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Organic Food in India: Cost vs Health
chillibreeze writer — M Radhika
Ever walked into a supermarket and found an organic foods and grains counter easily? Hardly possible, unless you are visiting it for the third or fourth time in search of the same counter.
To further your woes, good quality brown rice would cost not less than Rs 45 a kilogram, while other local rice varieties cost Rs 30 or more. The story is similar for pulses, spices and nuts. The feel-good halo of `healthy' that you want to wear over your head vanishes in minutes.
If you are a housewife shopping out there with an ever-so cost conscious husband, forget your organic food dream. High price coupled with skepticism are the biggest hurdles in the growth of organic food purchase, in effect consumption.
Hema Kadarapur, a housewife from Hyderabad experimented with buying organic brands from her local supermarket. "I did not find any difference between ordinary food-grains and the organic variety…in terms of quality. Only the high price was the difference,'' she says.
For the mother of two, organic food is only a matter of faith, 'not true necessarily'. Her distrust is reflected in those millions who would play safe by choosing the chemically loaded foods rather than get back to chemical-less food habits that their forefathers practiced.
While the growth of organic brands is encouraging among teas and some pulses, the cost factor plays a big spoilsport. In January 2008, The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) brought out its survey that said that India has low organic food consumption among the educated and health conscious in metros because of its high cost. About 60 per cent of the retailers it surveyed had said that customers who would buy organic products for reasons such as health and environment would not buy them because of high cost.
About 58 per cent of retailers, according to Assocham, blamed the unavailability of products in stores for the poor consumption.
The result is a mass perception that organic foods are an elitist fad. It does not mean the demand is low though. Given the right push through media, they are still open to trying them out.
What can be done?
To a large extent, onus also lies on the India's population, mainly the middle-class that can drive the market. It is true that in times of global recession, the organic choice is expensive. At an individual level, there is a need for some rethink of our food habits. We Indians have got so hooked on to polished rice that buying unpolished rice seems an alien thing now. It was integral to the Indian diet before.
Newspapers and magazines do run pieces on the ifs and buts of organic foods like brown bread, brown sugar, etc. But then, it does not percolate to other indigenous foods like millets such as jowar, bajra and ragi that are as nutritious in the form of roti. It is also time that the urban Indian becomes more willing to accommodate millets on his/her platter.
In the farming community, a false sense of prestige pervades with respect to rice and sugarcane. It gets reflected in the `prosperous' sugar-belts of Maharashtra, Karnataka and other states.
But millets are not water guzzlers unlike rice and sugarcane when it comes to cultivation. Which means they are less taxing on the farmer who does not have to drown in debts because of fertilizers. Organisations such as the Millet Network of India have been asking for the inclusion of millets in the Public Distribution System for a while now. The tragedy is that India's millions doting on rice and wheat tend to look at millets as inferior – a stereotype contributed to, in a great deal, by the urban consumers and even policy makers. Research on millets and innovation in millet-based food is also lacking as a result.
In January 2004, the Hyderabad based Deccan Development Society, an NGO that focuses among many activities, on promotion of millets, had opened Café Ethnic, an eat-out serving food based only on organic millets. Recently, its team members visited cities such as Bangalore and Mumbai to further their cause of food security. Millets were part of their exercise.
Millets apart, growing demand needs to translate to a reliable distribution network as well, just the way normal food products and produce are marketed. Direct farmer-to-store distribution has been introduced by non-profit organizations in recent years. It needs to gather steam through strategy.
The root of the solution however, is not just to stick to your choice of food and cereal, but also alter your diet to include food that is more indigenous. Which means get more open to tastes on your platter for health's sake.
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