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Sikkim's natural and organic farming success

Aug 02, 2018

Sikkim has the potential of helping North East to become fully Organic in next five years.

Gangtok/New Delhi: Prime Minister, Narendra Modi while inaugurating the Sikkim Organic Festival on 18 January 2016 launched the logo of 'Sikkim Organic' and handed commendations for organic farming to the Chief Minister, Pawan Chamling.

He described Sikkim as an example of resolve despite difficulties and struggle, towards organic agriculture. He proudly pointed that the whole world had recognised this effort of the farmers of Sikkim.

Modi said that Sikkim has already achieved the feat of living in harmony with nature, and is therefore a model of development which also protects nature. The Prime Minister exhorted States to identify a district, or even a block, to convert to a 100 percent organic area. This he said, would catalyse the process in other parts of the State.

The Prime Minister then recalled the CoP-21 meeting held 2015 end at Paris, where the idea of “back to basics” had been raised forcefully. In fact, India launched the catalogue, 'PARAMPARA - India's Culture of Climate Friendly Sustainable Practices' at the UN Climate Summit that highlighted India's Sustainable Developed initiatives and practices since ancient times.

Small and marginal farmers, who are unable to meet steep agriculture expenditure, can switch to organic farming as it is cost-effective and profitable. It is better than the Chemical Farming System where input cost and dependence on external factors and products are huge. Organic farming should be promoted with the same spirit as Green Revolution, as it is more of recreating and reviving our Agriculture Heritage. The Agriculture Minister also said at a meeting in Andamans last year that the country should progress to be an organic nation and urged all stakeholders to join hands to make this mission successful.

In fact, except for last few decades, most parts and people of India have maintained the Sustainable lifestyles and cropping systems, owing to three to four crops in an year. There was a diverse and mixed cropping pattern instead of large mono-cropping pattern as adopted by the West or in Contact Farming which till recently focused on few crops. This led to nutrient balance as nature had variety of them in the soil and different crops require different quantity and class of nutrients which were produced, released and shared as per needs of the crops without impoverishing the soil. This balance started losing to mono-cropping and chemical fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides and weedicides.

There is a confusion in mind of some people that Chemical Farming is the norm and Organic or Natural Farming is a new concept. My question is when were chemical fertilisers first manufactured and applied in India. I have seen my grandfather and some his contemporaries spreading gobar (cow dung) and gomutra (cow urine) across the fields and of course, there was human waste also. In the fields, the human waste got converted into manure and got mixed with soil very fast. This is not rocket science and was well known to our farmers for centuries. This helped and increased water retention capacity of the soil as well as reduced the threats of arsenic, fluoride etc in water. So, Natural / Organic Farming is India's Agriculture Heritage we should be proud of.

What Sikkim realised and did was to take a lead in environment, health and growing healthy food. I have been part of many events where Sikkim was declared the most Green state, sometimes continuously for years in a row. It is one of the cleanest and greenest state and that is why tourism is a major hit and most successful industry.

Sikkim should help North East to become fully Organic in next five years. This can be a game changer in India's contribution to Agriculture, Food, Health and Environment and will give a huge boost to tourism and Sustainable Livelihoods also. Another benefit of Organic farming is that since human are physically involved, lifestyle diseases are minimised and body immunity and strength increases.

In this system, apart from quality production, quantity also increases. In Sikkim, in 1995-96 rice crop occupied 15,930 ha and produced 25.30 thousand tons while in 2015-16, in 10,670 ha, the production was 19.68 thousand tons. Production per hectare increased from 1.588 tons / ha to over 1.8444 tons /ha. Similarly area occupied by wheat barley, finger millet and pulses also reduced with farmers shifting to better crops.

Between 95-96 and 2015-16, the productivity increased by 12% in Sikkim due to Organic Farming. And despite 16% reduction in area, food grains production decline was only 3%. Using only 62,490 ha land in 2015-16, the total food grain production was 100.58 thousand tons, whereas in 72,500 ha in 1995-96, it was 104 thousand tons. Sikkim's cardamom production increased from 3.5 thousand tonnes in 2004 to 4.11 thousand tons in 2015 despite reduction in area from 24.8 thousand ha to 17.0 thousand ha in the corresponding periods.

Almost all countries and states depend on others for some part of their food requirements and Sikkim is no exception. Even before becoming organic, Sikkim depended on other states for some food grains and will continue to do so. Being a mountainous state with many challenges of topography and climate , it can produce limited agricultural and horticultural commodities.

There can be no comparison of crop yields between hill states like Sikkim and fertile plains of Punjab, Haryana, UP and Bihar . Comparing crop yields of a mountainous state with that of states with fast growing and large scale farm mechanization is not possible. Moreover mechanised farms cannot produce the real organic and hand produced high quality stuff.

Sikkim, having understood the detrimental environmental impacts of chemical based farming system and the positive effects of organic farming, started the organic movement.

One should not see organic farming only as a production system but also a system that counters the effects of industrial agriculture- such as soil erosion; reduced natural resistance of crops to pests; loss of human health and life (caused by pesticides and other chemicals); loss of biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystems services; contamination of water; etc.

While chemical based agriculture has led to some productivity gains over the past 50 years and has reduced starvation in some places, but it has to be also acknowledged that it has led to many new diseases and deaths not only among humans, but flora and fauna also leading to imbalance in biodiversity, reduction in water levels, increase in water and air pollution and increase in Greenhouse gas emissions and worsening impacts of Climate Change.

There is also growing evidence that this system of farming has, at its worst, increased inequality and resulted in environmental degradation. Excessive and inappropriate use of fertilizers and pesticides has polluted waterways, poisoned agricultural workers, and killed beneficial insects and other wildlife. Irrigation practices have led to salt build-up and eventual abandonment of some of the best agriculture lands. Heavy dependence on a few major cereal varieties has led to the loss of biodiversity on farm.

The conventional agriculture (chemical farming) has focused only on increasing yields at the expense of the other three sustainability metrics viz., economic profitability, environmental soundness and socially beneficial. What many of us already know have been confirmed by numerous studies that organic farming produces the same yields, uses less energy, less water and no chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

It is not too late and not only North East and hill / mountainous states, but entire country should follow the path of Organic / Natural Farming to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of Health, Environment, Agriculture, Hunger, Poverty, Reduced Emissions and Pollution and Improved Water quality and availability just to mention few of them.

The writer is the founder of Kushigram and researches on Sustainable Development Models.

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of OneWorld South Asia.

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