Area lends Bhutan helping hand
More than 7,000 miles from home, Tshewang Tashi is learning about America’s agriculture systems.
Tashi, who holds degrees in animal science and business from Wageningen University in the Netherlands, works for the Ministry of Agriculture in Bhutan – a small developing nation of 750,000 citizens sandwiched between India and China in the eastern Himalayas.
He’s spent the past few days in Fort Wayne touring area businesses and farms, learning waste management techniques as they apply to livestock.
It’s the Bhutanese government’s plan, Tashi said, to move away from traditional subsistence farming techniques in favor of a more modern system.
The country faces a shortage of milk and must import a large portion of its supply from India, which drives up consumer costs. Larger farms with more modern techniques would help to bring more milk into the market and ease prices, Tashi said.
But that’s not the main priority.
“The whole purpose of having the bigger farms out there is not to really bring down the price (of milk), but to transfer technology,” he said. “It is telling the larger section of the people that now it’s time for us to move from the conventional subsistence farming system to a little bit more modernized system.”
Ted Nitza Jr., president of the Secant Group, which contracts for various City Utilities projects, said that by modernizing the agriculture system, Bhutan will ultimately be more self-sufficient.
“In doing that, they’ll be able to rely less on imports and be more self-sustaining,” Nitza said.
Nitza met Tashi during a four-month trip to Bhutan this year with his wife, Amy, a psychology professor at IPFW who volunteered to work at a hospital in Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu.
While there, Nitza reached out to see how he could help.
“They explained projects they are working on, and I explained there’s some things being done in the U.S. in city utilities that could help address some of those concerns,” he said.
Massive farms with thousands of animals – such as confined animal feeding operations – are not what Bhutan is looking for, Tashi explained. However, farms with 300 to 400 animals, like the Kuehnert Dairy Farm at 6532 W. Cook Road, are close to what his country wants to implement. Tashi visited the farm Tuesday.
“This farm here is very closely aligned with what they plan in Bhutan,” Nitza said.
“Even the wastewater processes, the labor, the staff and the products that they’re looking for was very applicable.”
Bhutan could come up with large-scale farming operations. It’s just not a model the country finds viable.
“We can come up with dairy farms with thousands of cows, but it’s all about displacing the smaller farmers.” Tashi said.
“If we come up with a farm that has, like, 5,000 cows, we feel that hundreds of farmers would be displaced.”
Economic growth and development, while a priority, is only a piece of the puzzle, he said. Environmental sustainability is also a concern.
It’s part of a guiding philosophy in Bhutan known as the Gross National Happiness.
According to the philosophy of GNH, positive societal development occurs when material, spiritual and intellectual growth occur simultaneously and complement each other.
The philosophy has four main tenets, or pillars, Tashi said: environmental sustainability, good governance, the conservation of culture and heritage, and balanced socio-economic development.
Modernizing the agriculture system must fall within this philosophy, especially when it relates to the environment, he said.
“Everything that you do in the development process in Bhutan should be sustainable, it should be green,” Tashi said.
“If there is waste and you can convert it into energy, why not? We should do it.”
Bhutan relies heavily on hydroelectric power as its chief export. Because of this, Tashi said wastewater is not allowed to go into the nation’s river system, where it might have a negative impact.
“We are going to have to come up with all these technologies like greenhouse, bio gas to convert this waste into energy and make it sustainable,” he said.
“That’s one of my purposes for coming out here, to learn at a larger scale how to use that waste to make it more sustainable.”
Working with Bhutan is an ongoing project in the planning stages, Nitza said.
Researchers at Purdue University have expressed interest in adding Bhutan to their research, he said.
“We’re hoping to continue this collaboration between the United States and Bhutan to help them with these challenges,” Nitza said. “What we’re hoping for is a number of collaborators, both from Bhutan and from the United States, to work together on this.”