Soul­ful self-suf­fi­ciency

Bhutan Soul Farm­ers, an ini­tia­tive by four youths aims to pro­mote the self suf­fi­ciency phi­los­o­phy in the coun­try to har­ness the GNH-vi­sion.

Business Bhutan - - Nation - Peky Sa­mal from Paro

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.

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