As of late last month, the farms of Sikkim in northwest India have been certified 100 percent free of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides, making it the country's first fully organic state.
This achievement has been a long time coming. A resolution to make the Himalayan region completely organic first passed through the state legislative assembly in 2003. Over the next 12 years, the import of chemical additives was restricted and their sale in the state forbidden, leading to the gradual organic certification of 75,000 hectares of agricultural land.
The harmful effects of pesticides and fertilizers has been an issue facing India for decades. Following the Green Revolution of the mid-20th century, India’s food production increased which led to a higher prevalence of modified seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides in farming. The chemicals were hazardous to the environment, as well as a threat to the health of citizens. Several years ago, over 150 people in south India were struck by a condition related to head swelling and brain damage caused by a deadly pesticide called endosulfan, which led to its nationwide ban in 2011.
Sikkim has one of the smallest areas of farm land in India, with the majority of it dedicated to maize, paddy, and cardamom. Amit Khurana, the program head of New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment’s food safety team, told Quartz there’s still a lot to be done before the rest of the country gets up to speed.
“(W)e need a system in place that regulates the daily acceptable intake of pesticides,” he said. “There are also concerns that close to one-fifth of pesticides used in the country don’t have their minimal residual limit approved by food safety authorities.”
Despite the long road ahead, according to Khurana, the initiative in Sikkim is now inspiring other states to implement similar policies of their own.