Bhutan embarks on organic farming and also gets ready to dominate the export industry.
Bhutan embarks on an ambitious move to organic farming
The world is witnessing a remarkable increase in natural disasters. People across the globe are slowly growing occupied with lowering their carbon footprint. From recycling to finding alternatives to fossil fuels, the world has embarked upon a journey towards a cleaner, greener tomorrow.
Playing its part in a ‘going green’ mission is Bhutan, a tiny country in Asia. Largely isolated from the rest of the world, Bhutan recently revealed its intentions of going completely organic by the year 2020. Shunning the use of chemical products that are already taking a toll on the planet, Bhutan has opted to walk down the organic road, aiming to become the pioneer in organic farming. With an advantage over its counterparts in South Asia, Bhutan has its fair share of natural terrain; from subtropical plains to forests and Himalayan mountain ranges with peaks as high as 7000m.
Bhutan has been known to shy away from the technological advancements the rest of the world enjoys. Until recently, very little information was available of this tiny country. But
today, ‘the happiest nation’ in Asia, as well as the 8th happiest nation of the world, is taking on some remarkable incentives that are attracting global attention.
The tiny, landlocked country clearly has many advantages that can help it in achieving its goal. As mentioned before, Bhutan has largely been isolated from the international community and has been deprived of the modern technological advancements used in agriculture. Therefore, organic farming has existed in the country by default. Additionally, due to the high expenses involved in importing chemicals and other tools, farmers in Bhutan prefer to stick to their own farming methods, passed down through generations.
With people everywhere becoming extremely health conscious, organic farming is seen as a healthy alternative. As a result, organic food has become the fastest growing segment in the international food market. Bhutan has tremendous opportunity to benefit from this niche market. The largest market for Bhutan’s organic food exists in neighboring India where the population is now increasingly conscious of the food it consumes.
Inorganic food, while easier to produce has innumerable detrimental effects. The fertilizers used to increase production immediately doubles the crops, but in the end leaves the soil barren. The pesticides used to tackle insects that destroy the plants do more harm than good. Many environmentalists also believe that certain fertilizers contain chemicals, which are rumored to affect ozone depletion and global warming.
According to Kesang Tshomo, coordinator of the National Organic Program, Ministry of Agriculture Bhutan, “The motto of the organic farming is to protect the earth’s resources and produce safe, healthy food.” The gravity of this can be sensed from the various measures and incentives already undertaken by the government to pro- mote organic farming. Twenty-seven farmers along with three officials were sent on a 17-day tour to Bija Vidyapeeth, Navdanya’s organic seed farm in Uttaranchal, India to develop an idea of organic farming as well as study the impact of green revolution in India. The Indian government has also banned the use of agrochemicals.
In Bhutan, training for locals farmers is underway. Farmers are now being educated on how to increase yield using natural products.
While the use of fertilizers was introduced in Bhutan during the 1960s, farmers in rural areas were unable to access the goods due to their high price. They continued using their tradition al means of going crops but with poor quality and low yielding products. With proper training on how to fertilize the soil using natural products like manure, and protection against pests, the government of Bhutan hopes the local farmers will soon be able to improve both the quality and yield of their products.
The Ministry of Agriculture in Bhutan believes that the low usage of chemical inputs in farming can easily help the country go organic by the year 2020.
By the recognized definition given by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture, four basic principles identify organic farming: health, ecology, fairness and care. These principles need to be considered during the dealing, production and management, processing and trading of all organic food. Local farmers growing organic produce for Bhutan need to be educated enough to be able to grow crops that meet the requirements already set.
The organic market today comprise of three main components. The first are all products that are consumed without the need for any processing such as fruits, herbs, spices and vegetables. Second are the products, which require some form of pro- cessing in order to be consumed such as beverages. Lastly are the products, which are not consumed directly but serve as ingredients such as medicinal products, leather, fertilizers etc.
In order to go completely organic Bhutan needs to be able to come up with products for all three markets. Yuden Dorji of the Rural Enterprise Development in the Agriculture Ministry in Bhutan thinks that the country has tremendous potential in this sector, “Bhutan has a clean image around the globe and the fact that a lot of crops are still grown naturally is an advantage.”
The government of Bhutan believes that encouraging organic farming is the best way to alleviate poverty from the country. Bhutan is the only nation in the world where organic products cost as much as inorganic ones. Bhutanese people are encouraged to use as much organic food as possible.
“All Bhutanese should be able to eat as much organic food as possible as just now organic food in Bhutan is sold at the same price as conventional food,” says Kesang Tshomo “The National Organic Program has developed a mark /logo that will be used by registered organic farmers. So soon we will be able to identify the products that are grown locally by our organic farmers to give assurance of purity.”
Apples and oranges to neighboring countries like Bangladesh and India have been exported since 2005. After going organic, the exports from Bhutan are expected to rise phenomenally. Countries like the United States have been importing naturally grown food products to cater to the increasing domestic demand, and with Bhutan going organic, the tiny Asian country has a clear advantage to sweep all competition. Sidra Rizvi is majoring in creative writing and book production at the University of Karachi. She freelances for various publications.