fertile valleys in Sikkim are green all year-round. It became the state’s mission to become India’s first 100 per cent organic state in 2003. Growers changed to organic methods more and more often. There are now 66,000 farms in the state of Sikkim in the northeast of India that have reverted to more traditional methods. Switching from monocultures to intercropping - growing a mix of vegetables in one field – has increased soil fertility.
In Sikkim, one of India’s least populated states with just 10 per cent farmland across 70,000 hectares, most crops are sold on roadside stalls or carried in sacks to local organic farmers’ markets; there isn’t much contract farming.
But since November 2020, tens of thousands of farmers have been protesting in New Delhi against new laws passed by the Indian government that allow farmers to sell directly to big companies, bypassing the wholesale agricultural markets.
Many farmers worry that the loosening of these laws weakens their bargaining power; they are concerned about these controversial new reforms. Some say the bill that is being passed is not in favour of small village farmers; most profit will go to the big companies.
Sikkim, home to 600 varieties of butterflies and 100 different types of plant, relies heavily on a rich network of small-scale farms, according to Tshering Bhutia, farmer and general secretary of the Sikkim Farmers Producers’ Organization, who would have travelled to join the protests, had Covid restrictions not prevented travel.
“I feel very sad about what’s happening right now,” says Bhutia, who grows coriander, radish, spinach, peas and corn in her own small allotment. “The bill states that farmers have to buy seed and pesticides from a few corporate suppliers so big companies will have much greater control over the food supply chain of India. We don’t want to lose our small-scale farming and independent shops but [the system] is full of corruption.”
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