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An organic task
Sikkim plans on becoming India's first fully-organic state, with an eye on ecology and tourism revenue.
The tiny state of Sikkim will create history three years down the line: it will be the first province in any country of the world to become totally organic. Fruits, vegetables, food grains and all other agricultural products of the state - including its famed flowers - will be grown without any chemical fertilisers and pesticides. More than 8, 000 hectares of Sikkim's 58, 168 hectares of cultivable land have been certified 'organic' by external accredited agencies and the remaining land will get this certification by 2015.
State agriculture minister Dawa Norbu Takarpa says that the state's organic produce will not only fetch higher prices, but going organic will also yield the obvious long term benefits to the state's environment. "Going organic will also boost tourism significantly as many high-end tourists, especially foreigners, would like to visit an 'organic' state, " Takarpa says. Organic farms in many countries attract hordes of tourists and it'll be the same in Sikkim as well. So far organic farming practices have been introduced in 400 villages. These villages will be designated as rural tourism destinations after training some selected families in the villages on various aspects like hospitality, housekeeping and cooking. "The 14, 000-odd farmers and their families in these villages have been trained in adopting environment-friendly practices like rainwater harvesting and disallowing use of plastic in their daily lives as well as preserving the ecology and environment, " he adds.
According to last year's figures, Sikkim's agricultural output was 80, 000 metric tonne. Of this, ginger accounted for the lion's share of 45, 890 tonne with large cardamom, turmeric, garlic, buckwheat, pulses, mandarin oranges and passion fruit accounting for the rest. An estimated 15 per cent of this produce is already certified organic and commands premium prices. Takarpa says that his department and the Sikkim Organic Mission are now setting up market linkages and inviting proposals for cold storages and supply chains to market the state's organic produce in stores across the country.
A separate marketing cell and an organic retail store for Sikkim's produce has been opened in Delhi. "We have formed around 150 farmers' interest groups with 1, 750 farmers to market their organic produce. We plan to add to the existing 10 kisan mandis throughout the state. Here farmers can sell their organic produce directly to consumers, " says Takarpa. A strategy is now being devised for branding organic produce of the state.
The 'organic' project got impetus when state chief minister constituted the Sikkim Organic Mission in 2010. It was set up as a nodal agency to coordinate with all departments and external agencies like Nabard, ICAR and National Center of Organic Farming at Ghaziabad. "The idea was to achieve the goal of making Sikkim totally organic by 2015, " says Topchen Lepcha, the mission's executive director.
The sale and distribution of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has been banned in the state and the mission has provided training in batches to farmers on organic cultivation, making vermin compost and the use of bio-fertilisers and pesticides. "We are helping farmers secure loans and grants from banks, cooperatives and various agencies like the National Horticultural Mission and the National Project on Organic Farming. Two government farms in the state have been designated as centres of excellence for organic farming and these serve as training centres. A lot of research is on at these farms, " says Lepcha.
Sikkim's organic mission started with the state legislative assembly passing a unanimous resolution in May 2003 to make the state totally organic by 2015. "Work started on this ambitious project immediately. The Sikkim State Organic Board was set up and a detailed roadmap was charted with the help of experts and consultants to make all cultivation organic by the target year, " says Takarpa. An MoU was signed with FIBL Institute of Organic research in Switzerland to provide know-how, expertise and support for research and training on organic farming.
Organic certification is a three-step process, the first being setting up of internal control systems (ICS) that involves collecting and collating extensive data on farmlands and farmers, agricultural inputs and output, irrigation patterns and marketing linkages all over the state. "We set up three livelihood schools to meet the manpower for ICS. More than 450 educated youths have undergone training and are working as field officers and supervisors for ICS now, " says agriculture secretary Vishal Chauhan.
A few organic certification agencies were also empanelled by the state government. Representatives of these regularly inspect farmlands and the second stage of the certification process - surveying the farmlands and giving a provisional organic certification - is now on in more than 50, 000 hectares of farmlands in the state. The next and final stage will be more surveys and field visits to these farmlands by the agencies after a year of giving the provisional certificate. If they are satisfied, the final organic certification is completed. "This final certification is complete in 8, 168 hecatres," says Chauhan.
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