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Daily News Blog

23
Oct

Chief Minister of Sikkim State in India Urges World to Adopt Organic Agriculture

(Beyond Pesticides, October 23, 2018)  The Chief Minister of the Sikkim state in northeast India, Pawan Chamling, addressed a news conference in the Italian Parliament on October 15 to issue a call for a complete, global transition to organic agriculture by 2050. Citing the increasing dangers of climate disruption and its impacts, Mr. Chamling said that such conversion to pesticide- and petrochemical-free practices would reduce carbon emissions by 50%. The call for banning pesticides in communities and countries nationwide is gaining increasing traction, as the shift to organic land management is increasing exponentially. The town of Mals, Italy (93 square miles in area, encompassing ten villages and hamlets, as well as farmland, home to 5,092 people) passed a ban on a ballot initiative with 75% in favor and 69% of the electorate voting. In 2013, the country of Bhutan adopted completely organic practices  throughout its nation. Although not affecting agricultural pesticide use, towns across the U.S. are adopting measures that stop pesticide use community-wide. Ordinances in the cities of Ogunquit, South Portland, and Portland, Maine and the City of Takoma Park, Maryland are examples of city-wide pesticide bans. A petition in Switzerland calls for the banning of pesticides country-wide.

States in northeast India — including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, HImachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura — had already, over the past few decades, used far lower quantities of pesticides than have other areas of the country. Khorlo Bhutia, principal director and secretary of Sikkim’s Horticulture and Cash Crops Development Department, has said that Sikkim was already “close to being organic by default.” In 2004, Mizoram was the first Indian state to legislate a conversion of its agriculture to 100% organic (though that legislation lacks any deadlines for achievement of the goal), and Kerala and several others are now on the path to fully organic production. A number of other states — Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, and Gujarat — all have some sort of organic farming law or policy on their books. Their pursuit of organic agriculture will no doubt benefit from Sikkim’s experiences.

Sikkim, the least populous and smallest of the Indian states, whose terrain is quite mountainous, began its own transition to organic in 2003, and achieved it statewide in 2015 — despite the inevitable opposition from the chemical industry and other political parties. From 2003, the state started reducing subsidies of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers by 10% annually. It then banned them completely in 2014, making their sale or use subject to imprisonment or fines.

The transition in Sikkim has not been without its challenges, including too little access to organic compost for farmers, some farmers’ claims of insufficient information and tools with which to deal with pest infestations, some reports of lowered productivity, and poor marketing of the “Sikkim Organic” label (and so, unrealized premiums for agricultural products). The bulk of Sikkim’s organic food was not, as of April 2017, marketed and sold as organic produce. “Since there is no regulation on food that comes from outside the state, organic food grown in Sikkim competes with the cheaper conventional food that comes from West Bengal. Therefore, farmers in Sikkim suffer a major disadvantage,” said GV Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Secunderabad, Telangana, who works with 2,000+ farmers in Sikkim. State government acknowledges that successful marketing has lagged, citing lack of funds.

The state government has reported that the productivity of every crop, but for one native orange, has either remained stable or improved slightly from 2010/2011 to 2015/2016. MK Pradhan, another director of the Sikkim Organic Mission, the nodal agency established in 2010 to shepherd Sikkim’s transition, noted that, “Initially, there was apprehension among farmers and, in some villages, they refused to take up organic farming. But with continuous training and education, there was a shift in their mindset.”

Despite those challenges, Sikkim is taking a bit of a victory lap to encourage others to step up to make the transition to organic. Among Minister Chamling’s comments during the press conference was this: “Based on my long experience and association with the organic initiative, I can tell you in all good faith and confidence that a 100 per cent organic world is possible. If we could do it in Sikkim, there is no reason why policymakers, farmers and community leaders cannot do the same elsewhere in the world.” He added, “‘Sikkim is the most peaceful state in India. . . . It is the best in many ways’”; Minister Chamling went on to note the state’s gender equality, and the absence of extreme poverty and religious and caste tensions. Vandana Shiva, renowned environmental and agricultural activist, underscored the correlation, saying that “organic zones” are “zones of democracy,” and “Sikkim shows the world it is possible to be 100 per cent free of the chemicals that destroy and [to] defeat the forces that promote them.”

By contrast, here in the U.S., organic agriculture has seen significant growth and consumer interest during the past couple of decades, especially; it is now a $53 billion sector. Yet progress on a full transition to organic agriculture has been erratic. The development of organic standards for agriculture were required by the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990; the National Organic Program and National Organic Standards Board (which advises the Secretary of Agriculture on organic food matters) were created a decade later. Organic agriculture has been proven to be beneficial for both producers and consumers, and its advantages are legion, providing significant health and environmental advantages, as compared with conventional industrial agriculture. (Read more on the case for organic agriculture here and here.)

Nevertheless, the forces arrayed to oppose such a transition are formidable; they include the chemical, petroleum, and conventional agriculture industries, trade associations, and some farmer membership organizations. All presumably fear lowered profits, if not outright obsolescence.

Existing standards and protections for the organic sector must also be protected. There are, for example, efforts by federal agencies in the Trump administration, and members of Congress, to gnaw away at the National Organic Standards, which protect the integrity of organic production and certification. The current Farm Bill (S. 3042) is a case in point: as proposed, it seeks to change a sunsetting provision on synthetic chemicals permitted in organic production so that such chemicals would remain on the official list of those allowed, rather than fall off the list absent an expected, every-five-years review process for such chemicals.

Beyond Pesticides has long advocated for a transition of our agricultural economy to organic, and, like Minister Chamling, renews the urgency of the need for this transition in the face of advancing climate disruption. It writes frequently about assaults on organic, and about the importance of protecting and advocating for its integrity, often through resisting harmful changes that may arise in the development of each Farm Bill. Its webpage on this fall’s National Organic Standards Board meeting provides an overview of the issues at stake and ways to become active on them. See the Keep Organic Strong webpage to learn more about organic and how to support and advocate for it.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: https://www.devdiscourse.com/Article/science-environment/218898-sikkim-cm-urges-world-to-adopt-farming-without-chemical-fertilisers-and-pesticides

 

 

 

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