History of Organic Farming
In a broad sense, the history of organic farming may be traced to the first rudimentary farms built by prehistoric humans thousands of years ago. Since then, organic farming was the default method for cultivating all types of crops until the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the 17th and 18th centuries when advances in chemistry introduced synthetic substances to the practice of agriculture. Most of these substances were in the form of artificial fertilizers which were either superphosphates or ammonia-based soil additives. These artificial fertilizers were cheap, effective, and highly portable.
Over the centuries, many of these synthetic chemicals were found to have serious side effects and, in the 1940s, the movement to reintroduce natural farming methods began. This collective reaction—called the Organic Movement—assailed agriculture’s growing dependence on synthetic fertilizers which are found to damage soils, water supplies, wildlife, and people’s health.
To reverse the negative effects of commercial agriculture, organic farming methods utilize scientific research and combine or align these with safe modern technologies, traditional farming techniques, and naturally occurring ecological processes. Unlike commercial farmers, organic farmers refrain from the use of synthetic pesticides and artificial fertilizers. Instead, organic farmers implement various sustainable techniques to enhance soil fertility and manage different types of pests such weeds, insects, and fungi. These ecologically sound techniques include the use of crop rotation, green manure, composting, and biological pest management. All these techniques use naturally occurring components or processes in the environment to improve farming output.
Today, modern organic farming constitute only a fraction of the world’s total agricultural output, with some estimates placing the output level at less than 1 percent. However, this level is expected to rise steeply following a surge in the organic farming and gardening sectors in many countries in Europe, in India, in Australia, and in the United States. This is because the consumer demand for organic products is growing at a healthy pace as more and more people are becoming aware of the environmental impact of conventional farming as well as the purported health benefits of consuming organic products.
In Australia, organic farming currently belongs to the “top 10” growth industries and is being touted as the industry of opportunity in Australia. In India, the age-old agricultural practice called Panchagavya has already been officially sanctioned by the state of Kerala as the preferred agricultural method. Panchagavya is a form of organic farming based on the use of materials associated with the sacred cow in the enhancement of soil fertility and the control of agricultural pests. Meanwhile, similar developments have been reported in Taiwan where the organic sector has grown rapidly with the establishment of more and more organic stores and restaurants to service the demand of the public for healthier and sustainable alternatives. In addition, more than 2,356 hectares of agricultural land have already been converted to organic farms by 2008 for the cultivation of rice, vegetables, fruits, and tea. The Taiwanese government now also offers tax and other incentives to organic farmers. Across the Pacific, consumption of organic produce is slowly becoming a mainstream lifestyle in the United States as different organic products are now available in multinational supermarket chains. In fact, two-thirds of organic milk can now be purchased in typical corporate run supermarkets in addition to the niche organic shops where they were exclusively distributed before.
The market for organic products reached US$55 billion in 2009 which resulted to a corresponding increase in the area of agricultural lands dedicated to organic farming. Worldwide, around 37 million hectares are now being farmed using the sustainable and ecologically sound techniques of organic farming.