A fine balance

A fine balance

In place of what are now the mightiest mountains in the world, once there was a shallow sea.

Out of this sea, at some point in the distant past of Earth’s geological history, gigantic waves rose. About a million years ago, these waves began to form themselves into the vast mountain system, which we now know as the Himalayas, with Mount Everest towering above them all. The third highest peak, Kanchenjunga shadowed over Sikkim as its deity and shaped the very nature of the state — a former kingdom of the northeast, India’s greenest state with largest forest cover and now the first organic state of the nation.

Rich biodiversity

It’s not easy to find Sikkim on the map unless one knows where to look. The tiniest state in the northeast extends only for 112 km from north to south and 64 km from east to west. But what Sikkim lacks in size, it makes up for in the grandeur of its Himalayan scenery. Sikkim ranges in altitude from a mere 244 metre in the valley of River Teesta to a towering 8,540 metre at Mount Kanchenjunga. The melting snow from the peaks cascade down the mountainside in numerous waterfalls to form rivers in the valley.

These small rivers all flow into the Teesta that flows through the highlands of Sikkim. This is where the true beauty of Sikkim could be discovered. To the exploring eye, a whole new world is revealed through the green mantle of its forests, home to the snow leopard, red panda,  clouded leopard and numerous birds.

Sikkim biodiversity statistics can easily surprise anyone. Covering just 0.2 per cent of the total geographical area of the country, the state harbours over 4,500 species of flowering plants, 550 species of orchids and several species of rhododendrons, conifers, bamboos, ferns, tree ferns, oaks, medicinal plants and mammals. And many species are still being discovered. Sikkim also has 28 mountains and peaks, more than 80 glaciers, 227 high altitude lakes and wetlands and over 104 rivers and streams.

But the ultimate charm of Sikkim is in its flowers. In spring (from late April to mid May), the forests of Sikkim are ablaze with brilliant rhododendron blossoms for miles. It is no wonder the state is often referred to as the ‘valley of flowers’. After all, with so much beauty everywhere, it is difficult to give pride of place to any one flower species. While the flowers add to the natural beauty of the former kingdom, Sikkim’s greatest glory in recent times has been the conscious effort to treasure and respect the generosity nature has bestowed upon them.

Through public and government collaborated green drives, annual afforestation schemes that are willingly executed, and mindful decisions taken by the people to opt for organic farming, Sikkim, in the last two decades, has proven how ecology and economy can work in tandem, efficiently and quite profitably.

Farming in Sikkim is dictated by the nature of its terrain. Wheat, potato and barley are grown in higher altitudes, while maize and rice are grown in the terrace fields that stripe the mountainside. Some of the major crops produced in Sikkim are cardamom, ginger, turmeric, Sikkim mandarin, kiwi, buckwheat, paddy, maize and millets.

It was 13 years ago in 2003, when the Pawan Chamling-led government decided to make Sikkim an organic farming state through a declaration in the legislative assembly. Since then, around 75,000 hectares of agricultural land has been gradually converted to certified organic land by implementing organic practices and principles, as per the guidelines of the National Programme for Organic Production.

Organic cultivation is a way of farming which doesn’t involve the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers. It maintains a harmonious balance among the various complex ecosystems and doesn’t destroy any natural resource. Biodiversity conservation, and less or no pollution are also the benefits of this kind of sustainable farming. Over time, the quality of soil also improves which further increases crop standards and production.

According to Sikkim’s agriculture secretary Khorlo Bhutia, the transformation of Sikkim to an organic state wasn’t overnight, but it was not difficult because of the prevalent farming practices. He says, “There was only limited use of chemical fertilisers prior to 2003 and the crop cultivation depended on low external inputs. Farmers were traditionally familiar with organic production and organic inputs like farmyard manure were used.”

The government made organic manures and pesticides readily available and  trained farmers to produce on their own. This also became an additional source of income for the farmer as organic fertilisers are in huge demand in other parts of the country and outside as well. The success of this people-driven plan is clearly supported by the real figures — of the 1,24,000 million tonnes of organic food produced in the country, around 80,000 million tonnes is supplied by Sikkim alone.

Challenges ahead

The major challenge for Sikkim today post the Organic State status will be to maintain this tag in the certified terms. An organic certification of each farm through a registered source will only add more value and give a stamp of assurance to the produce’s organic nature. Sikkim will also have to create new organic markets as traditional farming markets will not work for these farmers. Good news is, organic products are the new age mantra, and if the state can present itself as a trusted source of organic produce overtime, the path will be easily paved for a better tomorrow financially and ecologically.

So, is it that simple to envision a better future without cutting down trees, wiping out forests, and obliterating nature? Through this initiative, Sikkim has proven that is in fact possible to live without harming nature. Satellite data shows Sikkim to be the greenest state in the country with a forest cover of 47.3 per cent, as compared to the national average of 21 per cent. It is the only state in the country whose forest area has increased in the last two decades by over three per cent.

Green initiatives, like Paryavaran

Mahotsav, and Ten Minutes To Earth, have encouraged people to plant native trees and flowering species in thousands every year with constant support from the government. Sikkim may not be easily accessible or technology friendly due to the nature of its terrain.
However, modern contraptions that invariably are leading to more trouble for the planet pale away in comparison to one thing that Sikkim has — a respect for nature and an action-oriented plan that has proven profitable for the land and its people. There’s a lesson in it for all of us!

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