Food Futures Vision For The Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya Region
Achieve food and nutritional sovereignty for all via smallholder farming and responsible tourism, while sustaining the environment
This is the Mallayang Homestay, and the homestay is made in traditional Lepcha architecture. Most fruits and vegetables are grown on site, and visitors are encouraged to participate in picking/harvesting. The Kitchen serves mostly Lepcha food which includes a combination of locally cultivated and foraged foods. Local varieties of rice are served but if not available then substituted with whatever is available in the market.
This is a prime example of the responsible tourism we want to promote
You can see the breathtaking landscapes and the reason tourism is taking over as a large percentage of GDP for the region
This is a lake, sacred to the people, and the environment that needs to be protected and preserved
This is the type of small holder farming we would like to promote
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE)
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Large NGO (over 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
These are the partners we work with on other projects related to food systems: Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME)- multi-stakeholder alliance creating ecosystems for mass or 'job creating' entrepreneurs across India| Khanchendzonga Conservation Committee, Yuksom West Sikkim- community organizing NGO | Sikkim University- research & educational institution | Mutanchi Lom Aal Shezum Dzongu, North Sikkim- local municipality | Pul Bazar Bijanbari Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC)- community self help group | Darjeeling Forest Department- District Agency | Sikkim Forest Department - State Agency | Local Panchayats- local rural governments | London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine- Research Institution | Department of Biotechnology, Government of India- national government | ATREE hosts the secretariat of the National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Wellbeing
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
ATREE Main office: Bangalore, India.
ATREE Regional Office: Gangtok, India
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
The Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region
What country is your selected Place located in?
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
ATREE has been working in the region, we refer to as the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas, for the last 20 years. ATREE’s Regional Director, Sarala Khaling, is a native of Darjeeling, and most of the staff are native to this region.
Over the past 20 years, ATREE has witnessed a dramatic change in the food systems here; from one closely connected to the local ecology to one that is completely dependent on an external market. The Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region historically has a rich cultural and traditional farming system; the population comprises of many ethnic groups including Nepali, Tibetans and Lepcha, besides communities from the plains of India.
However, in recent decades new technologies and policies that do not support the local food culture, have resulted in the gradual erosion of the regions rich and diverse food culture. As a result of the current development pathway, people’s aspirations have changed. On one hand, there have been mass migrations from the landscape in the hopes of more cash income. On the other hand, mass tourism has created an economy completely dependent on imported produce and an alien, less nutritious, food culture.
Moreover, a narrow focus on increased yield and caloric intake created unintended consequences of malnutrition, food insecurity and environmental unsustainability. People’s engagement with the land to produce food in ways that protected the forests and waterways is rapidly declining.
Despite these challenges, there are opportunities for a food future that can reconcile traditional systems with modern aspirations. It is not too late to reverse the trajectory of Sikkim and Darjeeling food systems to avoid the pitfalls other places have faced. People in the remote rural areas remain connected to the land and technology is changing what is possible. ATREE, along with other partners like the Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME) working in the region, hopes to play a part in changing that trajectory of the region.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
This video footage was created to visually show what life is like in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region
Here is the Google Maps aerial view of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region.
This is Chi/Chang a fermented millet drink. This is also part of Lepcha culture.
These are buckwheat rolls stuffed with foraged wild greens, a traditional Lepcha delicacy
Here is a roadside stall selling local produce on the way to Dzongu, Sikkim
Here are some mustard fields in Darjeeling, one of the crops grown to be sold
The pristine landscape is the pride and joy of the people in the Sikkim - Darjeeling Himalaya region. This is the landscape they need to protect- the lush verdure and the pure, flowing rivers.
Here you can get a sense of the terrain, and the majesty of the landscapes. The rivers Teesta and Rangeet are named after two river-spirits who challenged each other to a race down the hills. The Lepcha people of Sikkim consider the race's finish line, the confluence of the two rivers, to be a sacred site. Newlyweds are taken here, and people wish them a life as happy and prosperous as the two river-spirits.
Here is one of the income streams for people in the forest- bamboo basket making. This is one of the facilities.
Here is what a snapshot of typical forest village, Rampuria, in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region looks like
This is what the scenic roadside looks like, filled with lush green plants
Here is a more traditional kitchen and pantry. The white part on the left is a stove.
This is another presentation of the food- simple, buffet style
Here are 18 local dishes including millet, corn, rice, bamboo, stinging nettle, squash, pumpkin, fern, and fish from Rampuria forest village.
The Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya is a rich tapestry of diverse ethnic groups of Nepali, Lepcha , and Bhutia origin. There are also settlers from the plains of India, who have lived here for decades. The region supports multiple beliefs and faiths-Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, Christianity, Bon, animistic beliefs and practices. The Nepali language is spoken all over the landscape. Additionally, each ethnic group has their own language/dialect. Hindi is popularly spoken and English is the formal language of written official communication.
The food diversity of the landscape reflects this ethnic diversity. Staple cereals mainly comprise of rice, wheat, potatoes, millets, buckwheat, naked barley and maize. Seasonal vegetables and foraged wild edibles also form a major part of the food. Animal protein and dairy are an important part of the diet. There are also many insects eaten by various ethnic groups, that are important protein sources. Mainland Indian spices are widely used, but there are numerous traditional spices as well, like Schezwan pepper. Fermented foods like kinema (soya beans) and meso (bamboo shoots) are unique features of the food.
The Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya is located in Mahabharat range with the “Duars” or flood plain of North Bengal in the foothills. The topography rises from the foothills (Duars) at 100 m to the highest point-Mount Khanchendzonga (8586m). Within a distance of 220 km, one traverses through sub-tropical forests in the south to the cold desert areas in the north. The region has five seasons: winter, summer, spring, autumn, and a monsoon season between June and September. The climate ranges from sub-tropical in the south to tundra in the north. Most of the inhabited regions experience a temperate climate, and is one of the highest rain receiving regions in the country with annual averages of 2800-3000mm.
As per 2011 census, in Darjeeling the rural population comprised of 61% while the urban population comprised of 39% of the population. In the case of Sikkim urban population comprised of 25% while the rural population comprised of 75%. Traditional agriculture is still practiced in isolated pockets, but the already vast area under cash crops like orange, cardamom and tea, is expanding. Although agriculture is a primary economic activity, it is increasingly eclipsed by tourism and tea; Darjeeling already produces 7% of India's tea output every year. Sikkim state is declared organic while most of the agriculture practices in the Darjeeling hills are organic by default.
The people of the landscape have a strong “sense of place”. The hopes of the people are to lead a life which is peaceful, and free to practice one’s religion, culture and traditions. People want to be healthy, and have enough income to be able to afford the simple comforts of life. They also hope the verdant forests remain, the numerous rivers continue to flow, and people stay connected to families and friends.
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
The Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya is known for its beautiful, picturesque landscapes, with Sikkim having forest cover of over 48% and Darjeeling 34% . However, the hilly terrain comes with unique challenges shaping both production and consumption.
Terrain results in fragmented supply chains
Because of the terrain, food transportation to and from the region is difficult. This results in supply chain monopolies with middlemen capturing much of the profit. Agriculture in the region tends to be rainfed, so farmers are vulnerable to climate variability. Moreover, what can be grown varies across the elevation gradient, which makes achieving economies of scale for specific products difficult, and smallholder farming economically unviable. These challenges will persist and likely worsen under climate change.
PDS Policy drives dependence, loss of agro-biodiversity
Policy plays a major role in shaping agriculture in the region. For example, as of 2013, 75% of rural households and 40% of urban households in Sikkim relied on the Indian Public Distribution System (PDS). The PDS food is imported and focuses on satisfying caloric intake and yield, over nutrition and sustainability; culture and environment are not considerations at all. Yet, evidence suggest the PDS approach has not worked. As of 2016, 30% of children in the region under 5 were stunted, and 15% of children under 5 experienced wasting.
PDS food is subsidized by more than 70% . In the rural regions, the seeds provided by governments prioritize cash crops over native foods. Moreover, although they are high yielding, they produce no seeds for the next season, promoting the dependence on these subsidies and a disincentivization to grow local produce.
Tourism and globalisation are altering the food culture
Tourism is further changing diets and food cultures. People are seeing different foods introduced into the system. As the number of tourists visiting the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas has steadily increased, tourism has become a significant contributor to GDP. The high number of tourists (1.4 million in Sikkim and 0.4 million in Darjeeling) relative to the local populations, means that demand by tourists is a major driver of agriculture in this region. These tourists, both domestic and international, are primarily demanding food not native to the region, further diminishing local agro-biodiversity and food cultures.
In addition to tourism, local aspirations are also changing. For example, though 99% of children in rural Sikkim are enrolled in primary education, the quality of education has been declining. Parents therefore prefer to send their children to urban areas outside of the region for schooling, and encourage them to stay there. This has reduced farm labour availability in the region and made agriculture economically infeasible. Unfortunately, because of the hilly terrain and heterogeneity, mechanisation of agriculture has not emerged in response to the labor problem.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
Our vision focuses on improving nutritional and environmental outcomes, while making smallholder agriculture economically viable, in the the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas.
The first lever to do this is by focusing on the tourist population visiting the region. As tourism contributes a major portion of GDP, we see tourism as an opportunity to restore pride and popularity of local and native foods. By promoting food tourism, building capacity of entrepreneurs and establishing market linkages we would increase demand for locally grown native foods, improving local agro-biodiversity and environmental sustainability. Our experience shows that, by focusing on native varieties, crops will be at reduced risk from the effects of climate variability.
The second lever is to focus on policy, specifically changes to the PDS. One of the main challenges to creating a sustainable food future is the government policies around the PDS, and incentivization of cash crops, calories, and yield over more nutritional and environmentally sustainable alternatives. We envision a future where the PDS augments the import of cereals, with more nutritious, locally grown traditional food crops. This will provide another lever to restore the agro-biodiversity of the region while improving nutrition and health outcomes for the population.
We believe that smallholder farmers and local food entrepreneurs play the biggest role in the future of this region. Thus, we envision changes on both the demand and supply side.
On the supply side, to address labour unavailability, we believe that some of the mechanisation technologies that are used in the plains can be adapted to the hilly terrain. This will reduce the need for agricultural labor and make farming more economically feasible.Scientific advances will improve yields of local varieties of foods. Better seed banks and seed preservation will lead to seed sovereignty.
On the demand side, we believe smallholder agriculture can become economically viable if farmers get access to the right crop price, better supply chains, and higher value for the produce. Because the region has inherent challenges to economies of scale, our focus will be to intervene through boosting local demand, both from tourism and the PDS. Once local demand and supply chains are created,we will help local entrepreneurs realise higher values through food tourism, restaurants, micro-kitchen etc. Technology innovations can help address the problem of market linkages and supply chain logistics.
Finally, we believe that investments in the primary and secondary schools will follow economic growth and make living in the region more viable for families. Better education, pride in the local foods and entrepreneurship opportunities for value added products and services, will make smallholder farming economically feasible. This will further give inhabitants compelling reasons to stay rather than migrate from their homeland, creating a virtuous cycle.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
The landscape and natural beauty of the region is the pride and joy of the people of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas. In 2050, it is likely that tourism will be the biggest source of revenue for the region.
Our vision is that in 2050, with appropriate interventions, native food systems will become an integral part of the local tourism ecosystem. Tourism will act as an important lever to restore agro-biodiversity, restoring pride in the local food culture. Local and native food varieties will account for more than 50% of food production and consumption in the region; agro-biodiversity will be restored. Reduced resource intensiveness and increased crop yields from resilient, native crops will enable the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas to become sustainable and food self-reliant.
By 2050, PDS will prioritise nutrition and sustainable livelihoods. This policy shift, along with increased consumer demand, will make smallholder agriculture and local food enterprises economically viable. As native, nutritious foods become part of the diet again, the region will achieve nutritional sovereignty, virtually eliminating childhood wasting, stunting, and low birth weights. Emerging trends of obesity and hypertension in the older populations will be successfully controlled.
Restoration of local economies, will drive investment of local primary and secondary education institutions. This will spur a virtuous cycle of keeping talent in the area. By 2050, local institutions will innovate agricultural technologies to adapt to labour constraints and climate variability. Technology innovations (apps, cold storage etc.) will help effectively scale heterogeneous product lines through robust supply chain interventions.
In summary, by 2050, the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region will achieve food and nutritional sovereignty for all, through a successful model of smallholder agriculture and responsible tourism, while sustaining the region’s pristine environment.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
Here is the satellite view of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region
This is the landscape that is an integral part of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya people. This is the landscape that must be protected and preserved.
This woman works in a restaurant and is carrying freshly cut bamboo shoots. The restaurant is one of the few which offer local food (upon request) including dishes from Nagaland, another north eastern state. The food is tasty, well curated and presented. Proprietors Vikash Pradhan and Asenla have also productized tea, coffee, honey and other branded products. This is the type of food tourism we hope to promote.
This is an example of integrated farming in the Darjeeling region that promotes the wellbeing of the environment.
Here are the Rampuria Forest Villagers that made food for ATREE during the visit. There was initial hesitation about serving ATREE their ‘local food,’ seemed to be a lack of pride and perception that outsiders/tourists will not enjoy or value their food. This was also reflected in the fact that they wanted to charge ATREE only Rs. 100 per head for a large spread, ATREE paid Rs. 300 per head which they reluctantly took.
Our vision connects the six interconnected themes of the Food Prize: Environment, Diets, Economics, Culture, Technology, and Policy.
By 2050, we envision that the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region will achieve food and nutritional sovereignty for all, through a successful model of smallholder agriculture and responsible tourism, while sustaining the region’s pristine environment.
Food tourism and the promotion of local food cultures is at the core of the proposed vision. Achieving the vision will involve interventions that boost consumer demand and attract premium valuations for businesses serving native food.
The vision envisions policy changes within the Indian Public Distribution System (PDS), to evolve beyond a narrow focus on calories and food imports, to include local food varieties and prioritise local livelihoods. This includes awareness building of farmers to access benefits from these programmes.
As nutritious native foods regain their pride of place in the staple diets of local inhabitants, the region will achieve nutritional sovereignty, virtually eliminating childhood wasting, stunting, and low birth weights.
Reduced resource intensiveness and increased crop yields from resilient, native crops will enable the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas to become food self-reliant. Higher incomes through access to markets and value-added services will enhance the economic viability of smallholder agriculture. A vibrant economy will engender investments in local education institutions, reversing brain drain.
Innovations in farm technology will make smallholder farming viable through improved farm technologies. Robust technology-enabled supply chains and links to online tourism platforms will allow entrepreneurs and experience providers to access the market.
These shifts will sustain the local environment and restore local agro-biodiversity.
The vision, proposed by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), a non-profit organisation which generates interdisciplinary knowledge to inform policy and practice towards conservation and sustainability, is informed by people engaged in food and agriculture in the landscape.
ATREE’s Eastern Himalaya Programme, operational for over 20 years, has been engaged in action research and capacity building. ATREE’s newly established Centre for Social and Environmental Innovation (CSEI) aims to address the previously missing link with markets, by fostering collaborations between consumers, social entrepreneurs and communities through programming such as societal platforms, technology partnerships and training programmes. The vision proposed draws on work in Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region as well as CSEI’s recent market research and review of technology platforms.
ATREE’s research in Darjeeling district, shows that people perceive abandoning of agriculture to be a positive change in their lives, enabled by formal education. Agriculture, once the main source of livelihoods, is now considered “risky”, “labour-intensive”, and “without economic returns”. Communities identify decreases in productivity due to changing climatic conditions, loss of agriculture labour due to migration, crop depredation by wildlife and changing aspirations of the people as drivers of farmland abandonment. Similarly, in Dzongu valley in North Sikkim, primary research in 20 villages showed that food systems have drastically changed in the landscape and there is complete dependence on distant markets for food. Local food is mostly used during festivals and cultural events and is severely undervalued.
Yet, even as native foods and traditional agriculture have declined in recent decades, there has been an incredible growth of rural homestays in the region. Many farmers have stopped farming to solely pursue income from tourism. But the type of mass tourism currently being practiced is quite environmentally destructive. Smallholders import produce from the plains to cater to “global” tastes of the tourists visiting them, believing their own food is not worth serving. Plastic and packaging waste is a big threat to the pristine landscape. In many villages, high-density concrete structures are being constructed, even in remote villages on the fringes of pristine wildlife sanctuaries, to maximise room rental revenues.
There is a real opportunity to reverse this trend using a systemic approach of intervening on simultaneously on policy, consumers and producers. Technology is opening up new avenues. CSEI’s research shows that farmers, tourism operators and entrepreneurs are not able to access the “premium market”. Once the preserve of hotels and restaurants, the tourism market is becoming more decentralised. But while there are more discerning consumers willing to pay premiums for unique and sustainable experiences, many farmers do not know how to capitalise on emerging opportunities. Similarly, technology is now making shared services and logistics infrastructure for supply chains and quality control possible. Thus, technology enabled linkages to supply chains and markets thus play a central role in this vision.
The vision specifically address the unique challenges of hilly terrain of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya. Our vision focuses on making smallholder farming economically viable via technology adaptations, capacity building and market interventions. To address the challenges that the Public Distribution System has on the loss of agro-biodiversity and lack of nutritional outcomes of the region, our vision is to ensure local and native foods become an integral part of the PDS. Although tourism and globalization are altering food culture and aspirations, our vision is to make smallholder farming an economically viable and aspirational career, while promoting local food tourism in the region. We believe that improved education infrastructure will follow, reversing brain drain.
We believe that the vision presented here aligns well with the criteria of the Food Prize. It has the potential to inspire real, positive, and bold transformation of the food system of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas and it is actionable, concrete, and achievable.
Our vision is rooted in a system thinking approach. The need for a holistic approach arose from our prior experiences from introducing ecotourism in the region which had unintended consequences. Farmers in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas abandoned farming and began importing food as “ecotourism” became more profitable. But what really evolved was mass tourism that destroyed local agro-biodiversity and degraded the landscape. This led to develop a vision that would require simultaneous interventions on multiple actors in this system.
Our vision therefore involves addressing multiple actors and pain-points to achieve transformative change; moving from a low-level equilibrium of mass tourism, loss of local culture and agro-biodiversity, environmental degradation and low incomes to a high-level equilibrium of responsible tourism, restoration of local cultures and agro-biodiversity, environmental sustainability and sustainable income.
Our vision is informed by community experiences and based long-term action research by ATREE on climate-resilient agriculture in the landscape. Additionally, in developing the vision, the project team conducted a week-long reconnaissance trip, interviewing restaurants, home-stay owners and farmers in both Sikkim and Darjeeling, specifically to understand the challenges of restoring local and native foods from a market perspective.
Additionally, as part of a collaborative research project on “Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems” with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, ATREE is currently engaged in primary surveys documenting local and native food culture. Through another project, funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, ATREE taxonomists are documenting wild edible plants and insects of the whole North Eastern region, including the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas.
Our vision is inspiring because it involves restoring of local food cultures and pride of place. We believe much of the action in achieving this vision will entail branding and creating a movement around local and native foods. This will involve partnering with cultural influencers -- chefs, social media personalities, travel shows etc.
We believe our vision is feasible. During our field reconnaissance trips in the region we found that in the more remote pockets, there was a deep sense of place and culture that has not yet eroded. Despite this, we found local food very hard to buy, especially in larger towns. However, everywhere we travelled, restaurant, homestay owners and villagers were willing to serve us local foods on request, though they needed some convincing their food was worth serving to guests. On the other hand, a native food dinner served at an ATREE event in Bangalore, were extremely successful, suggesting that there is an opportunity to intervene successfully on the demand side. Technology platforms like AirBnb, HomeAway and ClearTrip are now changing how tourism is planned and consumed, so there new opportunities to intervene that did not exist a decade ago.
The vision is co-created with the community. Initial discussions in Rampuria town, located in Senchal wildlife sanctuary, in Darjeeling, where ATREE has been working for over 15 years, indicated to us that the local residents would enthusiastically welcome a food tourism venture. Subsequently, the actual vision presented here, was developed through a series of facilitated “human centred design thinking” workshops that included ATREE staff engaged in food systems programme from two protected areas in India -- the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas and the Western Ghats.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.
The most significant development has been the Covid-19 pandemic. We assumed tourism would be one of the major pathways to augment livelihoods. Tourism revenues have sharply declined and tourism activities are expected to remain slow. The lockdown revealed the dysfunctional nature of food supply chains. Local produce used to be sent to wholesale markets in the plains and then distributed back to the hills through retailers. Many of the producers could not get access to the wholesale markets due to movement restrictions and therefore there was a problem of access to consumers for fresh produce. Some farmers began to sell locally, but these were inconsistent and disorganized and the opportunity for meeting local demand could not be fully capitalised.
We are now emphasising locally grown food for both tourism and local demand. Additionally, we are prioritizing training farmers to secure multiple sources of income to make livelihoods more resilient to shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic.
Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).
These are our partners who helped refine this existing vision, and what each will do to move the vision forward.
The Sustainable & Healthy Food Systems (SHEFS) project at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine will act in an advisory capacity to support the design of system interventions, and monitoring and evaluation tools to assess impacts at scale. Goya Journal, a food media production company will help generate stories on local cuisines. The NGO, Global Alliance For Mass Entrepreneurship India, will help conceptualize entrepreneurship models. The Uttar Banga Krishi Viswavidyalaya (UBKV) in Kalimpong will help advise the government on appropriate policy interventions. The FPO Kanchenjunga Honey & Agro Processing Industrial Cooperative Society Ltd. are ensuring any interventions are in line with local needs and aspirations. The MIRA technology collective will help with user centred design, and rapidly prototyping and validating interventions.
Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.
Due to restrictions on movement and travel due to the Covid-19 lockdown, since March our interactions with stakeholders have been predominantly through phone calls, emails and virtual meetings.
During these interactions we reiterated our Vision for the area, got feedback and validation from the community, and discussed various ways in which we could collaborate to realise the Vision.
Below is a listing of the 24 stakeholders represented by 26 individuals we interacted with during the Refinement Phase:
Nirmal Farms: Owner Mr. Pravesh Gurung (age 38), Bara Mangwa, West Bengal
Mr, Saran Rai, Farmer (age 55), Lalung Village, WB
Mr. Sudip Rai, Farmer (age 25), Lalung Village, WB
Kanchenjunga Honey & Agro Processing Industrial Cooperative Society, Mr. LB Raut: Farmer and President, Rampuria Village, WB
Bajra Homestay*: Owner Mr. Prakash Tamang (age 45)
Priyankcha Homestay*: Owner Ms. Priyankcha Chettri (age 17)
Deep Homestay*: Owner Mr. Laxuman Chettri (age 42)
Ayush Homestay:* Owner Mr. Deepak Basnet (age 40)
Arun Homestay*: Owner Mr. Arun Tamang (age 29)
Darjeeling Blossom Ecotourism*: Owner Mr. MK Pradhan (age 67), Chotta Mangwa, WB
Mayfair: General Manager Mr. Mohanty, Darjeeling, WB
Windamere: GM Ms. Subhana Rai, Darjeeling, WB
New Elgin: Manager Mr. Das, Darjeeling, WB
Ramada: several managers, Darjeeling, WB
Little Tibet: Manager Mr. Dewan, Darjeeling, WB
Central Heritage: Manager Mr. Lepcha, Darjeeling, WB
Revolver: Owner Mr. Vikash Pradhan, Darjeeling, WB
* Members of Rampuria Community-Managed Tourism Group established in 2004
Kunga- Mr. Mohan, Owner
Mohan, Mr. Mohan, Owner
Revolver, Mr. Vikash and Ms. Asenla, Owners
Life & Leaf, Ms. Tilotama, Manager
Inaya, Ms. Asenla and Mr. Prayas, Partners
What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.
Trend: Climate change will result in temperatures rising by 2°C . Climate change and other factors have caused spring discharge, the main source of water for the region, to decrease from 100.18 l/m in 2000 to to 74.06 l/m in 2010 .
Signal: The Central Himalayan Rural Action Group (CHIRAG) has revived 46 springs, and is on track to revive over 200 more . India is on track to meet its NDC commitments .
Trend: Diets have become more globalised. The younger generation now favours fast food over local dishes. As a result both nutritional deficiency and obesity are emerging problems, particularly in cities .
Signal: Indians are generally becoming more health conscious and there is a revival of local cuisines in a few places. The INR 4000 Crore (500 million USD) organic food market is projected to grow by 23% by 2023 . Popularity of homestays suggest that tourists are looking for diverse experiences. E.g. The Mayal Lyang Homestay (5 star rating on Tripadvisor) in North Sikkim serves traditional cuisine and uses local food grown on the property.
Trend: Migration to big cities is common. The instability of farming as a livelihood, coupled with the lack of education facilities in the region and lack of alternative livelihood opportunities, is causing many residents of the region to migrate to larger cities in India, such as Koltaka. As per census data, between 2001 and 2011 the urban population in Sikkim increased by 153% .
Signal: There are a few from the younger generation that would like to stay back and pursue more entrepreneurial activities instead of migrating. E.g. an interview with the 25 year old Sudip Rai, a smallholder farmer, described his journey in starting a rock climbing business in his village of Lalung.
Trend: Shared services platforms and sensing technologies are disrupting multiple industries. Companies like AirBnB and Tripadvisor have democratized the hotel and tourism industry.
Signal: New technologies and early warning systems are helping reduce human wildlife conflict (HWC). CWS’s WildSeve project ensure any losses incurred by animals are compensated by the government .
Trend: The Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) in India has historically prioritized cereals (i.e. calories), over more sustainable nutritional alternatives (like millets) .
Signal: Influential local philanthropies like Tata Trusts are now drawing attention to nutritional security .
Trend: Women are more engaged in agricultural work as men are more focused on daily wage labour. In the Himalayan region, women work thrice as many hours as men on farms; more than 70% of rural farmers in the Himalaya region of Uttarakhand are women .
Signal: An ATREE training program for apiary management in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region trained 23 participants on how to augment income with honey, especially in places where agricultural yields have become uncertain.
Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).
This is Saran Rai explaining the honey making process and showing us his bees
This is a typical shed where cattle is kept by people in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya Region
This is a protective structure used for some of the more climate and pest sensitive crops in Chatakpur Village, Darjeeling District, West Bengal.
This is one of the "finished" local products that can be purchased
This is a fruit and vegetable vendor found on the North Sikkim Highway, which is where people can access subsidized food from the Indian Public Distribution System (PDS).
This is a picture of the third part of our day in the life spreadsheet
This is a picture of the second part of our day in the life spreadsheet
This is a picture of the first part of our day in the life spreadsheet
Here is an example of local products being stocked and sold in local stores, promoting the local food economy.
Here are some of the local products that can be purchased. Products include, squash, juice, jam, pickle, spices and vinegar
ATREE in discussion with Pravesh Gurung (Owner, Nirmal Farms) about his farming practices and food processing business
These are members of the Rampuria Community-Managed Tourism Group, Kanchenjunga Honey & Agro Processing Industrial Cooperative Society and ATREE after a series of discussions
This is Saran Rai, a smallholder farmer. He also runs an apiary business and he is inspecting his bees
Dorjee is a 30yr old smallholder farmer living in Passingdang Village, Sikkim. He lives in a home that celebrates the region’s traditional bamboo and earth architecture, with his wife, and daughter. His 60-year-old father lives in the parcel of land next to his. Dorjee wakes up in the morning and uses his tablet to check the status of his farm.
His Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO) connector Vikram (replacing the “middlemen” of the past) provided him the dashboard, which tracks the status of all the products he is selling. He checks the price of milk and honey, and how much is available on his farm to sell today. Next to him, his wife checks her dashboard to see how many bookings they have for the adventure sports business and homestay she manages. Noticing that he can get a good price for the milk and honey, he starts the milking process for his 3 cows.
Dorjee uses the new RX-300 robotic autonomous harvesters, equipment that is shared by all the farmers in the FPO. Sensor networks assure him (and his customers) that the farm is being managed in a regenerative fashion. Vikram implements blockchain technology to maintain transparency and ensure that he gets a premium because he practices sustainable agriculture.
Dorjee goes into his apiary to harvest honey. After he harvests honey he joins his wife and her guests for lunch. After a delicious lunch that includes a protein-rich kwati (soup) and gundruk (fermented leafy greens), he visits his sister’s voluntourism homestay. They harvest as much as they can from the land designated for producing food for their own consumption.
He brings the produce home and helps his wife cook dinner for the family. Dorjee goes to bed, stomach filled with delicious thali of bhat-dal-sabji-tarkari-dahi/mohi-achar (rice-legumes-vegetables-buttermilk/pickle); he has everything he has always wanted. His only dream now is to make sure his daughter gets into Gangtok University, a local university that’s one of the best in the world.
Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?
The Sikkim Darjeeling Himalaya is a biodiversity hotspot, home to threatened, rare and endemic species, and people who are highly dependent on biological resources for their survival. Climate change poses a threat to this fragile system and its effects are already being felt. The Eastern Himalayas are experiencing widespread warming of 0.01 to 0.04 ºC per year and this poses one of the biggest threats to agro-biodiversity in the region .
Agriculture in the mountain regions is constrained by the physical characteristics of the environment. Only about 12% of the total land area of Sikkim is cultivable, exhibiting a huge variation of agro-ecological zones ranging from 300 m to 5000 m. These support a wide range of crops from tropical paddy terraces to alpine grazing grounds. Traditional agriculture is dependent on the specific micro-climatic variations in the localised agro- ecosystems, and thus climate change has major implications on agriculture and adaptation .
Apart from the temperature effects, rainfall patterns have become erratic, further threatening agriculture. Monsoons are increasingly delayed and torrential rainfall has replaced the monsoon drizzles of the past. Summers are getting hotter and longer, winters more severe (Rahman et al., 2012). Glacier-melt in the high altitude lakes in Sikkim has increased significantly over the last 50 years and there has been an elevated risk of glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs). On one hand, extreme events result in soil erosion and landslides. On the other hand, low rainfall years affect water availability for the rabi (Oct-Jan) crop resulting in lower yields. Higher temperatures are also leading to the emergence of new pests and diseases -- mildew, scab, sooty mould, red rust, nematodes, and ant colonization to name a few. The decline in crop productivity is resulting in food insecurity, especially in remote areas .
Despite the region having ample rainfall (~2800mm annually), only about 20% of the cultivated land in the region is irrigated . But even this is threatened by drying springs . One study showed that the lean period discharge of almost half of the water sources in rural Sikkim has declined by more than 50% over the last decade . Climate change induced rainfall patterns are only one factor contributing to the decline of springs. Deforestation and upstream diversions are also determinants.
Given the current trajectory of the planet, by 2050, the impacts of climate change are unlikely to entirely disappear. But they can be mitigated. Our vision envisions a future where investments in science and technology -- matching of local varieties to new climatic conditions by shifting elevations, improved ability to forecast extreme events and springshed management will help farmers successfully adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Water availability in springs
There is tremendous interest, both in the government as well as civil society, in reviving springs and increased awareness of their importance. Pilot projects have shown positive results. But they also show that investment in physical interventions such as recharge structures alone is likely to be insufficient, if the total water availability is exceeded by farmers switching water intensive exotic crops. Therefore, what is needed is a combination of biophysical interventions and springshed management institutions that ensure equitable and sustainable use of the resource.
Crop Adaptation to Climate
As crop ranges shift, due to climate-induced warmer temperatures, there may be a need for a constant adaptation and shifting of crop ranges to higher altitudes. Preserving heirloom varieties and cultivars will be even more critical under climate change.Their cultivation practices will need to be improvised through introduction of newer technologies. There is also a need for active research on DNA mapping and identifying morphological traits and nature of adaptability to help shift ranges under climate change . There will also be the need to invest in early warning systems to adapt to uncertain climatic conditions.
Regenerative agriculture practices play a role in mitigation by putting more carbon into the soil than is released in the atmosphere. By reducing chemical inputs, removing or reducing tilling, and shifting away from monocropping, there is an opportunity to make the soil more productive and resilient, restore freshwater sources, while also reducing carbon emissions.
Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?
Traditional local foods hold the potential to bind and stabilize communities through continuing their histories. They are nutritious and well adapted to local conditions. However, these are being lost. And as traditional crops used for making traditional food are not grown anymore, entire food cultures are disappearing as well.
In order to change this, the 2050 food system will entail increasing awareness of the health benefits, improving market linkages, as well as fixing public policy.
Wild edibles historically constituted a significant component in the diets of both rural and urban communities in the mountains. They contributed to food and nutrition security. Studies show there are over 190 edible plant species, and 175 plants used traditionally for food preparation, but only 47 of these reach markets in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region today .
Emerging research already shows that eating seasonal, traditional diets contributes to a healthy gut microbiome and avoidance of many health conditions . Given the rise of obesity in the region, people will regain an understanding of the benefits of local cuisine over the more “global” foods that are commonly found in restaurants in the region . With improved understanding of the benefits as well as a restoration of pride in local food, local cuisine will move from just being served during festival occasions to once again being the norm. We envision that in 2050, a return to pride and consumption of traditional foods will virtually eliminate wasting, stunting, low birth weights, and obesity.
Local produce in the rural areas are seldom linked to the local food systems. Local weekly markets or haats no longer sell local products. These markets were once sources of local food to rural communities when there was no access to distant markets. Today, even where available, local produce is marginalized in urban markets, sold in make-shift carts behind the “upper class” markets. These market forces have large impacts on the local food system- especially fast food and packaged food. In the food system of 2050, pride will be restored to local produce. High quality local produce will enjoy an aspirational status, comparable to “global” cuisine. By 2050, land will not only be used for cash crops, but also for growing food for sustenance. Local supply chains will ensure that even during periods of shock to the supply chain (e.g. natural disasters, political instability) food security will not be compromised.
Historically, several well-meaning policies and schemes like the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) were focused on food security for the poor impacted healthy local food systems . The focus on calories resulted in importing cereals from the plains, disincentivizing communities from growing food locally . Eg. changes from traditional cereals to rice and potatoes. Diets that once mainly consisted of maize, millet and buckwheat, have shifted to rice and wheat from the TPDS. Policies like banning grazing and pastoralism have had impacts on the food systems. In 2050, the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region may still have to rely on food imports from the plains. However, if the TPDS sources some portion of the food locally, to prioritize nutrition over calories, it would dramatically alter nutritional security.
Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?
The three most significant contributors to the economy of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas are agriculture, tea and tourism . While tea and tourism get the spotlight, agriculture is the mainstay of rural communities.
Agro-climatic conditions are suitable for agriculture, horticulture, floriculture and tea. The lush green sub-tropical and temperate forests which get abundant rain are rich in medicinal plants, and non-timber forest products including wild edible plants. The region’s agrarian economy is based on terrace rice farming and cultivation of maize, millet, barley, vegetables to name a few. Mandarin oranges, ginger and large cardamom are important cash crops which contribute to the agriculture economy. Tourism is the other economic pillar, and Sikkim has become one of the most popular destinations in the Indian Himalayas.
The Covid-19 Disruption
The agriculture and tourism sectors have been extensively impacted by the pandemic. Restrictions on travel, social distancing and health norms have brought the tourism sector to a halt impacting thousands of livelihoods. Agriculture has mainly been affected by the availability of seeds, and supply chain disruptions linking to both local and distant markets. Household income of all the farmers of the region have been impacted. As of 24th May, 2020, total unemployment rate in Sikkim was 2.3% and West Bengal was 17.4% (Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts specific figures are not available) .
There has been large reverse migration of people from across India who have returned home to Sikkim and Darjeeling. Most are from the skilled sector - employed in sales in large departmental stores, restaurants, BPOs, and small enterprises.
While it is difficult to predict what the new normal will look like, it is possible that some of the young and skilled workforce will contribute to local enterprises and their skills and experience will provide value to the local food system and also generate employment for these returnees.
The 2050 Economy
Food aggregators, as emerging entrepreneurs, played a critical role during the lockdown period in connecting farmers to local markets. This indicates that there is a local market for local food in urban areas, where customers are willing to pay and get food delivered at home. These entrepreneurs may remain even in the post Covid-19 period and can be strengthened further for local and distant markets. Food aggregators are key stakeholders in our Vision. We expect they will remain employment generating enterprises in providing jobs for collecting, distribution, delivery, packaging, branding etc.
Tourism sector entrepreneurs have the potential of generating jobs through homestays, hotels, and restaurants in urban, peri-urban and popular tourist sites that will benefit local food based enterprises. These will be critical for promoting local food experiences and in doing so will generate revenue for themselves as well as staff they hire.
Through the promotion of these enterprises we expect more farmers to be involved in cultivating local food crops. Mountain agriculture is labour and time intensive as most of the activities are non-mechanised. In the past, family size was larger and there was the traditional practice of voluntary labour pooling. Reduction in family size, migration to urban areas for education and employment has led to the loss of this traditional practice. Therefore agriculture wage labour has evolved as an employment opportunity. We envision that with innovation of labour saving devices (and removal of some drudgery), interest in agriculture will be renewed.
As parcels of land will remain the same size and to keep revenues constant while reducing the amount of cash crops produced, the 2050 economy will focus on enabling farmers to realize revenue in value-added and off-farm entrepreneurial activities like the honey and milk business. Additionally, more of the cash crop value will be realized in the region. Small scale agro-processing units will be the norm, enabling the processing of crops such as turmeric, ginger, and oil extraction. A premium for these finished products will be fetched as the region has some of the highest quality ingredients.
Women were always at the forefront of mountain farming, being responsible for providing food to the family. With the promotion of more food crops, we expect the women’s role to be further enhanced. In cash crop economies men are observed taking a larger role in terms of cultivation and market linkages. However, with more emphasis on enhancing local food, we hope to further empower women and strengthen their role in providing adequate and nutritious food to the family. The greater emphasis on local foods will enhance their traditionally-held roles of seed preservation and sharing. The link between cultivation, food preparation, and the experiential tourism economy through homestays, will ensure that women will contribute significantly to the economy.
Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?
The traditional system of farming in Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya is an integrated system of farming, which integrates agricultural practices and livestock management in such a way that it relies on local resources with minimal external inputs . This is further supported by agroforestry, which links the whole farming system to the nearby natural forests creating a farm-forest environment. In these landscapes, dominated by small and marginal landholders, farming is environment-friendly, sustainable, and regenerative.
But traditionally, it has been labour intensive and not very remunerative. Increased pest attacks  and human-wildlife conflict have rendered traditional agriculture less viable. With the advent of cash crops, increasingly there is more reliance on external inputs and on the promotion of monoculture of cash crops.
Our vision for 2050, relies on preserving and celebrating local food cultures as a means to sustaining agro-biodiversity. For local food systems to flourish it is imperative to ensure the continuation of the principles of integrated agriculture traditionally practised. While commercial cash crops are important sources of income, it is equally important to promote the cultivation of local food crops, which are resilient to the conditions of the region and can withstand environmental shocks.
Heirloom Cultivars Preservation
Sharing of seeds within the village and with other villages particularly of heirloom varieties of food crops is an age-old tradition of the agricultural communities of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya . However, with improved varieties and hybrids being provided freely and at subsidised rates by the Government, traditional varieties and strains are disappearing. This loss in agro-biodiversity is detrimental to the culture and traditions of the region.
Women played a critical role in preserving, sharing seeds and seed varieties. Promotion of local food will help to preserve this tradition, as well as enhance the pivotal role women played in agriculture, beyond just providing labour in farms.
For the people in the region food and traditional practices are directly related to cultural continuity and preservation . This is a way of practising tradition and also a factor of identity as each ethnic group has its own traditional ethnic food for which they are known. Traditional food is deeply entrenched in the culture and value systems, and food plays an important role in social and religious ceremonies as well as in spirituality. Many of the songs, dances, and myths/stories also mention food and food crops. Most of the food crops adopted here are believed to be an adaptation to the harsh conditions and environment of the mountains. Restoring these is an integral part of preserving local cultures.
In recent decades, the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayan region has witnessed waves of mass tourism. But much of the tourism does not recognise, let alone celebrate, local culture. Indeed, our experience is that it is surprisingly difficult to find local foods in tourist centres. We envision a future, where responsible tourism is a source of income, one that enhances and celebrates authentic local, cultural experiences.
Reports suggest that there are more than 150 ethnic fermented food and alcoholic beverages and drinks, more than 300 types of non-fermented ethnic foods, and about 350 wild edible plants in the Himalayas . Many of these foods are disappearing along with the disappearance of the traditional crops that form the main ingredients of these foods.
The multifunctional traditional food systems of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalayas support ecosystem services and livelihoods in mountain communities. They are considered to be adaptive to climate change situations and serve as carbon sinks . We envision promoting and strengthening these systems through documentation, disseminating knowledge, and also reviving these traditions and making them known to people from outside the landscape.
Sacred sites are an important traditional territory of local communities in the region and these are usually integrated into the agriculture landscape. Sacred sites, traditionally protected specific species and habitats. Many of these sites house springs that are preserved only because they were traditionally designated “no go” zones, ensuring availability of water for drinking and agriculture.
Awareness & social media around local food culture
To build demand and awareness about the availability and use of local foods and local cuisine, there will be a heavy push to encourage the revival of local and traditional foods. This diet will become the norm for people living in the region. Additionally, the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region will become a cultural hotspot for food tourism through government branding, along with a large media and awareness push. This will in turn promote pride in the rich local food culture and traditions present in the region.
Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?
By 2050, supply chain provenance enabled by blockchain technologies and digital payments, precision agriculture, labour saving technologies adapted to the hills, and technology preventing human animal conflict will allow regenerative agriculture and multiple streams of income to be the norm in 2050.
In this hilly and stepped terrain, it is nearly impossible for traditional farming vehicles to navigate the terraced terrain. By 2050, farming equipment such as tractors, harvesters, combines, and seeders will be adapted to the hills -- this might be a combination of autonomous vehicles and robotic technologies that will have enough intelligence to navigate difficult terrain. Many of these devices will be part of a local “sharing economy”. Additionally, given the remote nature of many of the farms, we believe 3D printing can be used to print out spare parts for these vehicles.
Precision agriculture will use a decision support system that incorporates the latest climate models to predict rain patterns. Additionally, real time sensing systems will be developed to measure honey, and milk availability on farms, and incorporate real time pricing to inform farmers’ sales optimization strategies. The decision support system will be tailored to each farmers’ goals. For example, some will focus on reduction of labour, while others may be to maximize profits while limiting work hours to 5 hours per day.
Post-processing technologies, seed banks and cold storage
Post-harvest processing and value addition with participation in trade fairs, exhibitions will greatly expand opportunities to promote small-scale, agro-processing units like oil-extraction, and ginger and turmeric processing. By 2050, the region will have fodder banks to ensure fodder availability in winters and support drought resistant organic local seeds. There will also be investment in seed storage and seed testing in every location and undertake training of farmers to produce and curate good quality seeds. Each district will have cold storage facilities to minimize post-harvest losses.
Supply chain provenance
The products from this region have a unique quality and texture and there is considerable scope for marketing them all over the world. Blockchain technology will be adapted to increase traceability of the supply chain . By 2050 it will be used to ensure higher prices for food grown in more sustainable ways. It will enable conscious consumers to truly understand the social and environmental impact of their purchases. Thus, consumers can support more sustainably produced and sourced food, and reward those farmers by paying a premium for their produce. This will encourage a shift in the market and enable most food produced in the food system to be produced in a regenerative way.
Digital payments and contracts
Finally, smart contracts using blockchain technology, and direct same day digital payments will allow for the creation of more fair marketplaces, removing middlemen. Additionally, this will enable crop insurance to go directly from governments to the bank accounts from farmers, due to this supply chain provenance. End consumers or businesses can post their sourcing and quality needs, and farmers are enabled to make that transaction happen. The quality provenance is assured by the blockchain, and smart contracts handle the actual transactions. By 2050, middlemen will become “community connectors” and primarily serve the function of a shared service provider.
Shared services & reduction of human-animal conflict
Shared service technologies will also allow for the grassroots aggregation of farmers collectives. Just as AirBnB provides shared services for people who would like to rent their rooms, a similar technology will be available for Farmer Producer Organizations to share transportation, mechanized vehicles, access to credit, precision agriculture technology, and real time market knowledge . This will enable a more equitable sharing of farm profits, and enable the sustainability of smallholder farmers.
Finally, advances in technology will significantly reduce the number of human animal conflicts. Currently, it is one of the main reasons farmers in the region are giving up farming practices. We believe that advances in sensing and acoustic technologies will allow for both farmers and animals to live peacefully together.
Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?
Several national policies are applicable, but elements that are context-specific for the mountains often get marginalised in their wider implementation. We need agriculture and food systems related policies that are specific to and appropriate for the mountains.
In 2050, we envision policies that will strengthen the local food and tourism economy, encourage regenerative, biodiverse agriculture and sustain water resources.
Agriculture policy, which currently focuses primarily on commercialisation of agriculture will instead provide an enabling environment to strengthen local food systems . A reversal of current local policies that prioritise cash crops over food crops, external inputs over local resources will cause a shift to a more sustainable and regenerative that is modern and labour saving. Crop and livestock diversity will be maintained for food, culture and other purposes and not be confined to market purposes.
Food security policy (National Food Security Act, 2013) . Today, the food security policy does not link with the local food systems as all the food grains supplied to communities are imported into the region. By 2050, we envision that this policy will include components linking existing food security programmes such as the government Mid Day Meal Scheme and the Targeted Public Distribution System to the local production systems, wherever possible to do so.
Tourism Policy: West Bengal’s tourism policy has several primary products identified, but does not currently include food , which would help in enhancing the local food systems in urban and rural areas. Sikkim’s Tourism Policy 2018 has clear objectives to manage and implement low impact, responsible tourism which include aspects of ethnic cuisine and food products . By 2050 tourism as the key sector will greatly benefit and support local, social and economic development.
Sikkim Organic Policy 2004 : Sikkim was certified as a 100% organic state in 2016. The policy and mission were designed keeping in mind its implications on numerous social, economic and cultural aspects, including health, rural development and sustainable tourism that can prove transformational for the people of Sikkim. The state’s organic image led to a huge boost in tourism and we envision that by 2050 rural tourism in organic villages will be highly sought after bringing visitors more closely involved with the local food system.
Rebranding Municipal Tourism Policies: At present, local municipalities do not celebrate local culture or promote local experiences to their full potential. By 2050, they will change their approach to tourism, rebrand themselves and celebrate and promote the visibility of local food products in local markets and events. This will increase access to and awareness about these food products, and make them aspirational.
Forest policy/ Protected Area Policy: Policies in this sector should enhance the access of local communities to wild edibles in a sustainable manner. Wild edibles, though sold in the local market, are still illegal from a policy perspective. By 2050, protected area policies should explicitly address wild edibles. Foraging and selling these would enhance incomes for communities as well as enrich the local food systems, but their sale will be monitored and regulated to ensure that they are sustainably harvested.
One of the major reasons for declining agriculture is that crop depredation by wildlife does not get compensated in the region, because most of the species causing this damage are not Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India. We envision that by 2050, all crop depredation by wildlife will be compensated, even as human-wildlife conflict is mitigated through smart agriculture and acoustic technology.
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 : Employment under this scheme has only included wage labour mostly for construction and rural infrastructure development activities. We envision that in 2050, the range of activities will be expanded to include components of springshed management, protected area restoration, seed preservation and shared agricultural services.
Increasing investments in rural infrastructure and education: Policies should focus on improving primary and secondary educational institutions, especially those in more remote areas. Additionally increased investments in public infrastructure in these rural areas will improve market linkages to both produce and tourism. This will encourage more families to stay in the region due to increased livelihood opportunities and educational opportunities, as opposed to moving to larger urban areas.
Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.
The food system of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya consists of 5 interlinked loops as shown in the diagram in question 16. Each loop includes variables from multiple themes. The loops themselves may be reinforcing or balancing; but our high-level vision involves interventions that strengthen or stabilise the loops.
Food tourism: Tourism is an important driver of demand for local foods. Their demand is driven by both awareness as well as the capacity of local entrepreneurs to reach potential customers and provide credible local food experiences. Once tourists associate the region with high-quality local experiences, they will demand more driving investment and entrepreneurship.
Local food economy: The local food economy is driven both by local demand as well as tourism. Increasing the amount of crops sourced locally in the TPDS to prioritize nutrition over calories, will not only spur the local economy but it will also create better nutritional outcomes to virtually eliminate stunting, wasting, obesity, and low birth weights. This will require investment in creating wholesale local markets and cold storage.
Agri-tech innovation: We use the term agriculture innovation broadly, both to include farm level innovations as well as shared services platforms like block-chain, cold storage transportation, and innovations to mitigate and adapt to climate change and human animal conflict. Technology mitigating human animal conflict will enable crops to grow to maturity. Agricultural innovation for mountainous regions has generally lagged behind because of low economies of scale. If value-added services help significantly improve income from agriculture then it is more likely to attract investment. Policy both in creating tech-funds specifically for hilly regions as well as investments in higher education in the region are likely to be critical.
Sustaining the environment: Increasing yields of local produce is likely to require irrigation. This will require investments in small-scale irrigation systems to allow farmers to access and use local springs efficiently. Although the region receives plentiful rainfall, storing the water for use in the dry season poses a challenge. Groundwater recharge programmes address this. They capture rainwater, cause it to move slowly in aquifers and discharge into springs through the year.
However, the water available is still limited and must be used wisely. If the region shifts to water-intensive hybrid crops, over abstraction will cause springs to dry up. Thus any recharge programme must be accompanied by springshed management programmes that ensure wise and equitable water use.
Agricultural Labour: Increasing labour availability in agriculture will decrease wages, making agriculture more viable. However if wages decline too much, labour availability will decrease. Therefore, the balance between farmer profitability and wages must be maintained. Voluntourism and farm stay experiences may be one way forward.
Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.
Mass tourism vs. the environment
Although tourism will be a large revenue driver for the region, there will be a tradeoff between retaining the pristine environment and natural identity, and maximizing tourism revenue. Our vision is to go after a smaller number of tourists that generate a higher value per stay. This is in line with the community's ideals, as many mentioned that they do not want to significantly increase their workload, but they would like more stability in the bookings and prefer higher margins over volume. This type of tourism would focus on a cultural exchange - attracting tourists who would rather learn about the culture and be immersed in the region, rather than trying to feed them their typical foods, in a different environment.
Environment over certain types of economic activity
Although there is potential for certain types of economic activity such as manufacturing and intensive agriculture, the people of the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region have indicated that they value their environment over maximization of land utility. There is a basic livelihood need that needs to be met, but it can be achieved in more sustainable ways -- prioritising high-value ecotourism, small-scale agro processing units, and strengthening higher education and service industries.
Regenerative bio-diverse agriculture vs. higher-yielding crops
Although in the past, there was an emphasis on yield over sustainability, by 2050, there will be a balance between both. Agriculture yields will be enough to provide food and nutritional sovereignty while also ensuring that incomes are sustained. To make up for this reduction in agricultural yield, other income streams will be emphasized to augment incomes.
Sustainability and resilience vs cost minimisation
By prioritizing the scaling of heterogeneity over homogeneity, we hope to create a food system, which may be slightly higher cost, but ultimately will be more resilient to shocks
3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?
By 2023 these are the key milestones our team of 7 organizations needs to achieve to be on track:
1. We will create an online Wild Foods Portal and sign an MoU with the local municipalities to organise and showcase 3 major events to raise awareness on local foods.
2. We would have graduated four batches of Food Futures Academy graduates (where we train local entrepreneurs to offer local experiences, connect with consumers, brand and market themselves -- described in detail in the Full Vision), and trained 200 farmers to augment their income in ways that strengthen the local food economy.
3. We would have launched food tourism experiences, connecting tourists to local farmers, and we have had our Food Futures Academy graduates give at least 200 food tours in 3 years.
Together these would result in increased demand for local food by 10%. We will measure this by tracking the baseline demand from “local” ingredients in the market and seeing if this volume increases by 10% over the 3 year period.
Additionally, we hope to publish a whitepaper laying a roadmap for the inclusion of local foods in the TPDS system. We will model the impacts of various scenarios of local foods on resources, to establish the carrying capacity of the region and inform how resources (particularly water) should be allocated. We will circulate this in government circles and move this towards informing policy.
10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?
By 2030 we need to make progress on the following:
1. We would have trained 30,000 farmers through Food Futures Academy to augment their income in ways that strengthen the local food economy
2. We would have doubled demand for local food.
3. We would have established the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region as a Food Tourism destination receiving over 100,000 food tourists per year.
4. 25% of the TPDS in the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region has food sourced locally
5. 25% of all agriculture is practicing regenerative agriculture
If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?
We will increase the percentage of successful entrepreneurs engaged in the tourism economy by creating the Food Futures Academy (FFA). In the FFA, we will equip entrepreneurs with a range of skills from how to curate experiences, market themselves through social media, comply with regulations and access consumers through platforms like TripAdvisor, Homeaway and Airbnb. We will also pilot a Food Tourism experience in one of the villages near Darjeeling, Rampuria, where ATREE has worked for over a decade.
We will work with media partners like Goya, as well as our own portal, to raise awareness about local and traditional foods of the region. The portal will include information about the nutrition, conservation status, seasonality, how it can be procured, as well as feature cooks and entrepreneurs from the region.
Along with our partners at Kanchenjunga Honey & Agro Processing Industrial Cooperative Society and GAME, we will create pilots for post-processing, marketing and branding of products in the region.
Along with our academic partners, LSTHM and PHFI, we will write a whitepaper on how TPDS can be altered to include local foods and disseminate it to state officials. We will also develop a systems model that can illustrate and quantify the benefits of investing in local markets and cold storage.
We will raise additional funds for springshed management programmes, along with organisations like Chirag and ACWADAM.
If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?
The central concept we hope to convey through our vision is that scaling diversity sustainably is possible.
Our modern food system is driven by homogeneity and economies of scale.
The idea of de-risking by diversifying portfolios of stocks is well appreciated in the financial world. But when it comes to food systems, we continue to promote greater and greater homogeneity. Our modern food system was built to minimise costs and squeeze out efficiencies, which has made it more vulnerable to market price fluctuations, pest attacks and shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic.
Creating greater resilience, will require more diversity. But scaling diversity calls for a fundamental shift in the underlying economic paradigm. We do not imply that we should turn the clock back or create a disconnected xenophobic world. But rather to find a balance between the old and the new. Recognise the limits to carrying capacity, create circular economies, strengthen local food systems and encourage people everywhere to live meaningful lives and make sustainable life choices.
Modern technology has made this possible for the first time in history. Precision agriculture, Airbnb, farm-to-fork restaurants, community supported agriculture, cloud and micro kitchens, blockchain technology all allow consumers to express a range of diverse preferences and have them met through a common delivery infrastructure.
Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.
This is our visual representation of a food systems map for the Sikkim-Darjeeling Himalaya region.
In our diagram here are the goals (big circles) mapped to each stakeholder:
1. Women -- % income for women
2. Farmers -- Farmer Income
3. Children -- % Nutritionally Healthy
4. Entrepreneurs & middlemen -- Income from food tourism
5. Environment -- CO2 emissions
6. Downstream communities -- %springs perennial