Lessons from the Organic Mission
In the midst of a slew of other high priority discussions points in the agenda of the Parliamentary session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought the attention of the cabinet and elected leaders to announce, “Sikkim is India’s first fully organic state in the country.”
This statement caught the attention of national, and international media. Apart from applauds, it also attracted criticism. But, for me, this was a moment of retrospection and re-learning of entrepreneurial concepts.
Let us look at the magnitude of impact that the state has achieved in just over a decade. This milestone was achieved by the collective effort of the government and 66,000 farmers in Sikkim who together tilled approximately 75,000 hectares of the state’s arable land, using organic farming methodologies to initiate sustainable cultivation.
I recently got an opportunity to share the lessons of my entrepreneurial experience with a group of entrepreneurs at Hyderabad, an event hosted together by T-Hub and CNBC’s Young Turks. As I spoke about what I learned, there were some common lessons that coincided with my thoughts and some uncommon ones that I learned afresh.
What did I learn from Sikkim?
While these lessons are very personal to me, they also would help many others who are working towards their entrepreneurial dreams.
Finding a Purpose
Before I started 24Mantra, my purpose was clear. Coming from a farming background, I was even more shocked by the consumption of chemicals in the name of food. My sole motive was to support farmers in sustainable farming along with providing healthy food that was devoid of pesticides and additives.
The Sikkim state government has had a tBefore I started 24 Mantra, my purpose was clear. Coming from a farming background, I was rack record of successfully implementing citizen-friendly policies and programs. Organic Farming is not the first one. They have shown and seen repeated success only because the people and the government are convinced to work in tandem with their objectives. According to a 2016 NSSO survey, 98.2% households in Sikkim are equipped with clean toilets which are in use; it is also one of the first Indian states to apply a ban on plastic across the region; applied equal representation of women in public life; and achieved a 22% of the decrease in poverty.
When I started, there was little awareness about organic food in India, but there were enough seekers to start the momentum. I probably would not have received enough thrust to progress, if I had started earlier and would also have been lost in competition, with limited capital, if this had happened much later. Timing would help only if the entrepreneur shows persistence and patience.
The mission to go organic began in 2003. This was right when the reverse brain drain had begun. The urban dwellers were looking for organic options and environmentalists were ranting about sustainable cultivation. Right then the chief minister of Sikkim saw an opportunity of optimizing the strength of Sikkim’s agriculture and also creating an opportunity of ecotourism. It took almost thirteen years for the state to be officially certified as an organic state.
Acknowledging Deficiencies & Finding Your Strengths
In my story, the list is quite long and convoluted. But, here is what excited me about Sikkim’s organic mission.
The state government acknowledged that farmers need proper training in organic methods of cultivation and access to good quality organic inputs at subsidized rates. To address these, the government included the adoption of bio-villages, subsidization of vermicompost pit constructions, promotion of the use of bio-fertilizers and programmes. To keep up with the solution 100 villages were adopted as bio-villages in six years and it benefited almost 10,000 farmers.
Some successful farms were converted into ‘Organic Centres of Excellence to conduct some farming demonstrations. To keep pace with international markets, the govt took up certification very seriously. Sikkim State Organic Certification Agency (SSOCA), was set up in 2015 to help farmers get third-party certification at lower costs and as per the standards and norms of different export markets.
The Sikkim land for cultivation was exposed to very little chemicals in the form of pesticides and hence, it was a lot easier to show results in terms of crop productivity and cost reduction. The hilly terrain is also another advantage for the state.
The efforts through the Sikkim Organic mission has contributed to increase soil fertility, protect environment and ecology, proceed towards healthy living and reduce the risk of health ailments.
The other states in India that work towards similar sustainable development goals can double farmers’ income by 2022, resulting in fewer farmer suicides and crop devastation. Especially those with a similar terrain would see more immediate results.
To conclude, this success was no single man’s job. The collective efforts toward a common mission are the key to the celebrated achievement.