CIP and MBDA organize the first symposium on organic potato in Meghalaya and Northeast India


Farmer participate in a FoodSTART+ training on positive selection for quality management of seed potato under organic conditions (Photo credit Shahid Ali)

Organic potatoes hold great potential for improving farmer incomes with far fewer health and environmental costs. As market demand for organic potatoes and other crops continue to develop, profitable value chains can be established to generate economic development in rural areas but without exacting a high toll on the environment.

With these ideas in mind, farmers, researchers, extension professionals, and representatives of government and private sector gathered in Shillong, Meghalaya, India, to discuss ideas for unleashing the potential of organic potatoes in northeastern India. Co-sponsored by the International Potato Center (CIP) and the Meghalaya Basin Development Agency (MBDA), the symposium ‘Opportunities and Challenges for Organic Potato in Meghalaya and other Northeastern Indian States: Research, Business and Policy Perspectives’ was organized to discuss findings from the FoodSTART+ project, which ended in 2019. Nearly 50 people attended to share their thoughts on the research and discuss future pathways for developing organic potatoes and markets.

Specific objectives of the symposium included:

  • To discuss main opportunities, challenges and concerns related to organic potato in Meghalaya and other states in Northeast India;
  • To disseminate relevant research results, including the major findings from FoodSTART+;
  • To promote interaction among participants and establish long-lasting links for an integrated implementation of organic policies to respond to the practical needs of farmers and other value chain actors;
  • To facilitate convergence among initiatives aimed at promoting organic farming within and beyond Meghalaya, and to provide policy recommendations and promote linkages among value chain actors; and
  • To gather participants’ input and feedback for building a roadmap and identifying concrete actions, roles and responsibilities for supporting the implementation of the organic policies in the potato value chain and beyond.

In general, participants agreed that major opportunities for organic potato growth in Northeast India exist, due in large part to the agro-ecological conditions and traditional farming practices that would facilitate an easier transition to organic production.

Woman farmer chopping leaves of Lantana Camara during a FoodSTART+ training on organic management of potato tuber moth in local seed stores (Photo credit Shahid Ali)

At the end of the meeting, the attendees agreed on six recommendations to carry forward to promote organic potato production in the area:

  1. Strengthening organic seed systems with associated services, inputs and facilities needed for seed testing and certification;
  2. Promoting documentation and valorization of indigenous practices and varieties;
  3. Facilitating production of and access to required inputs, from quality seed to bio-fertilizers (including organic manure) and bio-agents;
  4. Strengthening of farmers’ capacities in organic production, including developing and disseminating a standard package of practices for organic potato;
  5. Facilitating consolidation of organic products and their marketing by creating and promoting a specific regional brand valorizing indigenous varieties and traditional practices; and
  6. Establishing additional incentive mechanisms for farmers, including buy-back guarantees for contracted farmers and sufficient support for the initial stages of organic transition.

In support of these recommendations, it was further advised that organic potato production would require:

  • Developing actual policies with input from the various stakeholders, including regulations and incentives to facilitate transitions to organic and development of required seeds and bio-inputs;
  • Supporting horizontal coordination and stronger integration and dialogue between research and extension, especially to test and adapt proposed “packages” and develop relevant participatory extension approaches, and with policymakers and other value chain stakeholders (e.g., following the successful example of the Dutch Covenant for development and dissemination of organic varieties);
  • Understanding and guiding social changes implied and/or required for the transition to organic; and
  • Exploring the use of ICT, including e-tools and online platforms to facilitate traceability, pest control, and marketing.

The full report of the symposium can be accessed here.