Sikkim goes to­tally or­ganic over 12 years

De­spite early con­cerns, farm­ers have been very happy with the out­come, and have seen an av­er­age twenty per cent in­crease in in­come. Yield has risen as soil fer­til­ity im­proves.

Living Now - - Contents - by Martin Oliver

In­dia’s pes­ti­cide use is rel­a­tively low in com­par­i­son with much of the world, but has nonethe­less led to sev­eral prob­lems, in­clud­ing ground­wa­ter pol­lu­tion and poi­son­ing of some farm work­ers.

These is­sues are for­tu­nately ab­sent in the state of Sikkim, which has achieved the re­mark­able land­mark of be­com­ing 100 per cent or­ganic. This small north­ern state lies in the foothills of the Hi­malayas, squeezed in be­tween China, Nepal and Bhutan.

In Sikkim, agri­cul­tural chem­i­cals had led to a range of en­vi­ron­men­tal and health prob­lems, in­clud­ing land be­com­ing de­graded. In 2003, Chief Min­is­ter Pawan Ku­mar Cham­ling re­solved that the state would give up pes­ti­cides and chem­i­cal fer­tilis­ers, and go or­ganic. This state has a pop­u­la­tion of only 600,000, and agri­cul­ture is char­ac­terised by small hold­ings, se­vere weather, and moun­tain­ous ter­rain that is of­ten ter­raced.

Sikkim had a head start: agri­cul­ture there was never very chem­i­cal in­ten­sive, and with chem­i­cal farm­ing only ar­riv­ing dur­ing the 1970s, some farm­ers had re­tained knowl­edge of tra­di­tional or­ganic meth­ods. Mod­est-sized plots made it more fea­si­ble to em­ploy labour­in­ten­sive or­ganic tech­niques. De­spite this, the or­ganic switch in­volved a sig­nif­i­cant change in farm­ing prac­tices, and ini­tially, there were protests due to con­cerns about fall­ing pro­duc­tion and ad­di­tional costs.

For 13 years, Sikkim pur­sued an or­ganic tran­si­tion that ini­tially in­volved pro­gres­sively cut­ting sub­si­dies for chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides and fer­tilis­ers, then re­strict­ing ac­cess to them, and fi­nally ban­ning them al­to­gether in 2009. In their place, cow ma­nure and biomass were used for fer­tiliser and cow urine made a good pes­ti­cide. Three years was con­sid­ered the in­ter­val for chem­i­cally treated land to be con­verted to or­ganic.

In its early stages, the or­ganic switch was sup­ported by fed­eral fund­ing. A group known as the Sikkim Or­ganic Mis­sion was in­volved in out­reach and train­ing, and pro­vided seeds and ma­nure. Or­ganic farm­ing was taught in schools. In­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing fer­tiliser pro­duc­tion and soil test­ing fa­cil­i­ties, was put in place. By the end of 2015, all the state’s farms were cer­ti­fied or­ganic, an achieve­ment that was ac­knowl­edged by the In­dian Pres­i­dent, Naren­dra Modi.

De­spite early con­cerns, farm­ers have been very happy with the out­come, and have seen an av­er­age twenty per cent in­crease in in­come. Yield has risen as soil fer­til­ity im­proves. A sup­ply chain is now sell­ing Sikkim pro­duce in spe­cial or­ganic pro­duce stores lo­cally, and in Delhi.

Or­ganic farm­ing is also im­prov­ing soil health, pro­tect­ing bio­di­ver­sity, and mak­ing the land more drought-re­sis­tant and in­creas­ingly re­silient in the face of cli­mate change. The state’s clean en­vi­ron­ment is even at­tract­ing vis­i­tors who are dubbed ‘or­ganic tourists’.

Naren­dra Modi has en­cour­aged other In­dian states to fol­low Sikkim’s lead, and Ker­ala, Mi­zo­ram and Arunachal Pradesh are all work­ing to­wards go­ing or­ganic too. Ker­ala in par­tic­u­lar plans to be fully con­verted by the end of 2016.

De­spite early con­cerns, farm­ers have been very happy with the out­come, and have seen an av­er­age twenty per cent in­crease in in­come.

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