Food, water, breathable air, and shelter – the basic needs for the survival of the human race. Since the formation of families and tribes, these things have been the cornerstones to human survival. Farmers and their produce are the backbone of the fight against the pandemic. It is also clear for Sikkim in this lockdown that farmers are so much more important than they have been hitherto given credit for.
The lockdown has brought clarity to many perspectives but the most important thing that it has made people focus on, an essential that has been overlooked one too many times, is food.
According to the Government of Sikkim, the state’s economy is linked with agriculture that serves as the source of livelihood and economic security of a sizeable native population. The growth, however, has been restricted because of biotic and abiotic factors.
It is estimated that over 80 per cent of the rural population depends on agriculture and allied sectors for economic, food, and nutritional security. The farmers integrate the agriculture systems practised in Sikkim in environments that have evolved through years of experimentation. A marginal improvement in the lifestyle of the farmers has been witnessed with the adoption of modern technologies.
Sikkim has some inherent strength that largely supports organic farming. The policies and programmes on organic farming, in tune with our natural endowment, envisage making Sikkim into a Model Organic State. The march towards organic farming has led to substantial departmental intervention. A large number of initiatives have been taken by the Agriculture and Horticulture departments.
More than ever, the department’s intervention is needed in this crisis to help farmers sustain the fight by helping them sustain their livelihoods. The GOS has taken a number of measures in the lockdown for farmers to keep producing; the relief measures have also been a major push forward to help aid farmers. With one of the major pillars in Sikkimese economy, tourism, now facing a whammy and in a transitory period of uncertainty to follow, agriculture (including small scale production, horticulture and floriculture as well) will have one of the biggest roles in sustaining Sikkim’s economy in the near future.
With agricultural activities resuming after the government’s guidelines, farmers have started to tend to their fields although most of the businesses have faced a standstill at this point. Weeding, tending, plantations, watering, and fertilisation of the fields and crops are the basic activities whose revival has been a breath of relief for the farmers in Sikkim who solely depend on their crops.
“I solely depend on my agriculture and nothing else; my family depends on it and I need to tend to my fields. We were scared at first and left the fields untended for almost 15 days when it (the pandemic) first started but now the government has said that we can start our activities,” says Buddhi Man Rai, a farmer from Poklok Kamrang of South District.
“I grow maize, ginger, and occasional pulses, right now it is just regular farm work for me because no business is being done, no selling or buying, because all of my crops aren’t ready to be yielded.”
Rai says that it is only in later July, August, and then in winter for his crops to go to the market. After being asked how he is sustaining his family he informed that there hasn’t been much difference to him anyway, he has received the relief supplies 2 to 3 times and is mostly depending on his BPL privileges to buy essentials.
Similarly, Chong Hang Limbu of the same area says, “I don’t know if they (Government) are handing out cash as a relief; we are a few kilometres away from the bazaar area and it’ll be quite difficult for us if any ill befalls us. There is also the issue of our cattle ”
“We are just small scale producers and it is hard to get businessmen to come this way sometimes so we send the produce which is mostly pulses and legumes right now through friends or some Self Help Group around here to the markets.”
On top of the issues of logistics, dormant businesses due to seasonal crops, and diminishing essential supplies, farmers are facing the uncertainty of getting the right remuneration for their produce. A rural report on Tenzing Sherpa’s farm at Ohkrey, West Sikkim, on the same can be found here:
A farmer from Nessa, West Sikkim said that March and April was a prime season for plantation of chilly and that they have done just that, Nessa being one of the largest producers of Dalle chilly in Sikkim. A variety of crops like beans, cabbage, cauliflower, chilly, tomato and others are cultivated in the hilly regions during the periods of March-May.
“We did the plantation even in lockdown because we are totally dependent on the farms, but after the government announce that we could work on our fields it was good news,” the farmer shares.
The Director of Horticulture, Padam Limbu shared the department’s stand on helping the small-scale producers who are hurting more as they do not have more to produce, ultimately garnering lesser, diminishing savings.
“The FPOs are there already aggregating the vegetables very proactively, and there are SHGs as well who are actively working for the welfare of farmers and we have sensitized them to bring in their produce,” says Limbu.
He adds, “Many of the FPOs have been given utility vehicles by the departments, additionally refer vans have also been provided alongside, and with that our field functionaries are literally working day and night to aggregate the vegetables and bring them to the nearest markets.”
With different measures and also the newest relief measures by both the centre and the state, and also by local business people such as Smita Rai from Namchi, who are helping farmers get their products out to the places with tangible demands, it is clear that Sikkim is at the least proactive on helping its farmers. The only question that remains is about the financial aid that the families of farmers, mostly small scale farmers, are in dire need of, if the financial relief is reaching the needy, and if there will be more relief plans in the future.