Despite ‘organic’ thrust, Sikkim’s agricultural future remains uncertain

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Pic courtesy: The Guardian

For 60 years old Bal Bahadur Chettri, in a remote village of West Sikkim, life has come a full circle. He has seen the state turn from a predominantly agrarian society to now driven by government, tourism and industries.
During his youth in the 70s and 80s, the state was producing its own rice, vegetables, poultry and meat, “with families acting as a production unit”, he shares.

With the family as a unit to care and process, there was no time left for anything else than to work in fields and farms.

“Our lives revolved around taking care of our farms and fields”, he says.
Now, a father of three children – two working in the government sector and one a student, their career paths have been diametrically opposite.
In this tiny Himalayan state, life may move a bit slower than the rest of the world, but globalisation and subsequent opening of Sikkim to the outside world have meant a change in the pattern of growth. From agriculture to industries and from farming to services.

Rupendra Pradhan is a shop owner in a village nearby to the capital. His family owns a large estate of agricultural land on which they have practised farming since generations. But, things are changing rapidly. He states that subsequent governments have not encouraged agriculture as a way of life.
“Agriculture is seen as a laborious task with little returns”, he tells.
This remains a bitter truth with farmers complaining of not getting a proper market price. Lack of proper identification and procurement policy in Sikkim has meant that those still engaged in agriculture haven’t got the due they richly deserve.

Agrarian families of the past have gravitated towards an easier way of life towards government job or businesses. When asked about the mass flight of people towards other professions than agriculture, they say it is the lack of holistic approach towards inculcating a sense of pride and increasing promotion of government jobs as the most viable option of an easy life that has contributed to dwindling fortunes of families engaged in agriculture.
Examples abound throughout the state of Sikkim with many rice belt regions yielding less produce. Other crops and plants that have decreased in production are oranges, apples and Sikkim’s very own large cardamom. Many areas of cultivable agricultural land are barren due to lack of interest and with modern lifestyle and all the amenities of the global world making a way into our daily lives. It is not an easy task for a relatively wealthy people of Sikkim to procure food from outside, but with an increasingly vulnerable world, there is surely a dire need for self-sustaining Sikkim.

In the industrial belt towards the lower end of Teesta-Rangeet river basin, the mushrooming of industries, particularly pharmaceuticals, has hit the last nail in the coffin. It has disturbed the pattern of growth, with farmers complaining of reduced productivity and in some cases, areas have turned infertile for any agricultural practice.

As a farmer, Bal Bahadur Chettri highlights the benefits of agriculture and how it has helped his family sustain, grow and remain healthy through a homegrown tradition of agricultural dependence, the new Sikkim is staring at an uncertain future in agriculture despite the thrust on organic farming.

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