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India’s 15-year organic experiment pays triple dividend

India’s growing commitment to organic – in particular, its 15-year organic-only experiment in the tiny state of Sikkim – is paying multiple benefits, says the Indian government. 

Earlier this year a study by the Indian trade association ASSOCHAM-EY revealed that the market for Indian organic packaged food was expected to reach INR 871 million by 2021, from INR 533 million in 2016 – an annual growth rate of 17%. 

The substantial growth in India’s domestic organic market – attributed to an expanding urban population base and rising health concerns – and the country’s growing export trade in organic, recently prompted Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister, Radha Mohan Singh to call for organic farming in India to be promoted “in the same spirit as the Green Revolution”.

Much of the focus of India’s efforts to grow its organic output and trade has been in country’s ‘organic hub’ – a grouping of small states in the north-east of the country, including Sikkim.

15 years ago the state banned all use of synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilisers by law. According to a recent report in the Washington Post, that decision has been paying a triple dividend – an expanded organic market, improved health and an increasing income from tourism.

When Sikkim issued its executive order banning all use of chemical inputs, it was responding to deepening health and environmental concerns in India arising from the indiscriminate use of pesticide. This had led to the widespread poisoning of agricultural land, leading in turn to a serious water pollution problem. With heavy use of pesticides, came a spike in cancer rates in the region.

Sikkim, a naturally fertile region, had been a lighter user of all chemical inputs, so transitioning to organic would be easier. That said, the early years of the experiment were not altogether happy. Crop yields fell, as did farmers’ income. But these have been improving significantly, particularly for valuable spice crops such as cardamom (where yields have risen by 23% since 2014). The region’s previously fragile ecosystems – it is a land naturally rich in flora and fauna, and fed by glacial-streams from the Himalayas – has also been recovering well. And with this has come a boom in Sikkim’s tourist industry, and a growing market for eco-tours and farm-based holidays. The number of visitors to the region has doubled since 2011.

“It’s had a huge impact,” Khorlo Bhutia, Sikkim’s secretary of horticulture and cash crop development, told the Washington Post. “It’s because of the good environment — chemical-free air, water, food — all these factors.”

Photo: Terraced rice fields, Sikkim, India. Wikipedia Commons. 

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About the Author

Jim Manson

Writer & Editor
Jim Manson is editor-in-chief of Diversified Communications UK‘s natural and organic publishing portfolio. He’s written widely on environment and development issues for specialist magazines and national media, including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, and World Bank Urban Age

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