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Sikkim races on organic route

Pure green: An organic field at Ribdi in West Sikkim

Gangtok, Dec. 12: Almost one third of agricultural land in Sikkim has passed the first test as the state races to achieve organic status in four years.

Certificates attesting to the organic cultivation on 18,453 hectares of land will not only fetch higher prices for the agriculture produce but will also boost Sikkim’s burgeoning homestay tourism.

The certificates were issued in the first week of December by agencies accredited to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) under the ministry of commerce and industries.

“The organic certification is a three-year process. Three agencies accredited to the APEDA issued C-1 certificates to 12,456 registered farmers who own 18,453 hectares in four districts of the state. The land gets the C-1 tag in the first year, followed by C-2 and C-3 in the following years. The C-3 tag denotes that any crop produced on a particular plot is organic,” said state agriculture secretary Vishal Chauhan.

The APEDA has listed 20 agencies to visit fields and find out if farmers follow organic practices of cultivation. Agriculture officials said a produce from a certified organic land fetched 30 per cent more value in the market.

“Even the C-1 tag will ensure higher price for the produce,” said an official.

The state government has set a target of turning the entire cultivable land of 58,260 hectares into organic farms in four years. “The C-1 certificate is targeted for 20,000 hectares in the current fiscal and for the rest of the agriculture land during 2012-13. Once we get the final certificate for the entire cultivable land in 2015, Sikkim will be the first organic state in the country,” said the agriculture secretary.

The organic certificates are valid for one year and teams from the APEDA-accredited agencies will visit the farms twice a year for renewal of the tag. The plot will be stripped of the tag if the farmer doesn’t continue with organic practices.

Apart from the financial gains, organic farming will go a long way in supplementing eco-tourism too. “Tourists put up in homestays can relish the bucolic beauty as well as the healthy food. Vegetables and fruits grown in our farms are already organic as we use only manure and humus. We point out this fact to tourists who enjoy our local cuisine. The organic farming will be a great step towards the promotion of eco-tourism,” said a homestay owner in Dzongu.

Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim president Lukendra Rasaily, however, said although the organic status would benefit eco-tourism and homestays in the long run, the need of the hour was careful planning.

“Homestays will have a premium value once Sikkim gets the organic status. But we cannot start charging more overnight. The homestay service providers should be trained in business planning and proper cooking. We have to remember that an organic product is just one aspect and cooking it properly and hygienically as the guests want is also important,” he said.

The government had started its organic initiatives in 2003, the year when it stopped the import of chemical fertilisers. The real work started last year when chief minister Pawan Chamling launched the Sikkim Organic Mission.

“Since farmers have already stopped the use of chemical fertilisers, our agriculture land is practically organic and they need only a certificate to attest this fact,” said Chauhan.