Sikkim: The first fully organic state in India

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The landlocked state in Eastern India has done what many other states could not. Sikkim is now a completely organic state.

Though the state attained the ‘organic’ status in December, prime minister Narendra Modi made the official announcement during his maiden visit to the state of Sikkim last week.

“All states in the country should follow the example of Sikkim by bringing select areas under organic farming, and helping market the high-value produce,” the PM said.

Modi spoke of the recently concluded climate summit in Paris, where the entire world agreed to go back to the basics.

“It has been agreed by all nations that we have to change our lifestyle. We cannot exploit nature, and have to go back to basics and live in harmony. Sikkim is a model state for the world because nature is protected here, and yet, development is not compromised,” he said.

With a population of around 607,000 Sikkim is the least populous state in India and the second-smallest after Goa. It is a landlocked state nestled in the Himalayas and bordered by Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan. Sikkim also has no train or commercial flight connectivity. Despite this Sikkim has managed to succeed where many other communities across the globe have failed.

Achieving this milestone has not been a quick process. It has taken 10 years for Sikkim to convert 75,000 hectares of farmland into certified organic farms, implementing organic practices.

The state now produces 800,000 tonnes of organic produce, accounting for nearly 65 per cent of all of India’s 1.24 million tonnes. In all of this, Sikkim has quietly shown that going organic doesn’t mean falling productivity.

One of the most compelling aspects of Sikkim’s journey is the collective nature of the movement. It all started in 2003 when the chief minister Pawan Chamling decided to take the rural state back to the very basics. Sikkim was a tiny state; it needed to find a way to sustain itself without destroying its unique and diverse range of plant and animal habitats. It also needed to create thriving livelihoods for its citizens and had the opportunity to build on eco-tourism.

Chamling’s mission meant teaching people how to care for their soil and the harvest in a way that had the lowest possible impact on the ecosystem. The study of organic farming was placed as a subject in the school curriculum and a programme of compulsory training on organic farming was introduced. The entire community had to educate itself and become fully invested in the project in order for it to succeed.

Another key aspect to the state’s success was the reintroduction of homemade bio-fertilisers and the phasing out chemical fertilisers. Sikkimese farmers never depended on pesticides and chemicals heavily but there was the use of synthetic fertilisers. A return to natural, traditional techniques has seen practices like mulching, using liquid manure like cow dung and urine, and planting boundary trees to prevent pest attacks, became the norm for Sikkimese farmers. These are not only nature-friendly and improve soil health, but are very sustainable too.

The state of Sikkim has been ahead of the sustainability game for quite some time. It receives most of its electricity from 19 hydroelectric power stations and by 2006, the state had achieved 100 per cent rural electrification.

Several other parts of India are now also working hard to achieve the status. Leading the race is Kerala followed by Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.

The success of Sikkim is to be celebrated by all of us. It is a lesson that sometimes controversial and bold moves from community leaders are vital. Perhaps more importantly it teaches us that in order to go forward and implement real change education is key and such moves have to be made collectively.

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Photo credit: sandeepachetan.com travel photography from Flickr

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