World’s first organic agricultural state – Sikkim,
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General Studies 3
- Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices
- Inclusive growth and issues arising from it
General Studies 2:
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation
In News: The Indian state of Sikkim just achieved the feat of being the world’s first organic state and has been awarded UN Future Policy Gold Award 2018, also known as Oscar for best policies, beating 51 nominated policies from 25 different countries.
- Sikkim is an outstanding example on how to successfully transform the food system and ensure respect for people and planet and the award recognises the state’s leadership and political will.
- Sikkim’s transition to organic farming has benefited over 66,000 family farmers, reaching beyond just organic production to include socioeconomic aspects such as consumption and market expansion, rural development and sustainable tourism with its comprehensive and inclusive approach
- The award recognises the policies adopted by the state starting with a political commitment to support organic farming in 2003 that led to the 2010 Sikkim Organic Mission. The state’s policies and commitment led to it becoming the first 100 per cent organic state.
- Around 75,000 hectares of agricultural land was gradually converted to certified organic land by implementing organic practices and principles as per guidelines laid down in National Programme for Organic Production.
Factors that led to organic farming in Sikkim
- It was 12 years ago in 2003 when the Pawan Chamling-led government decided to make Sikkim an organic farming state through a declaration in the legislative assembly. Later the entry of chemical inputs for farmland was restricted and their sale banned. Farmers therefore had no option but to go organic.
- Farmers (main occupation) in this difficult terrain were already pursuing traditional farming with minimal use of chemical fertilizers and the fact that the state has far less cultivable land — about 76,000 acres — compared to other agricultural states in India. Taking the required measures to get certified as organic farmers was a logical step for Sikkim’s farmers.
- Rain-fed farming
- Sikkim’s soil being rich in organic carbon
- Richness in bio-diversity
- The Sikkim Organic Mission Project, the state’s organic policy, spread awareness about why, what, and how the mission would be accomplished. Organic farming was added as a subject in school. Farmers attended required training on organic farming led by organic experts and scientists. And they began using natural alternatives, such as compost and manure made from dung, decayed leaves, and dry grasses. Various indigenous technologies were used, like pheromone traps to control fruit flies, biopesticides, and biofertilizers.
But the transition to organic farming in Sikkim had its own set of challenges –
Many agricultural experts say that a lot more needs to be done before agricultural practices in this mountain state can be held up as a role model for the rest of India where rampant use of pesticides and fertilizers has become a serious issue. While Sikkim deserves to be commended for deciding to go organic, it still faces the below mentioned challenges.
Sikkim has long been a food-deficient state. Existing food production there meets only 30 percent of the local population’s dietary needs. The rest has to be imported from neighboring states. In making plans for organic agriculture, the leaders in Sikkim seem to have avoided discussions on two major issues — food self-sufficiency and nutritious food for all Sikkimese.
For a state to shift to organic production it is not enough to do certification, support on-farm input generation, and training programs. The state has to begin with a policy goal of food sovereignty and minimizing nutritional inequality; and then build the organic agriculture mission to cater to these overarching policy goals.
Additionally, Sikkim’s organic mission does not talk about the following –
- Farmers do not seem to be at the center-stage of Sikkim’s organic mission. It simply sounds like the government’s program with a top down agenda that doesn’t consider the farmers’ perspective.
- The heavy expenditure involved in the certification process for farmers when it was not known whether it is benefiting the farmers.
- Sikkim’s organic mission does not talk about the integration of non-timber forest produce of the highly forested Sikkim state with its organic production goals. For example, rather than shifting or importing resources from other states, Sikkim can easily use its locally available biomass for compost.
Vegetables and fruits, which generally have very short shelf lives, make up a large part of the produce in Sikkim. But the mountainous state is poorly connected to the rest of India. It is very difficult to deal in fresh produce, especially when Sikkim is landlocked and has no rail or airport connectivity. The risk factor for farmers is quite high as there are no proper storage facilities. There is no cold store chain, no refrigerated vans, no processing unit, no food park, no packaging material leading to everything coming from outside the state. Plus, all these factors make transportation of produce very expensive and many small scale farms have a hard time covering their costs and finding a fair price for their produce.
Sikkim’s organic mission is facing are other challenges like dealing with pests and diseases in certain key cash crops like ginger and cardamom, ensuring the timely supply of organic pesticides and bio fertilizers and irrigation problems in some areas.
The State needs to take immediate efforts in establishing the following –
- Food processing-plants for value addition
- Cold-storage facilities everywhere in the state
- Connecting the region to rest of India for speedy transportation of produce to markets
The Way Ahead:
Sikkim has to put in a lot more effort to address these challenges for ogranic agriculture to become sustainable and profitable for its farmers over the long term. But despite these challenges, Sikkim’s intiative is already serving as an inspiration for other Indian states.
Issue with organic farming: However, scientists say the success of organic farming depends on various things such as climate, the type of crop and the quality of soil. Thus, crop failures are common when farmers switch to organic farming. When a farmer transitions from conventional to organic agriculture, you are suddenly removing all the synthetic inputs you had previously been applying, but at the same time the soil does not have the native fertility it used to. With organic methods, the soil fertility takes several years to build back up. During this transition period, farmers can see yield losses. So it is really quite important for the government to support the farmers during this transition period.
So, should we go ahead with it: But despite the initial yield drops, organic methods could be beneficial, if used with other integrated farming methods. Organic agriculture has an untapped potential role in global food and ecosystem security because it has been able to provide jobs, be profitable, benefit the soil and environment, and support social interactions between farmers and consumers.
About the Award: Nicknamed the ‘Oscar for best policies’, the award is co-organised with the FAO by The World Future Council (WFC) and IFOAM – Organics International, and recognises ‘the world’s best laws and policies promoting agroecology’.
Connecting the Dots:
- Sikkim is the first ‘Organic State ‘in India. What are the ecological and economical benefits of Organic State?
- No one farming system alone will safely feed the planet. Rather, a blend of organic and other innovative farming systems, will be needed for future global food and ecosystem security. Discuss.