Go­ing Green

Bhutan em­barks on or­ganic farm­ing and also gets ready to dom­i­nate the ex­port in­dus­try.

Southasia - - Contents - By Sidra Rizvi

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.

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