Monday, August 24, 2015

Opinion Piece: Sikkim Organic Mission

Please critique, don’t criticise — Sikkim Organic Mission is far too important - and yes for the future of young Sikkimese farmers

By P. D. Rai

One can look at political rhetoric in many different ways. If it leads to useful debate, imaginative thinking and good outcomes on matters of policy, they are hugely welcome. But what SKM leader PS Golay attempted in the recently concluded session of the Sikkim Assembly when he spoke on Sikkim’s Organic Mission, relied more on accusation than substantial critique. What is known as ‘optics’.

Unfortunately, Golay and the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha, have reduced their politics to throw-mud-and-see-what-sticks and Sikkim’s Organic Mission appears to be their chosen victim. As the opposition, they may continue to play their games of one-upmanship, but as a State, let us not sell ourselves short.

Consider what Chief Minister Pawan Chamling pointed out in his reply: this is the first time in the history of the world that a state has attempted to become fully organic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s endorsement of our Organic Mission is testimony to the Mission’s success so far. As he said in Germany — home to the biggest Trade Fair on organic produce — “now the doors for global trade have been opened for the State.”

Have we become perfect? No. But the Organic Mission has set Sikkim on a journey that will shape the future of our economy and livelihoods of many young Sikkimese along the entire value chain. It is also an investment in the health and well-being of our children and our elderly. It provides for better quality of life whilst lowering healthcare costs.

We can already see changes in our ecological balance. Bumblebees are back. Flowering and productivity of our Cardamom has gone up significantly. The mad scramble for seedlings of Cardamom is an indication of the health of the ecology besides fetching good prices.

Our targets for the implementation of Sikkim Organic Mission are aggressive — something the departments are perhaps not used to — yet, we will meet them.

Golay cited examples of irregularities in the certification process. The Department of Agriculture must take note and ensure more stringent monitoring going forward. But let us not jump the gun and say the Agriculture and Horticulture department’s intentions are mala fide! This is the classic cutting your nose to spite your face.

It is foolish to assume all land would be Organic and certified from day one. Certification is an ongoing process. Soil-testing labs have already been established in each district. And Certification of land under organic cultivation is being regulated by the Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority of the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry — through APEDA accredited certification agencies, who in turn use service providers such as NGOs who implement National Program for Organic Production (NPOP) regulations. This is needed for differentiation in a market where robust standards rule.

It is one thing to critique policy, and another to use its garb to allege that the policy was made for corrupt purposes. The latter, we must wholly reject. When you critique something, you evaluate it thoroughly. When you criticise, you hold an opinion for just creating confusion in the minds of people.

As the Chief Minister reminded us all in his speech, “farming is a dignified occupation.” There has never been better time to empower our young farmers with the right knowledge, incentives and support to lead an Organic farming revolution that will become a model for the rest of the world to follow. It is naive to expect that a mission of such ambition won’t face challenges. Yes, there are teething problems, and that is why all of us must work together to find solutions. At the Centre, there is renewed thrust in promoting organic produce and we cannot afford to lose all the hard-work we’ve done so far to political pettiness. Unsurprisingly this position will hurt the future interests of our youth, farmers and Sikkim.

To borrow a quote from former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, whose death was condoled in the assembly by all members during the same session: “Let us move on with the spirit of I can do it, we can do it, and the nation can do it.”

(P. D. Rai is the SDF Party’s Spokesperson and­ sitting Lok Sabha MP)