Jan 15, 2016

Sikkim becomes 'organic' model for other Himalayan states.

Enough reasons to smile now. 
Pic from Sikkimnews.blogspot.com 

This is fabulous news. Perhaps the best we heard in recent times. The tiny, land-locked Himalayan State of Sikkim has become fully organic. All credit goes to Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling for making that possible.

It took almost 12 years to realize that dream. When Pawan Kumar Chamling made a declaration in the State assembly way back in 2003 to go completely organic, I doubt if many experts and policy makers would have taken that seriously. But it was his firm resolve and commitment that gradually converted 75,000 hectares of cultivable farm land into certified organic.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to formally announce this at a glittering ceremony followed by a sustainable agriculture conference at Gangtok on Monday, Jan 18. I am told the Prime Minister intends to announce a series of steps to promote organic agriculture in the country.

The political will demonstrated by Sikkim will certainly send a loud message for sustainability. The firm resolve to go organic has certainly made Sikkim a potential role model for the rest of the Himalayan States. Prime Minister Modi is already keen on turning the Northeastern States into an organic bowl, in contrast to the UPA regime’s effort of bringing the 2nd Green Revolution intensive farming practices to Assam and beyond. This is a welcome initiative and needs to be extended to the entire Himalayan range.

Himalayas have a unique ecosystem. In such a salubrious environment, where people come to enjoy the beauty of nature, it is a rude shock to see farmers spraying chemical pesticides on standing crops. Travelling into the lower hills of Uttarakhand sometimes back I was aghast to find farmers spraying a heavy dose of chemicals on the tomato crop. I was told that more than a dozen pesticides sprays are conducted routinely on the tomato crop. In Himachal Pradesh, the scene is no different. Apple cultivation for instance is perhaps the worst when it comes to pesticides use and abuse. Besides contaminating the food chain, pesticides do get into the soil, the environment, and get washed down into streams. But over the years, the emergence of lifestyle diseases has slowly but steadily turned people towards organic foods. Incidentally, the growth in organic foods in India is amongst the highest in the world, almost exceeding 22 per cent every year. 

Pesticides sprays are part of the recommendations that are officially made in the package of practices to be followed. Following the same farming techniques as in Punjab and Haryana, which comprise the food bowl, is certainly not advisable for the hills. To sustain the fragile hills, what is needed is a different kind of mountain agriculture rather than blindly aping the intensive chemical farming practices from the plains. Agricultural Universities in the hills need to be directed to shift the research focus on sustainable farming practices in the mountains along with appropriate economic policies that encourage organic farming.

If you think this is not possible, you need to rethink. In Andhra Pradesh, which has faced the brunt of intensive chemical farming practices over the years, the State Government has decided to train 1.5 lakh farmers in organic farming. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu has already announced that the entire farming population will be trained in organic farming practices in the next three years. This is not a small target. The approach Andhra Pradesh has adopted is to train the best among the organic farmers as trainers. These trainers are then fanning out into different parts to teach the other farmers.

Andhra Pradesh is picking up from its famed Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA). In almost the same period in which Sikkim went completely organic, 36 lakh acres in Andhra Pradesh (half of this area is now in the newly created Telengana) got converted to non-pesticides farming. Despite the fear that pest attack will increase thereby hitting crop productivity, the area under non-pesticides management went on increasing. It has now been found that with the withdrawal of chemical pesticides, the insect attack has greatly reduced, the environment has become much clean as a result of which the health costs for the farming families has also fallen by about 40 per cent. In essence, while the household food security has improved, farm incomes too have gone up.

If non-pesticides management can be adopted by farmers in 36 lakh acres, I see no reason why such practices cannot be adopted by farmers in ten times more area -- 360 lakh acres. All it needs is proper training, skill development, and of course adequate backing from the State Governments. 

What has been attained in Andhra Pradesh can certainly be imbibed by other States making suitable adjustments in the approach as per their agro-climatic conditions. But what has been achieved by the hilly State of Sikkim is certainly a model for the rest of the Himalayan States. More so, considering that the entire Himalayan biodiversity is under a threat. It is therefore important to preserve and conserve what has survived the onslaught. I only hope Sikkim emerges as a trendsetter, a harbinger of sustainable agriculture, which is the only plausible way to achieve climate resilience.

Source: Sikkim becomes 'organic' model for other Himalayan states. ABPLive.in Jan 15, 2016.

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