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Bhutan, the Himalayan Buddhist country, is all set to become the world’s first country to engage in only organic farming and agriculture.
Bhutan will ban sale and use of pesticides and herbicides and instead will rely completely on its animals and waste from farms for fertilizers.
According to Pema Gyamtsho, Minister of Agriculture and Forests in Bhutan, going organic was an obvious decision because Bhutan, a mountainous region, necessarily experienced a huge run-off of chemicals which affected plants and water adversely. At the Annual Sustainable Development Conference in Delhi, he emphasized that most of Bhutan’s traditional farming practices were organic anyway, and so shifting to wholly organic farming was a natural decision. Philosophically, being Buddhists, this shift would be in harmony with nature.
Going organic will also increase their crop production, envisions Gyamtsho, and will enable Bhutan to sell high-quality surplus to neighbors like India and China. Unlike Western countries where size of crops seems to have been affected by going organic, Asian countries like Bhutan have figured out a way to resist soil quality from declining and increasing crop production.
“Sustainable Root Intensification” (SRI) systems regulate the amount of water needed for crops and the age at which seedlings are planted and can increase crop yield without use of synthetic chemicals. Gyamtsho says Bhutan is exploring varieties of SRI crops that can be used; his department is also researching ways to extend irrigated land area and use traditional crops that are naturally high-yielding and pest-resistant.
While Gyamtsho is optimistic about the future becoming wholly organic, he does not want to rush a natural process but proceed gradually, addressing one region at a time. But small landholders are cautious; recent climate changes and a new trend among the youth who want to leave farming behind and develop new skills and careers in Bhutan or in India, will perhaps make this change to total organic farming more gradual than the Ministry expects.
Nevertheless, here is a lesson for the world: 95% of the Bhutanese people access clean energy and electricity; 80% of Bhutanese land is forested; and Bhutan is secure in terms of carbon and food. Bhutan has neither fossil fuel nor nuclear energy. But its rivers provide 30,000 MW of electricity and Bhutan currently uses only 2000 MW and exports some of it to India.
But the demand for cars is rising and the prospect of importing fuel is becoming clearer. This is why, Gyamtsho argues, Bhutan needs to develop more energy.
Bhutan’s Agriculture Minister underscores the importance of more governmental engagement with sustainable growth for the survival of a better future. As the world’s first wholly organic country, Bhutan offers an important lesson to the rest of the world, developed or developing.