US - INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW

39 US-INDIA GLOBAL REVIEW JULY-SEPTEMBER 2018 import of many nonorganic veg- etables from other states. The transition has not been always easy: Some farmers have com- plained that their crop yields have decreased and that they haven't gotten enough support from the government. The small state's organic acres constitute just a sliver of India's 5.6 million acres of chemical-free farmland, which itself is a fraction of India's nearly 400 million acres of agricultural land. (The United States also has about 5 million acres of organic farmland.) Demand for organic food is high in India and growing fast. Concern about pesticides and desire for chemical-free food are fueling market growth that is rising 25 percent a year, more than the 16 percent globally, according to a recent study by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India. The market for organic products is about $600 million now and could top $1 bil- lion in the coming years, the study said. "This is a big moment for India," said Radha Mohan Singh, the country's minister of agriculture and farmers' welfare. In a brightly colored tent in a mountain town one recent day, Sikkim's chief minister, Pawan Kumar Chamling, exhorted 300 or so constituents in the audience to embrace the eco-friendly lifestyle. "The approach Sikkim has started will be adopted by the whole world tomorrow," he said, in a speech that stretched five hours. "This is our vision!" Chamling, 67, has been the principal driver of Sikkim's move to go all-organic since his state legislature set up the program in 2003. He's largely self-educated, writes poetry in his spare time and is India's longest-serving chief minister, in office since 1994. "When we decided to go into organic farming in Sikkim, we faced so many challenges," he said. "Agriculturists or cultivators had no idea what organic farming is, so education was our first prior- ity. Slowly, people began to under- stand and supported us." But the executive order in March to ban the import of inor- ganic produce from neighboring states threw the state into turmoil, with prices of cabbage tripling in the markets, traders in revolt and the opposition party marching in protest. Chamling dismissed these most recent events as "teething prob- lems" and said he was confident the chaos would sort itself out. The state government is introduc- ing seasonal price caps on organ- ic vegetables for consumers to keep prices affordable. There was no blueprint for change when Chamling began his efforts to preserve Sikkim's fragile ecosystem, a land of hundreds of species of birds, wild orchids and glacier-fed streams, in the shadow of Kanchenjunga, the world's third-tallest peak. The state - pop- ulation 610,000 - nestles among China, Bhutan and Nepal and was a separate kingdom until it merged with India in 1975. India has just begun formulating its policies for organic farming after its "Green Revolution," dur- ing which the country adopted modern farming methods of high- yield seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. To encourage farmers to make the switch to organic, Sikkim tapered off its supply of chemical pesticides and fertilizers - making their use a criminal offense in 2014 - launched education pro- grams, and installed thousands of composting pits. By 2016, 190,000 acres of cultivable land had been certified organic. The state has also banned the use of plas- ticware. Roadside snack stalls use In the tiny Indian state of Sikkim, which banned disposable plastic plates in 2016, a spicy roadside snack of onion pakora comes on a disposable plate molded from leaves. Photo:Washingotn Post photo by Annie Gowen

RkJQdWJsaXNoZXIy NTg0NTU=