- Sikkim is the first Indian state to fully practice organic farming. The initiative began in 2003 with Chief Minister Pawan Chamling getting a resolution passed in the state assembly to bring all agricultural land under organic farming. At that time Sikkim was using 8-13 kg of chemical fertilizers per hectare per year compared to the national average of 90 kg per ha. By 2009, all outlets selling agrochemicals were closed down.
- The Sikkim Organic Mission was formed in 2010. With training programmes, awareness campaigns, workshops, capacity building, reducing subsidies on chemical fertilizers by ten percent a year after 2005 and not utilizing the quota of subsidized fertilizers, the state has been able to convert its 64,000 farmers to organic agriculture. Currently, 74,190 ha are covered, which is almost all the agricultural land in the state. The final batches of certificates were issued in December 2015.
- It takes three years for chemically-treated land to turn organic. The Sikkim government spent Rs 8,400 per ha to get land certified as organic by agencies accredited to the commerce and industry ministry.
- Sikkim cannot meet own demand for fruits and vegetables. It buys non-organic stuff from Siliguri in West Bengal. Cardamom and ginger are in surplus as well as fruits like Sikkim mandarin. Since costs are high, the government gives minimum support prices for select vegetable crops.
- Organic stuff retails for 20-30 percent more. Most consumers cannot afford these premium prices. The government has set up an exclusive organic food platform in Gangtok’s Lal Bazaar. Efforts are on to cut down layers of middlemen.
- Marketing is an issue. Organic stuff from Sikkim going out of the state gets mixed up with non-organic produce. Two ex-IIM students who are behind Parvata Foods of Kolkata have tied up with Mother Dairy which has 372 retail units to sell organic produce, primarily ginger. It intends to launch its own organic brand, with “Himalayan origin from Sikkim” mentioned on the packaging.
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(Top photo: Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling showing organic produce to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Gangtok on 19 January. Courtesy: Press Information Bureau).