Area lends Bhutan help­ing hand

Bhutan Times - - Editorial - Dave Gong The Jour­nal Gazette

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.”

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