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The emerging organic marketplace – Some Pointers. Part-1: Respect Diversity

The purpose of this blog is to address some of the concerns and clear some of the confusion prevalent among buyers of organic produce.

The growing awareness

More and more people are becoming aware of the grave dangers posed by increasingly deadly toxic chemicals used rampantly in growing and processing our food – be it chemical fertilisers or notorious pesticides and weedicides or artificial colours, ripening agents and additives. The rapid spread of diseases like cancer is adding to the gravity of the problem.

This awareness is no longer confined to the educated, upper middle-class consumers in tier-1 cities but is spreading across to a wider cross section of consumers. A farmer friend of mine who practices chemical farming and grows ginger has stopped consuming ginger after he has started growing it. Because he knows personally the kind and amount of pesticides being used in ginger cultivation.

So, the demand for organic produce is steadily increasing across the board.

The emergence of organic retailer and etailers

As the interest in and demand for organic food has grown, we have witnessed the gradual emergence of an organic retail marketplace. Its still in its infancy when compared to the regular chemical food market but is certainly growing steadily.

Several neighbourhood organic shops have sprung up, along organic farmer markets, online organic stores as well as a few organic online marketplaces. Even a few corporate organic chains are being set-up. While an organised organic wholesale market is still absent, on the retail front more options have been coming up.

The emerging challenges

While awareness and buying options have both increased there is a growing confusion, doubts and questions in the minds of the consumers of organic produce. Questions like

  • Is what I am buying really organic? How can I be sure even after paying a premium price?

  • Why should organic produce cost so much?

  • Why does organic produce not look as attractive as regular one in terms of colour, size, shape?

If these are the questions troubling the consumers, an organic farmer is worried why he/she is not able to get a fair price for his produce when its selling at a premium in the retail market.

Let’s try to address some of these questions.

Nature is about diversity, respect it

Diversity is the most fundamental rule and norm of nature. We can find it in every realm and aspect of life and natural phenomenon. Uniformity and homogeneity are alien to nature. So how on earth can be expect produce of natural farming to be uniform in colour, shape and/or size.

Hence, the first thing an organic buyer should stop looking for are these very aspects of chemically grown and processed food. The fruits of even a single tree are all not of the same size, don’t ripen at the same time and don’t look the same. True organic produce will and should be diverse and should be accepted as such.

So next time you are buying organic bananas don’t expect them to be all the same even colour – some will be yellow, some semi yellow, some green and some even blackish. That’s the way they should be. In fact, in several varieties of bananas like yellaki, budu bale, karpoora, etc. it’s the blackish ones that are really tasty. I personally don’t eat these bananas unless they start turning black. Because that’s when they are really ripe (not over ripe) and hence the sweetest and tastiest. Similarly look for variety (we have hundreds of them) and not the same standard yellaki & green.

If you are buying guavas or sapotas don’t look for only big size or perfect shape and colour. Nature creates fruits some big and some small. If everyone wants to buy only big what does a farmer do with the smaller ones. Also, the smaller ones are as tasty as larger ones.

The same applies to vegetables. Organic carrot or radish may sometimes have all kinds of crooked shapes and size but are much tastier while eating raw in a salad.

Here I would like to recollect couple of my personal experiences.

  • Several of our regular customers know by now that while our organic nati cardamom does not look as nice and big as the chemically grown hybrid variety, it is far superior when it comes to aroma and flavour.

  • Again, our customers who eagerly await the budu bale or kaopoora bananas from our farm, know their taste as their skin starts to turn at black. While initially we had to educate them, now they look for such bananas

  • Let me recount an incident where my Pache bale (green) bananas were rejected by an online marketplace because they had black spots, saying that their customers are very picky and won’t accept them. By mistake some of them were left behind and the promoters just out of curiosity ate them as they were ripe. They liked these bananas so much that next time they were specifically asking for them, saying that rejection was a big mistake, that going forward they have to make exception to their grading rules these bananas, and that they will educate their customers accordingly.

Nati is better than hybrid

Another key principle here is Nati is always better than Hybrid. Because nati varieties are varieties which are best accustomed to the local soil and weather conditions and hence provide greater disease resistance and also by and large are offer better taste, flavour and nutrition. So go for nati varieties while buying organic produce.

To be continued…..

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