Author – Elakhya N
The recently concluded climate change conference in Paris has drawn the world back into the folds of the global warming debate. We commoners cannot help but wonder at the generality of the agreement and the dearth of solutions. Yet, a silver lining in the field of sustainable agriculture has come in the form of the `4 per 1000’ initiative by the French government. This initiative aims at increasing the amount of carbon in the soil by 4% each year, thus enriching soil fertility and agricultural production, while limiting the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Amidst all this, the accomplishments of a tiny state like Sikkim in implementing its Sikkim Organic Mission stand out as an inspiring example for other states to follow. In 2003, the Chief Minister of Sikkim, Pawan Chamling stated a vision to tread the organic path after his state recorded the third lowest fertilizer consumption of 5.8kg per hectare area. The state had traditionally practiced organic agriculture, but Chamling put forth a visionary policy initiative that stands as a precedent to build a green movement in India.
Besides topping the stats for the highest growth share or recording 100% sanitation coverage, Sikkim sets a great example as a democratic model of organic farming. On August 15, 2010, a mission was launched to implement the programs of organic farming with a target of converting 50,000 hectares of land into organic by 2015. The state is now poised for an official announcement by the Prime Minister in January 2016, regarding the completion of the Sikkim Organic Mission.
Sikkim is a state that is rich in biodiversity, has a rain-fed farming system, soil that is rich in organic carbon and a humid climate that serves as a stimulus for more vegetation. Besides this, it consistently recorded consumption of fertilizers averaging at 7kg/ha before 2003. Official reports found that the soil had not absorbed that many chemicals. Most of the crops were grown with compost manure and 11,164ha was already under cardamom cultivation, where fertilizers and pesticides were never used.
The state also had the advantage of continuing traditional farming practices with farmers possessing a certain level of knowledge and skills for organic farming. Further, chemical usage did not have any significant impact on production and productivity. Hence, shifting to organic farming seemed a viable option and the target also easily achievable.
The first step taken by the state government was to ban synthetic fertilizers and pesticides by withdrawing the subsidy on fertilizers in 2003, followed by removing the transport and commission subsidy in 2006. Further, all sales points were also clamped down. Evidently, the pesticide-free record began to show results in the central government agriculture yearly statistics since then.
Status of organic conversion and certification
Currently, a comprehensive five-year plan (2013-2018) for implementing the Sikkim Organic Mission is underway, which deals with complete organic farming, including animal husbandry. Sikkim’s organic success story is best told through the technologies that have been adopted and the incentives provided to the farmers. Various indigenous technologies facilitating organic agriculture and scientific pest management for different crops included the use of:
- Pheromone traps to control fruit flies
- Home-made bio-pesticides to control blast disease in rice
- Biodynamics for nutrients
- Bio-pesticides such as Trichoderma sp., Pseudomonas, Metarrhizium, Beauveria for different crops
- Bio-fertilizers such as Azolla, Azotobacter, Rhizobium, Bacillus megaterium, etc.
Further, a research lab was set up to deal with isolating local strains that are more effective than outside strains and multiplying them for the production of bio fertilizers. Azolla and blue-green algae are the two other finds, which have the capacity to fix nitrogen symbiotically. Hence, they are grown in artificial or natural ponds and multiplied to be used as organic manure.
Bone meal and untreated rock phosphate, which are allowed sources of phosphates, are made available to farmers at subsidized rates. So is dolomite, which is the most effective soil amendment, provided when needed. Meanwhile, eco-friendly farm inputs such as biopesticides and herbal pesticides is largely promoted and control of rodents is carried out through natural enemies and mechanical measures.
The Sikkim government also actively worked toward making certified organic manure available to farmers. It also subsidized and built a large number of rural and vermicompost units, established vermiculture hatcheries, established seed processing and started livelihood schools on organic farming to educate people about a promising employment prospect. Further, mobile soil testing labs have been deployed at large.
Sikkim Organic Mission Accomplished – What Next?
Currently, the Sikkim Organic brand is being popularized, which offers pulses, rice, the famous Sikkim mandarin ginger and oranges, large cardamom and turmeric. It will not be long before this brand will find its way into major retail stores across the country. Eager buyers can check out the SIMFED (Sikkim State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation Ltd) retail store in Delhi and Gangtok.
Eco-tourism is also gaining popularity in Sikkim, where one can stay in model organic villages, feast on their healthy produce and also revel in the abundant beauty of Sikkim. This state has definitely set the country on its toes to follow up on its organic mission. Their feat is unparalleled and one cannot help but hope that the engines of the rest of the nation are set in this direction soon.