Grow­ing Or­gan­i­cally

Bhutan en­deav­ors to in­tro­duce or­ganic farm­ing through­out the coun­try in the hope of sav­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and boost­ing the econ­omy.

Southasia - - Contents - By Zu­fah An­sari Zu­fah An­sari is an un­der­grad­u­ate mar­ket­ing stu­dent with in­ter­est in cul­ture and so­ci­ety.

Bhutan wants to be­come the world’s first or­ganic coun­try.

Acoun­try with an odd national agenda has al­ways been creative in form­ing its national ide­olo­gies around seek­ing hap­pi­ness for its peo­ple. Nes­tled in the heart of the Hi­malayas, it is a coun­try of 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple and has pledged to be­come one of the first coun­tries in the world to be­come a fully or­ganic agrar­ian econ­omy. In do­ing so, it has an­nounced dras­tic plans to turn its home­grown food into 100% or­ganic prod­ucts.

De­spite its small size, Bhutan has braved its way to­wards ac­com­plish­ing this new goal by seek­ing to di­min­ish trade­offs be­tween the en­vi­ron­ment and the econ­omy. Apart from achiev­ing long-term eco­nomic ben­e­fits by turn­ing to or­ganic farm­ing, the crux of the coun­try’s col­lec­tive ef­fort is also a re­flec­tion of the philo­soph­i­cal ob­jec­tives that stem from the think­ing of Bhutan’s Bud­dhist ma­jor­ity.

In the process of be­com­ing an or­ganic agrar­ian econ­omy, Bhutan will in­dulge in strate­gies to elim­i­nate the use of pes­ti­cides and her­bi­cides. In re­turn, it will make rel­e­vant use of waste from an­i­mals and farms as sources of fer­til­izer. An eco­nomic par­al­lel to th­ese ob­jec­tives is that Bhutan’s min­istries have care­fully eval­u­ated how re­spon­sive the coun­try can be to­wards in­ter­de­pen­dent sus­tain­abil­ity link­ages that will be af­fected due to cli­mate change and pos­si­ble food and en­ergy crises. Or­ganic farm­ing will pro­vide food se­cu­rity and will also cre­ate new av­enues for po­ten­tial busi­ness in the form of a new global mar­ket for or­ganic agri­cul­tural prod­ucts. This will help in ex­pand­ing Bhutan’s house­hold in­come and its econ­omy and bring im­prove­ments in national health as well.

How­ever, Bhutan’s move to­wards or­ganic farm­ing will neg­a­tively im- pact some stake­hold­ers. Even though Bhutan’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor is “par­tially or­ganic,” hav­ing used tra­di­tional farm­ing tech­niques to date, the shift will cause a stir. One of the key stake­hold­ers to suf­fer will be the farm­ers. On the one hand, they can look for­ward to bet­ter in­comes through high qual­ity pro­duc­tion, mar­ket­ing of or­ganic prod­ucts and ef­fi­cient farm- ing prac­tices. On the other, while the farm­ers may en­joy some prime ben­e­fits, fre­quent spells of ex­treme and un­pre­dictable weather will se­verely hamper the pro­duc­tion of crops that are har­vested with­out chem­i­cals.

Farm­ers in Paro, a large farm­ing dis­trict in Bhutan that prac­tices sub­sis­tence and com­mer­cial farm­ing, are al­ready fac­ing such con­straints. With

ev­ery cul­ti­va­tion cy­cle, farm­ers face great dif­fi­culty in grow­ing enough to feed their fam­i­lies and to sell. Govern­ment of­fi­cials re­port­ing from the area say that they have to dis­trib­ute fer­til­izer as well as pes­ti­cides in large quan­ti­ties in or­der to help the farm­ers meet the grow­ing de­mand. One of the most af­fected types of crop is the chili crop which now re­quires more pes­ti­cides as com­pared to pre­vi­ous years.

Farm­ers who pre­vi­ously re­lied on or­ganic farm­ing are now fac­ing dif­fi­cul­ties not only be­cause of the er­ratic na­ture of the weather but also due to the cul­tural shift in Bhutan where chil­dren are now study­ing. As a re­sult, there are fewer hands to help on the farm and with­out fer­til­iz­ers there is lesser ca­pac­ity to grow more.

While on the con­sumer side, or­ganic farm­ing will bring health­ier forms of agri­cul­tural pro­duce to the mar­ket but it will also ex­pose the con­sumers to cheaper im­ported al­ter­na­tives. This sit­u­a­tion might worsen if the prod­ucts are largely used to in­sti­gate ex­ports as there is a grow­ing global mar­ket for or­gan­i­cally grown prod­ucts and cre­ate a dearth lo­cally.

None­the­less, chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions are per­ti­nent to ini­tia­tives rolled out on a macro level. Bhutan, as well as other parts of Asia, where small farm hold­ers are abun­dant, is de­vel­op­ing new tech­niques to counter the loss of soil qual­ity and is look­ing at ways to grow more while stay­ing within the pa­ram­e­ters of or­ganic farm­ing.

One such method is the place­ment of the “Sus­tain­able Root In­ten­si­fi­ca­tion’ (SRI) sys­tem, which has been de­signed to stan­dard­ize the amount of wa­ter re­quired by the crop and the right age at which the seedlings are to be planted out. This new SRI tech­nique has yielded re­sults in form of dou­bled or­ganic pro­duce with­out the use of any syn­thetic crop en­hancers. Be­sides SRI, ini­tia­tives are un­der­way to re­vise the amount of ir­ri­gated land un­der use and in­crease the use of the tra­di­tional meth­ods that do not re­quire a heavy in­stall­ment of in­puts and are pest re­sis­tance.

This shift to or­ganic farm­ing will be use­ful as far as the ex­port base of Bhutan is con­cerned. Bhutan ex­ports around 100 tons of red rice to USA and Europe ev­ery year. With its abil­ity and in­cli­na­tion to ex­pand fur­ther to­wards or­ganic agri­cul­ture, the coun­try can also en­ter the ex­port mar­kets of China and In­dia.

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