Nestled in the lap of the eastern Himalayas, Sikkim is suddenly gaining international recognition because of its mission to be completely organic by the year 2015.
Once known as the land of mystical lamas, Sikkim is well on its way to becoming an ecological hotspot. With its deep-rooted commitment to sustainable farming, the hilly region that boasts of 82 per cent of natural forest cover is on a fast track to becoming one of the world’s most attractive travel destinations.
Topchen Lepcha, executive director, Sikkim Organic Mission says they are fast moving towards their goal of being completely organic by 2015.
“We have been consistently educating and doing capacity building for the farmers. We’ve also been educating extension workers who are officers engaged in organic farming as well as unemployed youth to assist the farmers. As of now 8,128 hectares have been fully certified as organic,” he says, speaking from Sikkim.
“Another 18,242 hectares is under stage C1 certification and will be at C2 stage by December 2012. There will be 20,500 hectares of land at C1 in December again. This leaves only 12,000 hectares which will be taken over for organic farming in May next year,” he says.
The initiative is part of a larger concept of making the entire North Eastern region of India an organic zone. Following Sikkim, another Eastern state, Mizoram has also declared its intention of be a fully organic state.
The decision of the government of Sikkim to take the lead in going organic was based on the premise that farming in this hilly state was traditionally organic—this meant that there has been minimal use of chemical fertilisers in the rain-fed, hilly region. It makes the job much easier.
It was in the year 2003 that the idea of making Sikkim an organic state was first advocated by the State Government. ‘Sikkim Organic Mission’, an apex committee headed by the visionary chief minister, Dr Pawan Chamling, soon set the wheels rolling.
The use of chemical fertilisers was discouraged by the withdrawal of state government subsidies on fertilisers. From 2006 – 07 onwards, the transport and handling subsidies were also discontinued. Alongside, the government allocated resources to educate farmers and their families, unemployed youth as well as children in schools about organic farming practises.
A structured seven-year plan to phase out the use of chemical fertilisers and substitute them with organic versions was put in action. In the transitional period, the residual chemicals were flushed out while the soil was fed with bio-fertilisers and organic manure.
A Memorandum of Understanding signed between FIBL Institute of Organic Research Centre, Switzerland and the agriculture department of Sikkim for a long term partnership has enabled them to get regular training and technical support.
Getting the certified status of an organic state is a long, drawn-out process. Officers collect information, register and train farmers. Apart from the internal control system, the data is painstakingly collected (information about farmers, plot sizes, crops, etc) and documented. An external agency conducts surveys to check if all the benchmarks have been met. A C1certification is only given after the set standards have been met.
The same process is followed after a year before the C2 certification is issued. Getting to the root of the matter, the spinoff from the ecological farming mission is to promote brand Organic Sikkim. What naturally follows is more employment opportunities, a better environment for the locals as well as the tourists who have always gravitated towards the Himalayan beauty.
A natural step in the right direction for the lush land with its sun-kissed peaks and mystical flags blowing in the wind.
A tree a year
There are plenty of other programmes to increase the green cover in Sikkim. One of them is Ten Minutes to Earth programme launched by the State Government.
It secures the participation of every Sikkimese in planting a sapling on June 25 every year. This, according to officials, has contributed enormously to the growing forest cover. It has also generated a greater ecological awareness amongst the locals.
By Farida Master