It's a green growth in many ways. The vegetables, fruits, grains and pulses are grown naturally – without the use of pesticides and fertilizers; the number of outlets in the city selling these is more now and more farmers are switching over to organic farming in this region.
Despite challenges such as high prices, lack of sustained supply of some products and the need for incentives for farmers to continue organic cultivation, the concept of organic food seems to be catching on in the city.
Customers walk in asking for organic rice for their children or organically-grown vegetables for special occasions at home, says M. Vivek who runs Organic Supermarket with his partner V. Vinesh. There are households that prefer their entire monthly grocery from the organic range, adds Shantha Ramaswamy of Sreevatsa Organic Farm Products.
The product range has expanded during the recent years with even processed organic food available at the outlets.
Dairy products, easy-to-cook, masala powders, soaps, and washing powders are available in the organic basket. Customer list has increased manifold for these outlets during the last couple of years.
The products are in different categories: third party certified items, those from the participatory guarantee system where a group of farmers stands guarantee for each other, organically-grown products in the case of farms that are yet to get the certification, and branded organic food.
The sources for the outlets include Coimbatore region, Chengalpattu, Bangalore, Chennai, Andhra Pradesh, and Kolkata.
Though high prices are one reason for the relatively low consumption, farmers want more such outlets so that they have a platform to sell their produce, says Ms. Ramaswamy.
High cost of fertilizers and pesticides and increasing concern on soil health are forcing several farmers to look at the organic option. But, they need more support to switch over to organic cultivation.
“We need to build support for them and develop their confidence,” says Mr. Vivek.
When demand increases and people are willing to pay a little more, it gives a boost to the farmers, he adds.
Valarmathi, who moved over to organic farming for vegetables raised on 11 acres at Perundurai, says the demand is high and she is now requesting some of her neighbours to take up organic farming. She even provides them the natural inputs such as panchakavyam and pays them more for the vegetables they supply.
K.R. Sadasivam, who has a 100-acre organic farm at Kuppanur near Coimbatore, says he grows tomato, chilli, grapes, brinjal and banana. Though he supplies to several organic outlets in the city, a large volume goes to the regular market and does not get a higher price. The yield has dropped for grapes and such drop in yield can deter farmers from continuing organic farming, he says.
A source at Keystone Foundation says it focuses on encouraging more farmers to take on to organic farming. With fragmented land-holding pattern in the country, small farmers need government incentives to buy organic inputs. This will make the prices of the produce more realistic.
There are some pockets/villages in the Nilgiris where the farmers have completely switched over to organic farming. The switching over process is expensive.
Malls are brand-driven and hence have branded organic food. One main factor for the success of exclusive organic food outlets is the trust of customers.
Those at the shops should explain to the customers the source of the products and the process of organic cultivation.
In the future, farmers may start coming together to open counters in super and hypermarkets as in Europe.
The growing consumption of organic food and more outlets and counters that sell these products are expected to encourage more farmers to go organic.