I had the pleasure to visit the lovely state of Sikkim, for the first time, in 2015 and it was a visit to remember. How I reached Gangtok from Bagdogra (West Bengal) is still a blur, a road journey too long after the early morning flight from New Delhi and a case of not sleeping in order to not miss the flight. I remember mentally cribbing about Bagdogra's heat and next I remember waking up in Gangtok, already cold to my bones. My tummy's untimely growl (and a loud one at that) was cue enough for my host to suggest if I'd like to have my dinner early that night. Yes, I would!
It would be unfair to say that we remember a place because of sights. I have a firm belief in the fact that more than the sights, it's the food that can have your undivided attention towards a destination. I don't see how can anyone get up in the morning to crappy food and still be in the mood to explore the rest of the day in a place where you are pretty sure you are going to get food no better than the morning's. Such a mood killer, isn't it? Luckily for me, it wasn't the case in Sikkim. I had my reservations, let me be honest here. I was less than excited wondering what if I had to eat the same kind of food I was used to eating in Delhi? And just like that, my server for the evening brought in a bowl of olive green soup. Nettle soup, I was told. Wait, I can consume nettle after how it messed up my hand that one time in a forest? To my surprise and much to my server's amusement, the soup of stinging nettle was one of the best soups I have had so far. It had a natural sweetness to it and after having two bowls of the soup, I was pretty sure I was in love. Mixed vegetables followed after that and they didn't look anything that yours truly was used to eating at restaurants. One poke at the eggplant and I knew that was the real deal, a fork-jab at the potato and the heart just knew it, the crunch of them beans and yes, oh yes, that was the big 'O'. Organic. I was in the land of 100 percent organic food.
It was the year 2003 when Sikkim officially announced the adoption of organic farming and thus becoming India's first. Few but important points were kept in mind such as conservation of ecology, soil fertility and most importantly, eating healthy. That was also the year when a major step like ban of entry of chemical fertilisers and pesticides was added in the law of the land. It was saying No to chemicals and Yes to organic manure. The move sure did force the local farmers to go back to the traditional way of farming, that is utilising green compost, manure, natural pesticides and the age old method of crop rotation. How did it help the land? In the process, the land became more rich in biodiversity and the overall health of the soil increased which also meant, increase in productivity. The mass project also led to the state adopting something called bio-villages, a concept where only biological materials are used as a source of energy. The state government gave subsidies for the construction of vermicompost pits and farmers were encouraged to be dependent on bio-fertilisers than on chemicals. Strict rules such as a fine of ₹1 lakh and/or a prison term for 3 months were imposed for storing or using of chemical fertilisers.
Like every good act is incomplete without a setback, this one too had. Because now the farmers were not allowed to use chemical fertilisers, food production was much lesser when done organically. This led to rise in the price of produce upto 25-40%. Food became more expensive and in the beginning the farmers did find it hard to convince people to by their produce. Going all organic also meant higher production costs due to increased in the number of workers.
Sikkim is the country's best example of going against the flow. By adopting a rather challenging move to go organic and in the process combat price rise and limited food production, Sikkim did the unthinkable—going against the flow. In the year 2018, Sikkim became the world's first 100 percent organic state.