Stooping to conquer … Already an overwhelmingly agrarian state,
is aiming to become the world's first completely organic country.
"Bhutan is already called the poster child of sustainable
development. More than 95% of the population has clean water and
electricity, 80% of the country is forested and, to the envy of many
countries, it is carbon neutral and food secure."
conquer … Already an overwhelmingly agrarian state, Bhutan is aiming to
become the world's first completely organic country. Bhutan plans
to become the first country in the world to turn its agriculture
completely organic, banning the sales of pesticides and herbicides and
relying on its own animals and farm waste for fertilizers.
rather than accept that this will mean farmers of the small Himalayan
kingdom of 1.2 million people will be able to grow less food, the
government expects them to be able to grow more – and to export
increasing amounts of high quality niche foods to neighbouring India,
China and other countries.
The decision to go organic was both
practical and philosophical, said Pema Gyamtsho, Bhutan's minister of
agriculture and forests, in Delhi for the annual sustainable development
conference last week.
"Ours is a mountainous terrain. When we
use chemicals they don't stay where we use them, they impact the water
and plants. We say that we need to consider all the environment. Most of
our farm practices are traditional farming, so we are largely organic
"But we are Buddhists, too, and we believe in living in
harmony with nature. Animals have the right to live, we like to to see
plants happy and insects happy," he said.
Gyamtsho, like most
members of the cabinet, is a farmer himself, coming from Bumthang in
central Bhutan but studying western farming methods in New Zealand and
"Going organic will take time," he said. "We have
set no deadline. We cannot do it tomorrow. Instead we will achieve it
region by region and crop by crop."
The overwhelmingly agrarian
nation, which really only opened its doors to world influences 30 years
ago, is now facing many of the development pangs being felt everywhere
in rapidly emerging countries. Young people reluctant to live just by
farming are migrating to India and elsewhere, there is a population
explosion, and there is inevitable pressure for consumerism and cultural
But, says Gyamtsho, Bhutan's future depends largely on
how it responds to interlinked development challenges like climate
change, and food and energy security. "We would already be
self-sufficient in food if we only ate what we produced. But we import
rice. Rice eating is now very common, but traditionally it was very hard
to get. Only the rich and the elite had it. Rice conferred status. Now
the trend is reversing. People are becoming more health-conscious and
are eating grains like buckwheat and wheat."
In the west,
organic food growing is widely thought to reduce the size of crops
because they become more susceptible to pests. But this is being
challenged in Bhutan and some regions of Asia, where smallholders are
developing new techniques to grow more and are not losing soil quality.
Systems like "sustainable root intensification" (SRI), which carefully
regulate the amount of water that crops need and the age at which
seedlings are planted out, have shown that organic crop yields can be
doubled with no synthetic chemicals.
"We are experimenting with
different methods of growing crops like SRI but we are also going to
increase the amount of irrigated land and use traditional varieties of
crops which do not require inputs and have pest resistance," says
However, a run of exceptionally warm years and erratic weather has left many farmers doubtful they can do without chemicals.
In Paro, a largely farming district in south-west Bhutan, farmers are
already struggling to grow enough to feed their families and local
government officials say they are having to distribute fertiliser and
pesticides in larger quantities to help people grow more.
have heard of the plan to turn everything organic. But we are facing
serious problems just getting people to grow enough", said Rinzen
Wangchuk, district farm officer.
"Most people here are
smallholder farmers. The last few years we have had problems with the
crops. The weather has been very erratic. It's been warmer than normal
and all the chilli crops are full of pests. We are having to rely on
fertilizers more than we have ever had to in the past and even these are
not working as well as they initially did."
Dawa Tshering, who
depends on his two acres of rice paddy and a vegetable garden, says
that for decades his farming was chemical free.
"But its harder
now because all our children are either in the capital or studying.
Nobody wants to stay, which means we have to work harder. It's just my
wife an myself here. We cannot grow enough to feed ourselves and take
crops to the market, so we have to use chemicals for the first time. We
would like to go back to farming how we used to, where we just used what
But in a world looking for new ideas, Bhutan
is already called the poster child of sustainable development. More
than 95% of the population has clean water and electricity, 80% of the
country is forested and, to the envy of many countries, it is carbon
neutral and food secure.
In addition, it is now basing its economic development on the pursuit of collective happiness.
"We have no fossil fuels or nuclear. But we are blessed with rivers
which give us the potential of over 30,000 megawatts of electricity. So
far we only exploit 2,000 megawatts. We exploit enough now to export to
India and in the pipeline we have 10,000 megawatts more. The biggest
threat we face is cars. The number is increasing every day. Everyone
wants to buy cars and that means we must import fuel. That is why we
must develop our energy."
Agriculture minister Gyamtsho remains
optimistic. "Hopefully we can provide solutions. What is at stake is
the future. We need governments who can make bold decisions now rather
I was a journalist-writer-poet-blogger based in Bombay. From 18th March 2010, I have devoted my life to support suicide farmers' families in Vidarbha to make them self-reliant and live a decent life.
As a journalist I have had the goodwill to contribute articles on various topics & subjects in more than 60 esteem National & International Publications.