Sikkim has spearheaded the Organic India Mission and has emerged as an example worth emulating. It has taken visionary leadership, political will, and concerted efforts of many state departments to bring a dream to fruition.
As if the beautiful landscapes, the majestic mountains, the friendly people, the peaceful monasteries and the delicious momos at every corner weren’t enough to add to the charm of Sikkim, it has recently become India’s first fully organic state. What this means is that the 60,000 hectares (600 sq. kms) of agricultural land in the state is now used for sustainable cultivation through implementation of organic practices and principles. That the state has the smallest agricultural land in the country, has a delicate Himalayan ecosystem with nearly 66 percent of the population dependent on agriculture or a related activity, presented an uphill task for those working towards realising this mission of transforming Sikkim to an organic state.
It was in 2003 that the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Kumar Chamling, committed to the transition of Sikkim to fully organic farming through a declaration in the legislative assembly. On one hand, going “fully organic” meant that farmers would not use any pesticides for crops, would only use dung manure and foliage as fertilisers, and would abstain from all genetically modified crops or livestock. On the other, it meant that the government would introduce policies that tackled both the demand and the supply side of organic farming to make it profitable and sustainable.
On the supply side, Mr. Chamling began, in 2003, by banning the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. This meant that all state subsidies on fertilizers were slowly withdrawn, import and transportation of fertilisers and pesticides from other states was prohibited, and a seven-year roadmap was prepared to replace the use of chemical fertilizers by organic ones. To give teeth to the ban, the government mobilised resources towards creating rural composting and bio-fertiliser units, conducting demonstrations of integrated nutrient management, establishing seed processing centres, upgrading soil testing laboratories, training the farmers, etc.
Additionally, Sikkim State Organic Board was constituted in 2003 and different officers and field functionaries were asked to travel to learn the best practices of organic farming. The state government undertook various measures and projects to build the capacity of the farmers and encourage adoption of better technologies. In fact, even a dozen science graduates and post-graduates were trained and employed to lead these projects. Organic certification was initiated in a phased manner in the state in 2010 and all the produce was brought under the “Organic inputs and Livestock Feed Regulatory Act, 2014”.
To tackle the demand, Sikkim State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation Ltd. (Simfed) set up more than 150 multipurpose cooperative societies to buy the farmers’ produce from their doorsteps. Simfed has also ensured that the marketing and payment system is transparent with a policy of making the payments within 15 days of procurement of the produce. Retail outlets have been set up as far as in an upscale market of New Delhi. What is more, as a subtle measure of introducing behavioural change a chapter on organic farming has been introduced in the school curriculum.
Sikkim has shown that it takes holistic thinking, careful planning, innovative measures, and coordinated efforts of various state departments to translate a policy on paper into a reality. Above all it has proven that if there is political will then unifying the population to achieve goals for common good is not as difficult as it is made out to be.
Nidhi Gupta is a Programme Manager at the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @nidhi1902