Sikkim’s State Policy on Organic Farming, India
Today, Sikkim is the first 100% organic state in the world. All of its farmland is certified organic. The transition has benefitted more than 66,000 farming families that practice organic and agroecological farming on more than 76,000 ha of land. The policy implemented a phase out of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and achieved a total ban on sale and use of chemical pesticides in the state. At the same time, Sikkim’s approach reaches beyond organic production and has proved truly transformational for the state and its citizens. Embedded in its design are socioeconomic aspects such as consumption and market expansion, cultural aspects as well as health, education, rural development and sustainable tourism. For its noteworthy achievements, holistic approach and its respect for the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and Elements of Agroecology, Sikkim’s State Policy on Organic Farming (2004) and Sikkim Organic Mission (2010) were recognized with the Future Policy Gold Award 2018, awarded by the World Future Council in partnership with the FAO and IFOAM – Organics International.
- Dominated by a fragile mountainous environment, Sikkim is not suited to intensive industrial farming and the use of chemicals had always been relatively low compared to other Indian states.
- Political commitment to support organic farming in Sikkim began in 2003 and was consolidated in 2010 with the design of the Sikkim Organic Mission. This road map clearly detailed all the measures necessary to achieve the target of becoming a fully organic state by 2015, a goal that was reached within just 12 years. Nowadays Sikkim is the first 100% organic state in the world.
- The implementation of Sikkim’s policy was successful due to the fact that it combines mandatory requirements, such as gradually banning chemical fertilizers and pesticides, with support and incentives, thus providing sustainable alternatives.
- More than 66,000 farming families benefitted from the policy, which however reaches beyond organic production and proves truly transformational. For instance, Sikkim’s tourism sector benefited greatly from the new organic image: between 2014 and 2017 the number of tourists increased by over 50 per cent.
Sikkim’s State Policy on Organic Farming of 2004, full text available here.
Sikkim Organic Mission of 2010, full text available here.
Organic farming is one of the strategies that Sikkim is implementing to ensure the sustainable environmental and socioeconomic development of the state. The Government has continued to embed this strategy into other important laws and policies, see, for instance, Sikkim’s Agricultural, Horticultural Input and Livestock Feed Regulatory Act of 2014.
In general, Sikkim has made steady progress in various aspects of human development over the last decade, such as becoming one of the Indian states with the lowest incidence of malnutrition (after Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland) and the one with the highest female work participation rate (40 per cent, compared to the national average of 26 per cent). In addition, between 2001 and 2012, the government consciously stepped up investments in the social sectors, particularly health and education; in 2012–2013, 37 per cent of its total expenditure were allocated to the social sectors. In the past, Sikkim has implemented massive afforestation measures and it is very keen and conscious about promoting ecotourism, which is becoming an increasingly central industry for the state. Sikkim was also among the first states in India to ban plastic bags, way back in 1998. In 2016, it banned the use of packaged drinking water in government offices and government events and the use of Styrofoam and thermocol disposable utensils in the entire state in a move to cut down toxic plastic pollution and tackle the problem of waste.
The Sikkim Organic Mission – with its goal of becoming a fully organic state – is the first such far-sighted and visionary policy commitment by a state in India and indeed the world. By implementing this political strategy, Sikkim shows that it is taking all necessary measures to reverse the prevailing economic logic that favours forms of food production that fail to account for the contributions of nature. This action plan, together with its linked policies, is unique in its boldness. Remarkably, it allowed Sikkim to achieve its target of converting the entire state to organic agriculture by December 2015. This is the first time in history that a state set such an ambitious vision and also achieved it. For this truly outstanding accomplishment, Sikkim’s policies won the Future Policy Gold Award 2018.
When starting these policies, mainstreaming of organic and agroecological farming in the whole state was seen as a strategy to preserve the ecosystem of the state and the health of its citizens. The government was (and still is) convinced that this decision would deliver huge socioeconomic benefits, would help young people stay on the land, and would attract local and foreign sustainable tourism, while opening opportunities to reach premium organic markets.
Since the policy’s introduction, resolute efforts to halt use of chemicals in the fields and to convert all the national agricultural land to organic practices were implemented by the regional government and the people at large. Measures include the implementation of bio-villages, where farmers are trained in organic farming practices and the production of on-farm organic inputs, such as composting, organic fertilizers and organic pesticides, using with locally available plant materials and cow urine. Mandatory requirements were combined with support and incentives, and by providing sustainable alternatives, the implementation of Sikkim’s strategy became successful.
Our “Best Policies” are those that meet the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise the interconnected challenges we face today. The goal of principled policy work is to ensure that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are taken into account. It also helps to increase policy coherence between different sectors.
- The policy fosters sustainable livelihoods and nature preservation through the adoption of Organic Farming.
- Farmers receive support for training, capacity building and to diversify crop production, including good income generating products, like cardamom or flowers.
- The policy had benefits on the income of farmers, and many young farmers are now interested to stay in farming.
- The legal framework developed plans and allocated resources to facilitate farmers’ access to organic seeds and planting materials, without discrimination.
- Participation mechanisms work mainly through the existing administrative system and the administration has close relations with farmers.
- A widespread mobilization of the local rural population ensures the implementation of the policy.
- Farmers practice all kinds of information exchanges on how to solve problems; certification is an important element of information, knowledge exchange, farm advice and farmer emancipation.
- The policy is well integrated in the overall strategy of the state.
- The ban on import of non-organic vegetables is unique worldwide and tries to level the unfair price of conventional food versus organic food.
- Development of scientific research, teaching and vocational training in Organic Farming is part of the policy.
- Sikkim has created a unique legal framework for banning synthetic inputs and is beginning to internalize costs in the unequal competition between organic and conventional products.
- The policy is ecologically justified, like in the Alps and other ecologically sensitive regions, where state money has also led to organic conversion.
- The small family farms in the Himalayas, with 1 ha, one dairy cow, a couple with one child (or two) are economical and easy to convert.
Sikkim is a small Himalayan state located in Northeast India of a total geographical area about 709,600 ha with around 610,577 local inhabitants (2011 Census). The state is listed as one of the world’s global biodiversity hotspots and its fragile, mountainous ecosystem requires sustainable farming practices to preserve its natural capital. Only about 10 per cent is farmed, whilst the rest is made up of forest, uncultivable land, cold desert and alpine region. The topography of the region is not suited to intensive industrial farming and the use of chemicals had always been relatively low compared to other Indian states. Hence, Sikkim was a state where the impact of the Green Revolution was marginal.
Political commitment to organic agriculture in Sikkim started in 2003. That year, the Chief Minister of Sikkim, H.E. Pawan Chamling, announced his vision for Sikkim to be India’s first organic state. In a historic declaration to the State Assembly in 2003, H.E. Chamling announced “a long awaited policy initiative of declaring Sikkim as a total Organic State”. Thanks to political stability – H.E. Chamling has been Chief Minister of Sikkim since 1994 – the organic vision was realized in just a little more than a decade.
The 2003 declaration was accompanied by the creation of an action plan containing a variety of policy measures, including a gradual phase-out of synthetic inputs and the support for the production and use of organic fertilizers and organic seeds, coupled with capacity building for extension officers, farmers and young people. However, back then there was still no clear agreement on how to progress towards the goal of a fully organic state. To move forward with this objective, in 2004, the government came up with a working policy and in August 2010, it launched the Sikkim Organic Mission to implement the action plan and policies related to organic farming in the state, with the target of converting the entire state into an organic one by the year 2015. This objective was achieved and in January 2016 the State was declared as the first organic state in India.
The political reasons behind the conversion of the entire state to organic and agroecological agriculture are multifaceted. On one hand, organic farming was perceived as the closest agricultural system to the traditional Sikkimese way of farming, which is traditionally rain-fed with low adoption of external inputs. On the other hand, mainstreaming organic and agroecological farming in the whole state was (and is) seen also as a strategy to preserve ecosystems and citizen’s health, and to deliver huge socioeconomic benefits. The government was convinced that this decision would help young people stay on the land and would attract local and foreign sustainable tourism, while opening opportunities to reach premium organic markets.
By creating and ensuring a domestic market for organic products controlled by the farmers, the policy aims to make farming sustainable, remunerative and respectable, including for youth, and to ensure seed and food sovereignty. It also tackles environmental issues, such as enhancing soil fertility, biodiversity and water conservation, and addresses health issues, by avoiding the use of agrochemicals and other hazardous materials, by ensuring bio-security and by ensure quality control of organic inputs and agricultural produce. Among the objectives of Sikkim’s State Policy on Organic Farming is also the conservation of traditional knowledge related to agriculture.
Between 2003 and 2010 several pilot programmes supporting organic farming were launched, including the implementation of bio-villages where farmers were trained in organic farming practices and the production of organic inputs such as composting, organic fertilizers and organic pesticide using with local plants and cow urine. During this period, the government also invested substantially in the construction of vermicomposting pits. By 2009, more than 100 villages had benefited from these programmes, reaching 10,000 farmers in all four districts of the state.
Under the Sikkim Organic Mission, launched in 2010, a number of additional actions to support organic agriculture were implemented, including capacity building, organic seed and planting material production, setting up of seed and soil testing laboratory, operation of Sikkim Organic retail outlet at New Delhi, the inclusion of organic farming in school curricula, the conversion of the two state government farms at Nazitam and Mellidara, which became Organic Centres of Excellence for conducting organic farming demonstrations and trials, and the launch of three livelihood schools as training centres for unemployed youth.
Activities aimed at supplying farmers with quality organic seeds included strengthening the seeds laboratory testing and processing facilities, and the development of a range of local organic seed development projects, such as contracting seed producers, government purchase and distribution, and establishing automated greenhouses for quality organic seedling production. Finally, in 2016, a National Organic Farming Research Institute (NOFRI) was established at Gangtok. The Institute promotes research and education on organic farming, and provides research and technological backstopping to organic production systems, not only for Sikkim but for the whole North East Hills Region of India. Certification has also been a crucial part of the programme. Eighty per cent of the budget between 2010 and 2014 was used to build the capacity of farmers, rural service providers and certification bodies in organic farming practices, requirements and inspections, and to support farmers in acquiring certification, mainly through the Internal Control System.
One of the strongest components of the plan was to couple a conversion strategy with the gradual phase-out of synthetic inputs. Starting in 2005, the government decided to stop receiving its chemical fertilizer quota from the Government of India and began to gradually reduce subsidies on chemical fertilizers and pesticides at a rate of 10 per cent every year to make them costlier and discourage their purchase. In this way, subsidies were phased-out by 2007-2008. Another measure was to start closing down all sale points and other outlets supplying farmers with synthetic inputs. The state government also started to restrict the import of synthetic inputs and, finally, in 2014 the Sikkim Agricultural, Horticultural Inputs and Livestock Feed Regulation Act was passed, which prohibits the import of any chemical inputs for agriculture and horticulture, and as such constitutes a total ban on the sale and use of chemical pesticides in the state.
During the period between 2010 and 2014, the government earmarked a budget of EUR 6.75 million to support the implementation of the Organic Mission. Recently, the Organic Mission has received also support from central Government schemes, such as the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA).
Sikkim’s experience has been largely positive. In the first place, the state government showed strong political will and policy consistency, along with well-defined targets and implementation plans, which can be adopted by other states. The state government’s strategy to phase out chemical fertilizers was implemented gradually, but firmly. It was a bold decision, backed up by substantial measures to build real sustainable alternatives. Farmers and citizens are proud of this policy and keep giving it political support.
Today, more than 66,000 farming families, covering more than 76,000 ha of land, have joined the Organic Mission and benefited from the transition. These farming communities have gained a good level of understanding of organic farming practices and understand the benefits of conversion. To improve soil health management, the government has provided also support for farmers to perform a total 40,000 soil tests per year. The results are delivered in the form of Soil Health cards, which give nutrient status and recommendations on inputs. Furthermore, the three livelihood schools for organic farming have together educated 836 unemployed people, 695 of whom are now employed with various rural service providers as field supervisors.
At the same time, Sikkim’s approach reaches beyond organic production and has proved truly transformational for the state and its citizens. Embedded in its design are socioeconomic aspects such as consumption and market expansion, cultural aspects as well as health, education, rural development and sustainable tourism. When Sikkim achieved full organic status in December 2015, the success was widely communicated in India and worldwide and the Sikkim tourism sector clearly benefited from this new organic image: between 2014 and 2017 the number of tourists increased by over 50 per cent.
Despite being a small state, Sikkim’s visionary leadership is receiving extensive attention in India and appears destined to reverberate worldwide. Neighbouring countries and states show high interest in replicating and many other countries, especially in Asia, invited Sikkim to exchange its experiences.
Bhutan has already set out a new road map towards becoming a 100 per cent organic state by 2023, and now a number of Indian states are interested in following the wish of the India’s Prime Minister to see the whole of North India converting to organic agriculture. At the beginning of 2018, Uttakarand became the second Indian state to promise broader support to organic farming for its 1.6 million farmers, announcing an action plan backed by approximately EUR 189 million of federal funding for the next three years. Organic agriculture can help India to achieve its own sustainable development goals, including doubling the income of rural farmers by 2022, if more Indian states adopt Sikkim’s model of organic farming.
Sikkim Organic Mission: https://www.sikkimorganicmission.gov.in/
Government of Sikkim (2015), Human Development Report 2015, Routledge: https://www.sikkim.gov.in/stateportal/Link/Sikkim%20Human%20Developent%20Report%202014.pdf
Government of Sikkim, Comprehensive Progress Report 2014, Sikkim Organic Mission (2014): https://www.sikkimorganicmission.gov.in/2015/01/06/comprehensive-progress-report/
National Horticulture Mission Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DAC), Krishi Bhavan, New Delhi Report of the Joint Inspection Team on their inspection visit to East district and West districts of Sikkim field activities of MIDH, (2014): https://midh.gov.in/tmnehs/writereaddata/Sikkim%20-%20November%2C%202014.pdf
State Policy on Organic Farming and Sikkim Organic Mission, India
Today, Sikkim is the first 100% organic state in the world. All of its farmland is certified organic. The transition has benefitted more than 66,000 farming families that practice organic and agroecological farming on more than 76,000 ha of land.