Green signal

In Sikkim, a crop of young entrepreneurs is leading the charge for a shift to organic farming

Despite the government declaring the Himalayan state 100% organic, its farmers need help to transport, sell their produce.

Decades after farmers on India’s plains flocked to the Green Revolution, reliant on chemical fertilisers to drive agricultural growth, the northeast Himalayan state of Sikkim is trying its luck with organic farming – a pull for young, green-minded entrepreneurs who could help get the produce to market.

Last year, Sikkim was declared 100% organic by the government, while across the country, organic farming is growing rapidly.

India has the world’s highest number of organic producers at 650,000, or over a quarter of the global total, according to the Europe-based Research Institute of Organic Agriculture.

Abhinandan Dhakal, 28, who lives in Sikkim’s state capital Gangtok, has invested Rs 34 lakh over four years, as well as his time and energy in laying the foundations for an organic business growing and selling Peruvian ground apple, or yacon, a crisp, sweet-tasting tuber.

“I have always been passionate about rural livelihoods,” said Dhakal, who joined an organisation helping farmers in Tanzania after finishing his studies in environmental economics. Two years later, he returned to Sikkim with the ambition of becoming an agricultural entrepreneur.

To capitalise on Sikkim’s organic status and stand out from the field, he decided to focus on yacon, a high-value product that is often eaten raw or consumed for its health benefits in the form of syrup and powder.

He has taught other farmers in east Sikkim how to cultivate and sell the tuber.

“Ground apple grows only in hills and has a great demand in the market, especially outside India,” Dhakal said, noting its popularity in West Asia, Europe, Singapore and Australia. “It is much sought after by the food industry and health-conscious people as it has a lot of medicinal value.”

Dhakal’s Shoten Network Group has tied up with marketing firms in Bangalore and Delhi to sell yacon to retailers and pharmaceuticals companies both inside and outside India.

He plans to raise his venture’s current annual production of 10 tonnes to 200 tonnes next year, by collaborating with more farmers.

Dharni Sharma, a 33-year-old farmer from Linkey in east Sikkim, said growing Peruvian ground apple had “brought a refreshing change”. It is also productive, he said, noting that a kilo of seed yields 40-50 kg of ground apple, which sells for around Rs 45 a kilo.

Renzino Lepcha, chief operating officer of Mevedir, a Sikkim-based company that offers farmers services such as export and processing, said the shift to organic agriculture could lure back young people who had left for urban centres to find work in recent years.

“Some are returning to farming with big hopes,” he said.

They include Sonam Gyatso of Dzongu in North Sikkim, who previously worked for a state security agency. He quit his job after deciding to focus on organic farming on his four acres of land. “I think I am doing well, as I now have a livelihood which I control myself,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Cut off from markets

But not all of Sikkim’s farmers are so positive about the state’s “100% organic” label.

Some say they need more help from the state government to make the niche business profitable for them – especially to reach markets outside Sikkim where consumers are more willing to pay higher prices for organic produce.

Suraj Pradhan, a farmer of vegetables and spices in Nemche in South Sikkim, highlighted the need for cold storage and advice on improving yields using only organic fertilisers.

Sonam Lepcha in Dzongu in the North of the state, who grows oranges, ginger and cardamom, said farmers in remote rural areas had yet to reap the rewards of Sikkim going fully organic.

“We love organic farming but we don’t have a good market,” he said. “The government has been saying that organic products from remote villages will be collected by government agencies, but so far we have not seen it happening.”

Mevedir’s Lepcha said transporting produce to market is a major challenge because the tiny, landlocked state has no railway or airport.

“The risk factor is quite high as there are no proper facilities,” he said. Local farmers lack refrigeration, processing equipment and packaging materials, while access to inputs such as organic pesticides and fertilisers is another obstacle, he added.

However, last March, the government launched a $62-million, three-year programme to develop organic value chains in the country’s Northeast, including Sikkim, intended to help the region become a major supplier of organic commodities for national and international markets, Lepcha noted.

Anbalagan, executive director of the Sikkim Organic Mission who goes by one name, said efforts are underway to establish cold-storage facilities and improve connections with the rest of the country, including construction of an airport.

Health-conscious

Organic agriculture is growing rapidly in all of India’s states. The area under certified organic cultivation grew around 17-fold in the decade to 2013-2014, to 723,000 hectares.

Claude Alvares, director of the Organic Farmers’ Association of India, said the growth is higher than reflected in official records because they leave out some traditional crops grown without chemicals by small-scale farmers.

“For instance, the value of a single organic crop – jackfruit – is more than the value of the entire certified export of organic food from India,” he said.

With growing awareness about health, changing lifestyles and increased spending capacity in India, experts say the country’s organic food market has a bright future. A recent government study predicted its value would reach $1.3 billion per year by 2020.

Indian scholar and green activist Vandana Shiva, who runs a campaign to make India’s food supply healthier by regenerating soil, water and biodiversity, believes the whole country should become 100% organic.

That would enable the South Asian nation to save annual spending of $1.2 trillion on fertilisers and fuel, ward off social and ecological harm, and avoid another $1 trillion in damage to health, Shiva said.

According to environmental group Greenpeace, over-use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, fuelled by subsidies, has been a key driver of soil degradation and slowing farm productivity growth in India – a problem that has also been acknowledged by the government in recent years.

Shiva said organic farming holds the solution to climate change and water scarcity. “[It] increases climate resilience by putting more organic matter and carbon in the soil which holds more water, thus addressing drought,” she explained.

This article first appeared on Thomson Reuters Foundation News.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The pioneering technologies that will govern the future of television

Home entertainment systems are set to get even more immersive.

Immersive experience is the core idea that ties together the next generation of cinematic technologies. Cutting edge technologies are now getting integrated into today’s home entertainment systems and challenging the limits of cinematic immersion previously achievable in a home setting. Here’s what you should know about the next generation of TVs that will grace your home.

OLED Technology – the new visual innovation in TVs

From the humble, grainy pictures of cathode ray tube TVs to the relatively clarity of LED and LCD displays, TVs have come a long way in improving picture quality over the years. The logical next step in this evolution is OLED displays, a technology that some of the best smartphones have adopted. While LED and LCD TVs make use of a backlight to illuminate their pixels, in OLED displays the pixels themselves emit light. To showcase darkest shades in a scene, the relevant OLED pixels simply don’t light up, creating a shade darker than has ever been possible on backlighted display. This pixel-by-pixel control of brightness across the screen produces an incomparable contrast, making each colour and shade stand out clearly. OLED displays show a contrast ratio considerably higher than that of LED and LCD displays. An OLED display would realise its full potential when supplemented with HDR, which is crucial for highlighting rich gradient and more visual details. The OLED-HDR combo is particularly advantageous as video content is increasingly being produced in the HDR format.

Dolby Atmos – the sound system for an immersive experience

A home entertainment system equipped with a great acoustic system can really augment your viewing experience far beyond what you’re used to. An exciting new development in acoustics is the Dolby Atmos technology, which can direct sound in 3D space. With dialogue, music and background score moving all around and even above you, you’ll feel like you’re inside the action! The clarity and depth of Dolby Atmos lends a sense of richness to even the quieter scenes.

The complete package

OLED technology provides an additional aesthetic benefit. As the backlight is done away with completely, the TV gets even more sleek, so you can immerse yourself even more completely in an intense scene.

LG OLED TV 4K is the perfect example of how the marriage of these technologies can catapult your cinematic experience to another level. It brings the latest visual innovations together to the screen – OLED, 4K and Active HDR with Dolby Vision. Be assured of intense highlights, vivid colours and deeper blacks. It also comes with Dolby Atmos and object-based sound for a smoother 360° surround sound experience.

The LG OLED TV’s smart webOS lets you fully personalise your TV by letting you save your most watched channels and content apps. Missed a detail? Use the Magic Zoom feature to zoom in on the tiniest details of your favourite programs. You can now watch TV shows and movies shot in 4K resolution (Narcos, Mad Max: Fury Road, House of cards and more!) as they were meant to be watched, in all their detailed, heart-thumping glory. And as 4K resolution and Dolby Atmos increasingly become the preferred standard in filmmaking, TVs like LG OLED TV that support these technologies are becoming the future cinephiles can look forward to. Watch the video below for a glimpse of the grandeur of LG OLED TV.

Play

To know more about what makes LG OLED TV the “King Of TV”, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of LG and not by the Scroll editorial team.