Hundred Percent Organic Farming in Bhutan

Bhutan wants to achieve 100% organic farming. Will the only country in the world using happiness as a criterion for prosperity succeed in this premise?

  • Asian Development Bank/Flickr (CC by-nc-nd 2.0) Asian Development Bank/Flickr (CC by-nc-nd 2.0)
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Volkert Engelsman is the director of Eosta, a company that imports and distributes organic fruit from the Southern Hemisphere and the tropics. Eosta cooperates with Bhutan since 2012. According to Engelsman, Europe has a lot to learn from Bhutan. ‘I consider it as a kind of development aid from Bhutan to Europe. Their way of working is logical. It is rather curious that we, in the West, deal with prosperity in such medieval ways.’

‘It is rather curious that we, in the West, deal with prosperity in such medieval ways.’

In the calculation of the Gross National Product (GNP), how a product is made is normally not taken into account. But the heavy pollution of soil and water by the agricultural industry is a form of exploitation that will harm productivity in the future. But in most countries, the costs incurred to compensate for the pollution, are only settled afterwards.

That’s what Bhutan is trying to avoid. They want to work economically correct and also include the long-term effects of climate change in their indicators. Also social indicators are factored, since a big turnover doesn’t automatically mean there can be no harrowing gap between rich and poor.

Organic nation

Within five to ten years Bhutan would like to have one hundred percent of organic farming. Engelsman tells us that they are currently reaching 93 percent and according to him, the goal of one hundred percent is in sight.

Balou’s Organic Mountain Wonders is one of the success stories of cooperation between Eosta and Bhutan. On his farm, Bhutanese student Dechen Dorji processed aromatic fruit into chutneys and jams. He labels his products and sells them in the cities.

Yet there are still weaknesses. Especially in terms of business and logistics Bhutan has still something to learn. That’s what they focus on during the collaboration with Eosta. ‘At present, products are mainly consumed locally in Bhutan. In the big cities, China is the main food supplier. We want to help the people in the countryside with their company. This allows them to process their products, add value, work on packaging and marketing. No Chinese will be able to compete with that.’

They also want to share the know-how on primary production. In February, a Bhutanese state delegation went along with the people of Eosta on a two week tour across Europe. They exchanged contact information with different centers of organic excellence such as the Louis Bolk Institute in the Netherlands and Elm Farm Research Centre in the UK. All research and knowledge available there, can now be shared.

Conscious choice

Bhutan is a small country located between China and India in the middle of the Himalayas. The majority of the population is Buddhist, where we can find the origin of their holistic vision on prosperity. Instead of Gross National Product, that focuses exclusively on economic indicators, the prosperity of Bhutan is measured on a base of Gross National Happiness. They do not only measure short-term social profits. In addition to indicators such as culture, health and education they also take the climate into consideration. That way, they are determined to not only feed today’s world, but also that of tomorrow.

Bhutan doesn’t focus on organic farming because they don’t have access to pesticides.

Bhutan doesn’t focus on organic farming because they don’t have access to pesticides. They used to work with fertilizers and pesticides. The population is not forced to hold on to their traditional way of cultivation, but chooses deliberately to grow organically. This policy was turned official in 2013 by the government.

The people of Bhutan know that organic farming is a way to contribute to prosperity in society, because they do not merely interpret prosperity in a financial way. Also their faith motivates them.

Buddhists tend to not kill animals according to their faith and are therefore opposed to the use of pesticides that kill insects. They also believe in the power of nature. When the glaciers that once covered up to ten percent of the land melt due to global warming, part of the population of Bhutan will lose their houses and fields and the youth will lose their future.

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Brain drain from the countryside

Young people flocking to the cities represent a universal dilemma. According to the Bhutanese government, organic farming instead of conventional farming can stop this brain drain to the cities. More and more young people are finding out that chemical farming, which destroys the environment, is not a form of agriculture they can support.

Volkert Engelsman explains you have to rely on your creativity and intelligence with organic farming. He fervently lashes out to multinationals like Monsanto which, according to him, ‘support a paternalistic form of agriculture taking place despite the farmer rather than thanks to the farmer’.

Self-sufficient?

Besides organical, Bhutan wants to be self-sufficient. In 2012, Bhutan was self-sufficient in food for an estimated 60% of its population. This policy is obviously not fitting with the ideas of Mr. Engelsman.

He believes that Bhutan will not be any more self-sufficient than the Netherlands will. Bhutan, the tiny country in the Himalayas, wanting to be completely self-sufficient and biological sure is unique in this world.

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