Over the past few years, Indians have suddenly woken up to the fact that their lifestyles have grown extremely unhealthy. A rise in general awareness along with greater international exposure has brought the focus sharply on the growing incidence of lifestyle diseases in urban cities, causing people to become more health conscious. Social media has been instrumental in generating the awareness about the junk food we consume and its ill-effects.
People have begun to realize that more than 90 percent of the lifestyle diseases are avoidable. Health care is growing more expensive, and fear of ill health is also leading people to take enough precautionary foodbased measures. This awareness is also supported by celebrities, in India and elsewhere, which is helping in promoting a healthy lifestyle and switching to organic diets. The celeb factor adds the chic quotient to the organic food lifestyle. Also, Indians have begun realizing the extent of contamination of food, right from the ground level. Social media has also helped create more awareness about the harmful effects of chemicals used in farming. Preventive health and food safety are the two most important factors that innately drive people to opt for organic foods.
The organic food trend has primarily been driven in urban metros like Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi. The rural population, though responsible for growing the food we eat, has not yet been entirely educated as to the ill-effects of contaminated food. But there is an age-old knowledge of foods and crops among the rural dwellers that works to their benefit. They also have access to fresher fruits and vegetables, which is one of the key products in demand in the urban metros.
There has been extensive coverage about the pollution levels in water and soil in recent years, giving rise to fears about what is on our plate. Parents are worried about the amount of lead in fruits and vegetables, which are fed to infants and children. The shift towards organic food was first seen in these products. Today, sugar, maida and other run-of-the-mill products are also being brought under the ‘organic’ category. Almost every product is available under the ‘organic’ category, including water! Karnataka’s push towards millets has created a new avenue of conversation of what constitutes organic foods.
Certification of organic foods was a major step in organizing this market. The current certified and organized organic market is approximately Rs 2,500 crore and has been growing at a CAGR of 20 percent. To ensure that this growth continues, the market needs to be scrutinized more and become more regulated. The focus has to be on building trust about this movement and the products, and to ensure that we do not veer away from the true intentions of this organic drive. The practice of bringing in all unhealthy food products under the organic label will erode the authenticity and genuineness of the organic category. It is therefore crucial for us to build trust to enable growth and sustain this practice. We must begin to focus on our biodiversity and the rare varieties to sustain the organic food industry in a healthy manner.
The Way Ahead
Almost half of Indian produce is organic by default, due to the small holding and dry land farming. Indian sheep and goat, backyard poultry, forest produce, jackfruit and tamarind easily qualify to be a part of the organic category. While regulations have to stipulate what would constitute organic, farmers also need to be re-educated on the old, healthy ways of farming that are beneficial to the land and the farmer. The bigger markets for organic foods are the metro cities in India, especially those in South India. With the exception of Delhi-NCR, the northern parts of India are yet to fully enter the organic food market.
The next couple of years will decide the future of not just the organic food industry, but also its environmental impact. Eco-consciousness needs to grow alongside the organic food market, educating the customer if what they are consuming is truly organic. The farm to fork model will further evolve in India wherein what’s on your plate is traceable right back to the origin of its seeds. Till that day, we will consume what is available packaged on the shop shelves.