The conferment of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation’s (FAO) Future Policy Gold award on Sikkim is a mark of recognition of the state’s creditable achievements in the field of agro-ecology and sustainable development. The state won the honour because of its status as a fully organic state. It became fully organic in January 2016 and has maintained that status ever since. The FAO award, considered to be the Oscar in its area, is given for implementation of laws and policies that promote agro-ecology. Sikkim won the award beating 51 other nominees, including Brazil, Denmark and Quito, which shared the silver prize. The FAO statement said that “Sikkim is the first organic state in the world with all its farmland certified organic,’’ and its “approach has proven truly transformational for the state and its citizens.”
Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, who received the award, had launched the state on the organic path in 2003 and achieved success against many odds. The sale and use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides were gradually phased out and subsidies for them stopped. Villages were designated as bio-villages and vermiculture hatcheries and greenhouses were set up. Farmers were given training and organic farming lessons were introduced in the school curriculum. New types of bio-manure and pest control methods were developed by farmers, tapping into indigenous knowledge. Farmers became more aware of the nature and needs of their soil. That improved soil health. Action plans were developed for specific ecosystems and the right crops were selected. New kinds of labelling and marketing of produce were adopted. Production improved with economies of scale coming into play, and there were other benefits, like increased tourism.
Sikkim is a small state with a population of just over six lakh people. That does not make its achievement any less creditable. The programme was very challenging but it has now become a people’s programme. The state has not yet become self-sufficient in food, partly because it concentrated on crops most suited for its soil and best for exports as high-value organic food. The Sikkim story should inspire other states to follow its example. Unfortunately, it has not been noticed widely enough and has not attracted enough attention in our vitiated and distracted times. Its experience may hold lessons for other states that want to follow the organic path. But each state has a different agricultural and economic environment, challenges and needs. Plans suitable for particular states and regions can be developed and implemented if there is a will and commitment to make agriculture natural and sustainable. The positive impact on health and welfare can well be imagined.