Bhutan Soul Farmers, an initiative by four youths aims to promote the self sufficiency philosophy in the country to harness the GNH-vision.
Fifteen minutes’ drive from core Paro town, Doteng gewog flourishes with verdant greenery and meadows spread along the Paro Chhu that flows smoothly as silk when the skies are clear but tumbles and crashes in huge waves during the monsoon.
A small diversion from the main road and one comes across a yellow double-storied building. The entrance is guarded by a mixed pack of dogs including a few pit bulls but all of them are friendly.
A young lad in a tweed shirt and track pants comes out, greeting you with a wide smile. This is 22-year old Sonam Lhundup who is one of the founders of Bhutan Soul Farmers Livelihood Center, an agro-enterprise based on the model of sufficiency economy philosophy, which he studied with his three cousins at the Mab Eung Agri-Nature Foundation and Arsom Silp Institute in Bangkok, Thailand for four years after completing high school.
After returning to Bhutan, they started Bhutan Soul Farmers, a brand that signifies a model of self-sufficiency in organic products including agriculture produce like fruits and apple cider vinegar and goods like soap among others.
The center will also share knowledge and skills related to land design, making home use products, growing organic vegetables and crops, making homemade pest repellent solutions, natural water conservation techniques, and so on.
Tshokey Dorji, 24, one of the co-founders said that they decided on the name because they put their very soul into the products.
“It is not only a matter of survival for us. We are passionate about what we do and it is also because we hope to help other people through our initiatives,” he said, “we believe we have a responsibility to create jobs, serve the community and the Tsa Wa Sum.”
Meanwhile, Sonam Lhundup said all their products are unadulterated and they use as little chemicals as possible in their products like soaps. As for agriculture produce, they use zero chemicals. They use fertilizers like compost and herbicides from marijuana, chili, garlic and chrysanthemum water.
Saying this, Sonam Lhundup slips on camouflage gumboots and takes you on a detour of their farm from where they derive most of their raw materials. It is a mini-Eden hidden within the woods replete with apple trees heavy with fresh apples and vegetables like pumpkin, broccoli and chili growing beneath the apple trees. The family owns cattle too: a bull and a cow that are sheltered within the farm.
The four 20-year olds including two female: Sonam Dema and Lhundup Wangmo have diverted the river into a channel through the farm and the gurgling of the brook causes a soothing symphony amidst the quiet and serenity of the farm. In a corner of the farm, flax seeds are growing. They practice mixed cropping and have grown a variety of crops like tomatoes, potatoes, sunflowers and strawberries. Then, there is a special pond they are experimenting on to harvest rain water without a cement or plastic base. Soon if it turns out successful, they will grow water cress and fish here.
A wooden coop contains some guinea fowls bought all the way from Pemagatshel. Seeds, grass, apples and cracked peaches are fed to these fowls which will soon provide meat. But they are waiting for the fowls to hatch eggs first. The farm has mulberry bushes and a tree on which the young agro-entrepreneurs plan to build a tree house. In another corner is a green house where capsicum, bell peppers, bitter gourd and sweet potatoes are growing. They have also learnt to make compost using worms including earthworms.
“We have never bought vegetables. And we are a family of nine people and 11 dogs,” grins Sonam Lhundup.
Bhutan Soul Farmers’ basic tenet is the sufficiency economy philosophy promulgated by King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand.
There are nine steps to the sufficiency economy philosophy, a kind of alternative education and it starts with sufficiency in the household moving on to benefits to the community and creating networks outside the community.
It all started in 2013 when Sonam Lhundup’s father, Lhundup Dukpa, a Bhutanese educationist met a Thai monk from the Agri-Nature Foundation in Malaysia at an environment conference. The former was seeking for answers to revolutionize the education system in Bhutan while the latter wanted to implement the model of sufficiency economy philosophy back at his foundation.
Lhundup Dukpa who works as head of the leadership unit in the professional development center with the Royal Education Council was fascinated with what he learnt about the sufficiency economy philosophy. He was caught up with how he could actually introduce and implement it in the country.
“Since, it was an experiment, I could find no others better than my own family members to try it out,” he said.
So in 2013, when the four high school students had completed their schooling, they got a scholarship to study at the foundation.
According to Lhundup Dukpa, it was a unique scholarship because the students had to work, earn their livelihood and study practical work related to sufficiency.
“Happiness begins from a plate of food. Till now, we had the GNH philosophy but we need tools to harness it and this I think is the tool,” he said.
Lhundup Dukpa said that farmers in Bhutan are unable to manage their lands: either it is too big for them to cultivate or too small for them so they sell it off. “This is a model to save lands.”
He added that what we now deem organic in the markets are laden with chemicals. “It took me seven long years to bring back the butterflies in my garden where I don’t use chemicals,” he said.
Lhundup Dukpa wants to demonstrate practically to the people that it can be done, that organic self sufficiency is possible, through his own farm. “We need a new model. We must understand the bigger picture otherwise Bhutan will go hungry in the next 30 years.”
Bhutan Soul Farmers plans to extend their model to other dzongkhags where each has their own family property. In Doteng, plans are on to open an organic cafeteria where Sonam Lhundup plans to serve healthy food including dandelion coffee.
“I researched on the resources available in Bhutan and learnt the recipe on YouTube,” he smiles.