What does it take to turn 75,000 hectares of farmland organic? Well, people in the state of Sikkim can now speak to that. A mountainous region in eastern India, Sikkim recently became the first state in that country to go fully organic.
The Chief Minister of Sikkim announced this vision for the state's 290 square miles of agricultural land in 2003, in response to the serious environmental and health problems resulting from chemically intensive farming methods. A combination of political will, use of local farmer's traditional knowledge and the willingness to share technical know-how made this vision a reality.
This news is especially encouraging coming from India, which has very high rates of pesticide use — and where media stories abound about farmer suicides and pesticide related cancer clusters. This is also a wonderful model to point to as we struggle to make our own agricultural system in California safer for some of the most vulnerable members of society — our children.
While the scale of agriculture and its monetary value in Sikkim is much smaller than in California, I feel inspired by the kind of coordinated, cross-sectoral cooperation that made the positive outcome in Sikkim possible. Maybe our regulators and legislators can get some inspiration too?
The triple bottom line
The transition of Sikkim to a 100% organic state means three things: the state’s environment is better protected, the health of Sikkim families is not undermined by pesticides, and farmers get a better price for their crops. The state's tourism sector has also gotten a boost. A few resorts have started marketing themselves as destinations where tourists can pluck, cook and relish fresh organic food from kitchen gardens.
So with people, planet and profits all covered, the triple bottom line concept has been successfully implemented in Sikkim.
To make the state fully organic, every farm needed to get organic certification from an independent certifying body. The state government passed a law banning the use and sale of any pesticide in Sikkim, with a substantial fine and jail term penalizing anyone breaking this law. On January 18, 2016 the Prime Minister of India declared the state fully organic.
Along with a variety of vegetables, Sikkim's organic food products include paddy, wheat, spices (such as large cardamom, turmeric and ginger), flowers and mandarin oranges. While the state’s farmers get a good price for their crops, they continue working hard to improve yields from their organic farms, with the support of the state government.
The best way forward
Organic agriculture, as part of an agroecological approach to farming, provides real solutions to a variety of problems, including:
- improving farm resiliency in the face of changing and unpredictable climate
- protecting the health of communities from agrochemcials
- conserving biological diversity and natural resources
- improving economic stability for farmers
In a world facing increasingly fickle weather patterns, falling economic returns for industrial farmers and an avalanche of pesticide-related health harms, agroecology seems the only logical way forward. Sikkim is one more case in a string of many that shows the feasibility of moving towards agroecological practices. Many such examples of profitable, resilient farms exist in the U.S. and around the world.
What we need now is the political will — and investment — to scale these practices up across the globe. The health and wellbeing of communities, farmers and our planet demands nothing less.