Sikkim India’s First Oganic State

Sunday mornings are perfect for bright sunny strolls through local farmers markets, where you can spend hours picking fresh produce. One of the reasons that people flock to these markets on their day off is because these fresh fruits and veggies are also organic.

Within the past decade or so, we’ve seen a global cultural shift towards a health conscientious mentality where eating organic food is the first step to a healthier lifestyle—it’s a great example of when you know better, you do better. We’ve come a long way from frozen entrees as being considered the healthy choice over fresh foods.

Even though Sunday morning trips to the farmer’s market have become routine for many, we still have a long way to go to become a healthier nation. A major obstacle for a healthier India is the unregulated use of pesticides.

In 2013, 23 children were infected from a pesticide-laced school lunch in Bihar which led to their early deaths. India is one of the few densely populated countries where pesticides go largely unregulated. Recent agriculture reports found that many food products had “unacceptable” amounts of chemical components. However, as each society becomes more aware of the harmful effects of pesticides and processing, organic food has become the new staple to strive for. India’s government has now been spearheading this initiative in a number of its states to improve the quality of food.

December 2015 served as the inaugural month of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of the Sikkim Organic Festival. This small Himalayan state—bordering China, Nepal and Bhutan, with a population of only 619,000—has been officially declared free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

“Sikkim has already achieved that feat of living in harmony with nature, and is, therefore, a model of development which also protects nature,” Modi stated.

This initiative began around 2003, when Chief Minister Pawan Chamling declared, in the assembly, his intent to make the state of Sikkim completely organic. This transformation was made possible through federal funding around roughly $123 per 100 acres for the first three years of this initiative. In order to have the land certified organic, the government has spent roughly about $9,697,327 on the Sikkim Organic Mission (SOM).

Championing this agriculture-friendly project, Chief Minister Chamling was reelected to his position 5 times. He was able to oversee this project to its completion and successfully watch his vision come to life.

The state first initiated this journey by endorsing multiple efforts banning all sales of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. This left local farmers with no option but to go organic. It then held two-day workshops, where experts in the organic field and scientists assisted farmers in making this transition.

Utilizing the framework set forth by the government agency which deals with organic accreditation, the National Program for Organic Production, Sikkim had to eliminate the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and GMOs. They had to replace these practices with working in conjunction with the local ecosystem to preserve biodiversity and prevent erosion. Organic farming also provides natural alternative options to chemical fertilizers such as cow manure and compost from plant residues, clay and neem extracts, garlic, mushrooms, etc.

This project serves as a crucial health initiative; however this is also an economically incentivized decision. The organic switch will result in higher profit margins for the farmers of this state.

“As we are a small state, the landholdings of our farmers are also very small,” Indian Environmental Minister, Brijendra Swaroop informed The Hindu in 2010. “Organic farming has become as an appropriate option for us as we can send our produce to niche markets, not just in India, but also abroad to get maximum returns for farmers.”

One of the most beneficial results of this initiative, in addition to health, is the tourism sector that is currently booming. The state of Sikkim already had the “picturesque” countryside theme going for it—now its organic label makes it a hot commodity. To incentivize this cozy fresh feel one step further, many resorts allow you to pick and cook fresh organic produce from their farms and gardens.