Organic Farming: Lessons to learn from Sikkim Organic MissionMany states and union territories have come up with policy on organic agriculture. But the “Sikkim Organic Mission” offers good lessons to eternal learners. It is always good to eat healthy foods from organic farms but in organic farming there are always costs to producers and options to consumers hence having holistic policy on organic farming is need of the hour. “Sikkim Organic Mission”, though well planned, was not without flaws. Those flaws affected production (cost, process etc), productivity and involved avoidable costs to exchequer. Similar to Sikkim our state has better environment for achievement of 100% organic status. If we decide to move towards the goal of organic state, issues of production, productivity, food security, farmer’s income security, reducing cost of production, research, education, extension, training and capacity building, certification (third party certification, participatory guarantee system), marketing and market intelligence etc should deserve priority.
If we look at the farming aspects in our state, most of the area is under organic especially in few pockets of hills. For example per hectare total nutrients Consumption (in Kgs) in 2012-2013 of our state was 30.90 kg/ha compared to 184 kg/ha of Punjab in 2003-2004. District wise consumption (as per www.agrimanipur.gov.in) of chemical Fertilizer (Urea+DAP+MOP+SSP+TSP) in 2012-13 was… Chandel (90 tonne), Tamenglong (80 tonne), Ukhrul (100 tonne), Churachandpur (266 tonne), Senapati (370 tonne), Imphal East (4133 tonne), Imphal West (4360 tonne), Bishnupur (5175 tonne), Thoubal (8710 tonne). Most of the area under cultivation in Chandel, Tamenglong and Ukhrul must be organic. Pesticide consumption stood at 30.36 tonne (of technical grade) in Manipur and included 1,29,100 ha (under chemical pesticides) and 24,679 ha (under bio-pesticides). Today the farmers of our state use an estimated 18 tonne/year of bio fertilizer. We can move towards organic state by declaring less chemicalized districts as organic districts.
When most consumers are eating organic (more so in hills) there is limited scope for local market. To export agricultural produce involves huge transport cost (especially when we are growing high volume low value crops). The middle path is to grow low volume high value crops and process them and export the value added products to other states and union territories of Union of India. There needs to be a properly linked processing sector.
As per 2013-14 data area under rice during kharif season was 1,95,000 ha, pulses (30,380 ha), maize (26,090 ha) oil seeds (36,290 ha) potato (15,000 ha) with productivity of pulses higher than national average (537 kg/ha) at 940 kg/ha. Most of the area is under high volume low value crops (in terms of economics, not food security). We should dedicate certain area under high value low volume crops. For example when we cultivate maize a part of the area can be dedicated to growing organic baby corn. During transition period high value low volume crops should preferably be annual crops because failure of perennial crops is usually high owing to high intensity pest and disease attacks. Over a period of time pest management is stabilized on organic farms due to resilience of organic agricultural ecosystem and perennial crops can be included.
Thrust should be given to water harvesting and increasing cropping intensity (double cropping, triple cropping) to 200 % from 145.16 % (2013-14). Through better watershed and irrigation management under “District Irrigation Plan” of “Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana”, cropping intensity can be increased. Increased cropping intensity will definitely compensate for the low yields in organic farms during transition period.
During transition to organic farming in order to improve productivity enabling farmers to make their own inputs for example educating farmers on making compost and vermicompost, making bio pesticides, bio-fertilizers etc is crucial. Supply of inputs like organically grown certified seeds, bio-pesticides, bio-fertilizers, organic manures at subsidized price can keep the morale of growers high. If few lead farmers/progressive farmers are trained to supply all the organic inputs by subsidizing them, most growers will be benefited. In organic farming management of insect pests and diseases is challenging during transition. For better pest and disease management, an established network of agricultural centers with trained staff in the field of surveillance, disease and pest forecasting etc are key. Those pesticides allowed are either of natural origin or simple chemical products. The active ingredients in allowed pesticides break down rapidly when exposed to sunlight, reducing risk to the environment.
Ensuring food security is also important during transition period. After all it is nature. Due to incidence of pests and diseases and soil fertility, productivity of crops in organic farms will be low during initial period. Hence having stock of food grains is necessary. Adequate storage of food grains will also prevent surge in food prices. Bringing organic commodities under the bracket of minimum support prices ensures farmers income security. This in turn assures more and more farmers to take up organic farming.
State government can have unique organic brand under the name “Orgmanic” (acronym for Organic from Manipur). The purpose of having government owned brand is government can protect many of farmers’ interests and can be a source of revenue. Under the “Orgmanic” brand we can promote unique black aromatic rice, orange, king chilly, banana etc. From banana organic chips can be made. From fruits organic juice, jam and Jelly can be made. These are just few examples. The scope and potential is much higher. One software turned entrepreneur in Mandya district of Karnataka state has established an organic supermarket chain under the brand “Organicmandya”. “Organicmandya” sells range of organic produces like fresh fruits and vegetables to processed products like niger oil, organic jaggery, cookies from organic produce etc. “Organicmandya” has tied up with farmers and also has its own organic farms. This has tapped growing market for organic products in Southern Karnataka.
Issue of customers’ preference for low price conventional produce to high price organic produce is common because of economic reasons. But there are markets in mega cities which can be captured if we are early in the race.
An institute dedicated to education, research, extension and training on organic farming to the concerned stakeholders will strengthen the fundamentals of organic mission. Soil testing laboratories should be established as a top priority so that site specific nutrient management can be done which can reduce cost. The institute can impart necessary skills to farmers in the field of package of practices especially for high value low volume crops, processing of produce, maintaining hygienic conditions etc.
Certification of agricultural land is an important issue. Mainly there are two types of organic certification systems in India: Third Party Certification (essential for exports) and Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) (for domestic sales). Third Party Certification involves high cost, especially for an individual farmer, PGS involves almost no cost. For example as per the report of Delhi based non-profit “Centre for Science and Environment” Sikkim has spent an average of Rs 8,400 per ha for three years for third party certification and is now expected to pay about Rs 1,425 per ha per annum for renewal of certification. This means that the three-year cost of renewal will be a little more than half the cost of conversion. “Between 2010 and March 2016, “Sikkim Organic Mission” (SOM) has spent about Rs 77 crore, of which about Rs 60 crore has been spent on certification and the processes connected with it. This means SOM has spent about 78 per cent of its expenditure so far on certification and related processes. If our focus is capturing domestic market relatively expensive we can forego third Party Certification and go for Participatory Guarantee System which is economically viable.
In marketing focus should be on exploring market for both fresh and processed products. It also involves prediction of the demand and supply chain spatially and temporally, evaluation or prediction of competition from other organic brands, markets overseas (to get third party certification) etc. Better market intelligence will solve this issue. The market within the state will be insufficient because most of the food grown and eaten in most parts of the state is already organic. There are cities like Bengaluru, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Chandigarh etc where there is a growing market for organic products. For us it is economically and logically not possible to transport raw organic produces like fruits and vegetables for reasons of distance and other infrastructure issues. This should not dampen our spirit for we can market value added products like organically processed and canned fruit juices, vegetable products, organic medicines, meat products etc. Our focus must be on processing, value addition, branding and successful marketing. Low volume high value crops like spices, medicinal and aromatic plants, selected fruits and vegetables etc can yield economic yield under organic agriculture without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other synthetic chemicals. There is untapped potential for organic medicines from organically grown medicinal plants and meat from organically farmed animal (fishes, etc), processed fruits, vegetables, mushroom, root and tuber crops, spices, aromatic plant products, non alcoholic beverages (fruit juices etc), pickles, fruit jam, sausages etc. Through value addition of organically grown farm products and by-products there can be state run/private run organic hotel chain, organic medical shops, organic clothing (organic cotton T-shirt) chain etc. There is also scope for bottled organic water (though certification is debated), organic colors, organic religious idols etc.
If the marketing policy is conducive many entities will join contract farming structure. Contract farming will address the issues of small holdings, accessing remote locations, price, certification, market, supply of inputs, assured prices to farmers etc.
More importantly nothing is perfect and we still have much to learn. A lot of things are possible through optimism and hard work. Sikkim is working to update the “Sikkim Organic Mission” and we can only thank “Sikkim Organic Mission” for providing stakeholders certain fundamentals and now let’s contribute to a better “Manipur Organic Mission”.
(Views expressed by the author are personal. Rajesh A M, is an Indian Forest Service officer 2013 batch Manipur cadre. Currently he is posted as DFO/Senapati Forest Division, Government of Manipur)
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