits but also many unwanted side effects that are becoming more apparent," says Gunter Pauli, founder-director of the Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives, based in Tokyo.

In India, organic farming received a boost at the start of the new millennium when the income potential of organic exports was realized. According to Dr. P. Bhattacharya of the National Center of Organic Farming, in Ghaziabad, India represents one tenth of the world's organic cultivation.


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