In recent years, there has been a paradigm shift in consumer preferences. Indian shoppers are becoming more health conscious and mindful of the food they consume. In light of this trend, two modes of farming – residue-free and organic – have become increasingly popular.
In simple terms, zero-residue farming techniques involve protecting and enhancing the growth of seedlings and plants using organically grown bio-fertilizers and biocides.
The product is also grown using synthetic pesticides, which are applied at predetermined intervals so that residues are not present in huge amounts, in accordance with the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL).
Organic farming, on the other hand, is an agricultural system that relies on pest control and bio-fertilizers obtained from animal and plant waste. It even involves planting nitrogen-fixing cover crops.
Residue-free farming eliminates the shortcomings of organic farming techniques. It is essential to favor residue-free farming over organic farming for the following reasons:
The consumption factor
Research now reveals that there are no clear indicators suggesting that organic produce offers superior nutritional value compared to fruits and vegetables grown using other techniques. Residue-free farming practices have successfully overcome this drawback. Since it does not involve any toxins throughout the production process, fruits and vegetables produced in this way are more suitable for people with allergies and other dietary restrictions. Their overall nutritional value and quality are high. Despite the obvious benefits, Indian farmers are not fully embracing residue-free agriculture, which is generally overlooked by buyers and sellers in the local market.
Several state governments have recognized the importance of residue-free products. The ₹2,200 crore SMART (State of Maharashtra Agribusiness and Rural Transformation) project plans to supply the urban population of Pune with residue-free produce.
The factor of production
According to one study, the yield capacity of organic farming methods is so low that relying solely on these techniques will be insufficient to meet the demands of an ever-growing population. Moreover, the production of organic items is expensive and in some cases the profit margin of these products reaches 40%. Residue-free techniques, on the other hand, are economical and do not hinder the quantity of production. It uses modern practices such as poly-houses, grafting, bio-fertilizer management and rainwater harvesting. The Center has launched the All India Network on Pesticide Residues (AINP-PR) project to combat pesticide contamination of several foodstuffs. Many agritech players are also working with farmers to produce residue-free fruits and vegetables.
The environmental factor
Traditional farming practices relied heavily on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These substances are not only detrimental to consumers but also impoverish the quality of the environment around them. For example, they lead to land degradation, water pollution and loss of aquatic life, among others. Although organic farming eliminates this problem, the cost of this operation is very high. The performance is insufficient. Residue-free practices involve minimal or no use of chemicals. They do not interfere with any other aspect of agriculture. As its name suggests, it leaves no harmful traces. To inculcate a culture of food safety in the country, the FSSAI has introduced a list of crop contaminants and their acceptable levels. According to the regulations, the certified levels of the mentioned elements cannot be exceeded during production.
Trade and international standards:
India, apart from its domestic consumption, also caters to the international demand for fresh produce. However, Indian products are rejected because they do not meet international maximum residue limits (MRLs). For example, the EU refused shipments of table grapes from India because they did not meet their strict MRL. In 2020, crops that faced problems on the international front included chili peppers, basmati rice and sesame seeds. Developed countries encourage and promote residue-free crops. Good agricultural practices, together with well-defined MRL standards, are used to ensure residue-free products, and the slightest deviation from their predefined parameters renders the entire consignment useless. To make local products more competitive in the export market, the FSSAI has published a set of MRLs for domestic producer compliance. These standards are established after consideration of global requirements.
The subcontinent’s emphasis on residue-free and clean products has seen a dramatic increase in recent years. Apart from the government and its subsidiary bodies, a plethora of agri-tech players have also stepped in to raise awareness. Many private actors are leveraging technology to empower farmers, streamline the supply chain, integrate end-to-end traceability, and minimize waste through residue-free cultivation.
The writer is CEO and co-founder, Ninjacart
May 15, 2022