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Young Indian Farmers Spice Up Market for Organic Himalayan Crops

The tiny Himalayan state of Sikkim has been declared 100 percent organic, but farmers need help to transport and sell their produce

GANGTOK, India, Feb 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Decades after farmers on India's plains flocked to the "Green Revolution", reliant on chemical fertilisers to drive agricultural growth, the northeast Himalayan state of Sikkim is trying its luck with organic farming – a pull for young, green-minded entrepreneurs who could help get the produce to market.

Last year Sikkim was declared 100 percent organic by the Indian government, while across the country, organic farming is growing rapidly.

India has the world's highest number of organic producers at 650,000, or over a quarter of the global total, according to the Europe-based Research Institute of Organic Agriculture.

Abhinandan Dhakal, 28, who lives in Sikkim's state capital Gangtok, has invested INR 3.4 million ($50,959) over four years, as well as his time and energy in laying the foundations for an organic business growing and selling Peruvian ground apple, or yacon, a crisp, sweet-tasting tuber.

"I have always been passionate about rural livelihoods," said Dhakal, who joined an organisation helping farmers in Tanzania after finishing his studies in environmental economics. Two years later, he returned to Sikkim with the ambition of becoming an agricultural entrepreneur.

To capitalise on Sikkim's organic status and stand out from the field, he decided to focus on yacon, a high-value product that is often eaten raw or consumed for its health benefits in the form of syrup and powder.

He has taught other farmers in east Sikkim how to cultivate and sell the tuber.

"Ground apple grows only in hills and has a great demand in the market, especially outside India," Dhakal said, noting its popularity in the Middle East, Europe, Singapore and Australia.

"It is much sought after by the food industry and health-conscious people as it has a lot of medicinal value," he added.

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