The OpenTeam did some research to understand more what lies behind this impressive feat, and what other “organic switch” initiatives can learn from its story…
How did it all start?
Sikkim embarked on its journey towards an all-organic state in 2003 with the government’s action of reducing subsidies on synthetic/chemical farming inputs year on year. It was a state government driven initiative to counter an alarming increase in pollution of water, fisheries and food and the rising number of cancer cases due to pesticide residues in the food. The aim was to improve the overall socioeconomic conditions including consumption and market expansion, health, education, rural development and sustainable tourism.
In 2010, the government formulated and launched the Sikkim Organic Mission with clear goals which helped them achieve the all-organic status in January 2016. The initiative covered 190,000 acres of farmland and benefitted 66,000 farmer families to switch to organic farming.
What are the main achievements?
It has helped in improving the overall human health, soil health, wildlife and bee population and also lead to a 50% increase in ecotourism between 2014 and 2017.
The Sikkim government launched a number of programs to help farmers switch to organic. At the beginning there was lack of information on organic farming practices and related research. The government arranged education programs about farming, composting, and pest control treatment. Bio-fertilizer and seed processing units were installed to provide bio-inputs(organic fertilizers, seeds and pesticides) to the farmers. Composting pits were installed to help farmers generate their own compost. To help the farmers sell their produce, the government has set up farmer’s markets for direct selling to consumers. In 2014, the government imposed a full ban on the sale and use of synthetic farming inputs in the state.
The state is starting to see the benefits of the transformation and leading the way for other states like Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Kerala to go all organic in the future. The central government of India has also decided to spend $119 million to support organic farming across the nation.
But, on the flipside…
However, information from individual farmers depicts that the reality is not so positive as given to understand through mainstream media.
The government banned the import of non-organic food produce from the neighboring states in March 2018 but they had to reverse the ban as the local produce is not enough to meet the demand. In short, the local produce cannot feed the population of Sikkim and there is a dependency on the neighboring states for fruit and vegetables. Only a few vegetables like cauliflower, cabbage and beans are produced in ample quantities, so they don’t need to import from neighboring states.
The farmers are not able to obtain a fair price for their organic produce due to cheaper non-organic alternatives being available in the market. The government plans to setup a price cap on vegetables which would further aggravate the problem instead of solving it.
According to the farmers, the government benefits of organic inputs and education programs have reached only the government-owned farms and not the individual farmers. They have also not received enough support from the government in marketing the produce. The farm yield remains lower than what they produced using the conventional method with synthetic inputs, which puts further financial pressure on them. The organic and traditional methods of pest control are not effective in stopping the pest attacks. Some independent surveys suggest that the yield has gone down considerably for most of the crops contrary to the government data which shows stable or increased output for all crops except the Sikkim mandarins (a local orange variety).
What does the future of Sikkim look like?
The government acknowledges that there are certain challenges and considers them “teething issues”. It also plans to take subsequent measures to provide better marketing and export avenues to the framers. It has identified four high value crops – large cardamom, ginger, turmeric and buckwheat- and plans to process, package and brand them for export. The government is also working on solutions to create a balance between fair price for producers and affordability for consumers for the produce.
Sikkim has recently become very famous around the world for becoming the first state of India and in the world to be fully organic. It won the UN Food and Agro-ecological Organization’s Future Policy Award 2018. It competed with 51 nominated policies from 25 different countries for the best policy promoting agro-ecological and sustainable food systems.
The government and farmers strive to overcome the challenges and be self sufficient to fulfill the food demand of the state while exploring opportunities for export. Sikkim has been able to change the beurocratic mindsets about organic farming and they have immense learnings from their journey to share with other states who want to switch to organic. India is encouraging farmers to use a self-regulating organic certification process that is cheaper than getting consultants to certify their farms and produce. This will help farmers avoid the complexity of certification and make organic food more accessible for the domestic market. As the organic food market in India continues to grow at a steady rate of 25% every year, it provides Sikkim a strong reason to believe that their efforts are going to shine through the future.
If you have other organic switch stories and case studies to share in an article, be sure to contact us here: contact@OpenTeam.co
1. Organic Farming: Sikkim Case Study – http://www.ias4sure.com/wikiias/gs3/organic-farming-sikkim-case-study/
2. An Indian state banned pesticides. Tourism and wildlife flourished. Will others follow? – https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/pesticides-helped-bring-modern-farming-to-india-one-tiny-state-is-leading-the-charge-to-ban-them/2018/05/29/95c7e594-3da6-11e8-955b-7d2e19b79966_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.42e08ccc610f
3. Sikkim: Heaven for Organic Farming – https://www.ruralmarketing.in/industry/case-studies/sikkim-heaven-for-organic-farming
4. How is India’s organic-only farming experiment in Sikkim going? Peering past the propaganda, not so sustainably – https://geneticliteracyproject.org/2018/08/15/how-is-indias-organic-only-farming-experiment-in-sikkim-going-peering-past-the-propaganda-not-so-sustainably/
5. Sustainable Organic Farming in Sikkim: An Inclusive Perspective –https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320674439_Sustainable_Organic_Farming_in_Sikkim_An_Inclusive_Perspective
6. Sikkim Government – https://www.sikkimorganicmission.gov.in/
7. A 100% organic world is possible. The Indian state of Sikkim shows us how – https://www.lifegate.com/people/lifestyle/sikkim-organic-agriculture-model
8. Sikkim is 100% organic! Take a second look – https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/organic-trial-57517