Challenges before Sikkim - India’s first organic state
Sikkim has become the first organic state of India under the leadership of Chief Minister Pawan Chamling. All right thinking Sikkimese should be proud of this. We are truly giving meaning to sustainable agriculture.
However, nothing remains static and so it would be worthwhile to look at the next set of challenges that we will be coming up with immediately.
The first is how do we continue to get certification of farmers’ fields? This will be a challenge due to the fact that farmers will have to get it done themselves over time. It will have to be done as an annual exercise to ensure that organic status is maintained in certified terms.
Many will wonder why this needs to be done at all. Unfortunately, the trade does not trust farmers and their cooperatives per se. Hence, the certification provides a transparent means for messaging the organic status of the farmer and his field.
This costs money and the question before the state government is how this will be funded? It would be a pity if after all this effort the farmers’ fields continue to be organic but without certification.
Furthermore, it presents as much of a challenge to the traders and other value addition entities if this is not done. Many young agro-entrepreneurs are building their businesses based on this certification. It will become untenable for them to sell their products based on Sikkim Organic brand.
Geo-tagging is an important element in understanding where the source of the food produce is from. Globally, this is even more important in view of the problems being faced due to food adulteration and other forms of processing issues.
Hence, all of these challenges will surface if certification of farmers’ fields is not done. If done, then it will add more trust and impel the process of value addition further. However, if not done then it will add risk to the whole value chain and indeed to the entrepreneurs.
The second important challenge is that of marketing. Much had been talked about this over the past.
Since I have been part of the discourse, it has always been there as an issue that needs serious tackling. However, now that the Organic Mission is a success and will be recognised by the world, we have to take marketing even more seriously. This is an area where private entrepreneurs and businesses will have to come forward.
Produce of Sikkim has always gone to traditional markets via established channels. But now with new produce and that too organic, disruption of traditional markets will happen. This will engender new opportunities to garner greater value. These opportunities must be seized. Export markets can be tapped to get better value but then produce must be at a particular scale as well as quality standards.
We may not have time on our side but then ease of doing business is what must be looked at very carefully by the government. Start-ups even in agro-processing and marketing can happen. Young Sikkimese entrepreneurs can have first mover advantage.
The third and final challenge is making young people go back to their fields to make money. A huge set of opportunities has been opened up by the vision and mission of our Chief Minister. This must be capitalised on forthwith. I think the Agriculture Minister and his team will have to make huge efforts to see that our certified lands do not end up as uncultivated.
This will be a great loss to our state. We must reap the fruits of the humongous efforts made thus far. Young people ought to put hands to work and see how the magic of the farms and nature will turn it into gold.
If the pricing of produce is stabilised and with modern farm practices, organic farming proposes to change the life and lifestyles of our farmers and young people as much as it did during the green revolution in Punjab.
Hence, let us get future certification processes organised properly and with the least amount of cost to the farmers. Let us get our marketing right and move to higher value addition and branding. Our value chains must be properly lubricated for minimum commercial friction. And finally, let us get young people to the organic farms.
The last one, the most challenging, if done will have fulfilled the main objective of getting into Organic Farming in the first place.
I must hasten to add that these are not new ideas. But bringing them up now is to ensure that they stay within the realm of our consciousness. Even whilst all Sikkimese celebrate, looking ahead a little will be considered wise. We need to stay alive to these issues to continue to lead the rest of India in #OrganicPartnership!
(P.D. Rai is the sitting Lok Sabha member from Sikkim. The views expressed are strictly personal)