Sikkim has gone organic, and here is what we can learn from themSanjana Ray
It’s goodbye ‘Green Revolution’ and hello ‘organic farming’ for the people of Sikkim. The practice which has been encouraged through the pages of our EVE books, but never really been seen actively, has finally been implemented thanks to the efforts of the current Chief Minister, Pawan Kumar Chamling. Chamling had made his declaration for a purely ‘organic state’ way back in 2003, despite many protests from the agricultural branches of the society. Twelve years later, his dream has become a reality, and as Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced earlier this January, Sikkim has become India’s first organic state.
In stark contrast to the UPA’s attempts to bring about a ‘Second Green Revolution’ that included bringing intensive farming practices, to Assam and beyond, Narendra Modi’s Government has garnered support for Sikkim’s new zeal on agricultural mechanisms and a strengthened political will.
Quite naturally, the transformation from age-old agricultural practices that included the use of pesticides and fertilizers to a wholly organic setting wasn’t without its share of obstacles. Protests had broken out among the locals at Chamling’s initial declaration, stating that the state did not produce even enough for itself and hence the transformation would lead to a fall in production, leading to extremely dire situations for the farmers.
However Chamling’s resolve was not shaken. “We were convinced, if we went organic, there will be a value addition that we can offer to both farmers and the consumers of our products. We have a terrain that cannot make us self-sufficient in food production. So we decided to focus on what we can grow in Sikkim and give them the value of being organic”, says Khorlo Bhutia, Secretary of the State for Agriculture, and Chief Executive Officer of Sikkim’s organic success, as stated in The Better India. He claims that the aim of this transformation was so to create produce that would be chemical-free.
The 77,000 hectares of cultivable land, which was already segregated into small pockets, was to be changed into an organic mould. The only advantage that Sikkim had in its favour to surmount this overwhelming task was that her previous practices of farming did not include a heavy use of chemical methods, unlike states like Punjab and Haryana.
The first step was to cut the subsidies offered by the Government, on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. With time, the Government decided to ban them once and for all. The best part about this transformation to an organic state wasn’t limited to the efforts of the farmers or contractors alone. All branches of society catering to all kinds of professions came together, and this move gave a leeway to many inspired young individuals to create businesses around it as well.
For instance, the first move was to educate the farmers regarding the changes that were to take place and the benefits of cultivating in an organic state. To this end, ‘The Sikkim Organic Mission’ was drawn up, which explained the ‘why’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the mission, provided seeds and manure and trained the farmers in the organic methods. Some of these farmers were even sent outside the state to receive advanced training for the new form of farming, a practice they took to fairly well. Binita Chamling, a young entrepreneur who returned from London recently, has established her startup , Organic Sikkim, which works at eliminating the middlemen and dealing directly with the farmers to sell their produce to the rest of the country and the world, reigning in a profit for the concerned farmers and eradicating the possibility of them being scammed by these same middlemen.
A ‘Sikkim Organic Market’ has now been set up on the call of the State Government that sells everything from pulses to greens to oranges to pickles made from the local ‘dalle’ chillies, all of which are organic. The organic alternatives to chemical fertilisers are cow manure and compost from plant residues, among others, and the alternatives to pesticides include clay and extracts from neem, garlic and mushroom.
The price difference between the organic and conventional varieties of some vegetables is not that stark in most cases, with the organic variety not more than 20-25 percent pricier. However, with spices like turmeric the difference could be three to four times. “When people ask us why it’s so expensive, we tell them it’s organic and it’s a lot of work. Most people understand,” says Tiwari, who runs a stall in ‘Sikkim Organic Market’ and does business worth between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000 a day.
By turning to organic methods of cultivation, the farmers of Sikkim have managed to counter many common plant diseases that came from using too much pesticide and more famously, the ‘Rhizome Rot Disease’ that would ruin Sikkim’s most important cash crop- ginger.
“We are proud to have achieved this feat spending just Rs 55 crores (as of November 2015),” says Bhutia. To cap it off, reports have shown that the demand for the organic produce has soared – farmers are earning 20 percent more, a new breed of entrepreneurship is springing up and Sikkim has now become privy to a new rage – ‘organic tourism’.
Sikkim’s decision to turn into an organic state should serve as a model of inspiration for all others – going to prove that taking a step towards progress and development can be done in compliance with nature as well. Other states in India that are turning towards endorsing this initiative are Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram.