Indian study tracks health benefits of organic farming
Memorandum of Understanding supports collaboration to evaluate effects of large-scale transition to sustainable agriculture.
A large-scale study of the health benefits associated with organic farming is to be carried out in India.
Scientists will monitor the effects of the transformation of 8 million hectares of land in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh into chemical-free farmland by 2030.
Their study is being carried out under a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Andhra Pradesh and researchers from India and the UK.
The transition to organic agriculture, which will affect 6 million farming families, is thought to provide health benefits by reducing exposure to pesticides.
These agrochemicals have been linked with several conditions including diabetes and kidney disease in adults, and cognitive development in children.
The evaluation project is a collaboration between Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS) – a non-profit company formed by the Government of Andhra Pradesh – the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), and the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security.
Together they will evaluate the initiative, named Andhra Pradesh Community-managed Natural Farming (APCNF), which will be the world’s largest programme of its kind.
Their study, known as BLOOM (Co-Benefits of Largescale Organic Farming On HuMan Health), will be the first to estimate the health benefits of natural farming.
It will begin with assessments of more than 2,000 households across two districts in Andhra Pradesh in monsoon season, later this year.
A range of outcomes will be explored including pesticide exposure, diet quality, crop yield, household income, diabetes and kidney disease, and child growth and development.
Further assessments will be conducted after 1 and 2 years. The team hopes to continue their evaluation beyond this timescale, especially with regard to the impact on children’s health.
Reduced use of pesticides may help to improve conditions for farmers, who represent India’s largest workforce.
We see the partnership with the University of Edinburgh and the Public Health Foundation of India as a unique opportunity to establish the health benefits of natural farming, since it eliminates the need for synthetic pesticide usage. As an organization that is responsible for implementing the State wide transformation to natural farming, we value the establishment of the health benefits scientifically as it will help us to motivate more farmers to take up the transformation. We believe that this study will provide some of the most conclusive evidence to date on health benefits of reducing pesticide exposure. The results of the study will also help us to educate citizens about the health benefits of consuming food produced through Natural farming. In addition to the direct human health benefits, we also would like to establish other attendant benefits like larger number of pollinators and other insect biodiversity and soil microbial biodiversity. Natural farming is a win-win-win for farmers, the citizens and the planet. This study is important not only for Andhra Pradesh, but the entire country.
We are grateful for this opportunity to learn from the pioneering sustainable agriculture programme being implemented in south India. The study is being conducted to benefit farmers. With this new partnership with RySS, the researchers will ensure that the outcomes are farmer-centric. The co-production of knowledge through this strong collaboration will result in novel insights, immediately relevant not only to India but the rest of the world as we aim to achieve net zero and preserve biodiversity whilst also promoting public health.
Nearly 3 billion people are unable to afford a healthy diet and poor-quality diets are linked to 11 million deaths per year. Sub-optimal diets are associated with a wide range of serious health risks. Regular agricultural practices put very different demands on earth’s natural resources , which implies dietary patterns in one region can be different to another due to usage of natural resources. Food systems need to be modified to achieve the goal of sustainable, healthy diets for all. Agricultural practices and related food policies which support healthy diets are the primary building block of a healthy food system. The long-term viability of food systems depends on the transformative change that can mitigate the negative impacts of the climate crisis as well as those associated with natural resource degradation. More research in the area should be encouraged to build sustainable and effective food systems which in turn build healthy communities.