Smallholder rice farming is characterized by low returns and substantial environmental impact. Conversion to organic management and linking farmers to fair trade markets could offer an alternative. Engaging in certified cash-crop value chains could thereby provide an entry path to simultaneously reduce poverty and improve environmental sustainability. Based on comprehensive data from a representative sample of approximately 80 organic and 80 conventional farms in northern India, we compared yield and profitability of the main rotation crops over a period of five years. Contrary to the widespread belief that yields in organic farming are inevitably lower, our study shows that organic farmers achieved the same yields in cereals and pulses as conventional farmers, with considerably lower external inputs. Due to 45% lower production costs and higher sales prices, organic basmati cultivation was 105% more profitable than cultivating ordinary rice under conventional management. However, since holdings are small and the share of agricultural income of total household income is declining, conversion to organic basmati farming alone will not provide households a sufficiently attractive perspective into the future. We propose that future efforts to enhance the long-term viability of rice-based organic farming systems in this region focus on diversification involving higher value crops.
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