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Bhutan Goes for 100 Percent Organic, Challenges Abound

Bhutan Minister of Agriculture and Forests Pema Gyamtsho, announced an ambitious plan to turn food production 100 percent organic by 2020. In a country where 79 percent of the population is involved in agriculture, along with the people’s high spiritual aspirations, going organic sounds like an easy task. But challenges are already in sight.

October 8, 2012

Last week, Bhutan Minister of Agriculture and Forests Pema Gyamtsho, announced an ambitious plan to turn food production 100 percent organic by 2020. In a country where 79 percent of the population is involved in agriculture, along with the people’s high spiritual aspirations, going organic sounds like an easy task. But challenges are already in sight.

“It is inspiring and provokes conversation. It will be interesting to watch during the next year if they will be able to keep doing it—was it challenging, or was it an easy transition?” said Danielle Nierenberg of the Worldwatch Institute, director of the Nourishing the Planet Program, in an online interview.

In Bhutan, a small hereditary Himalayan kingdom situated between India and China, agriculture is basically a self-sustenance business. A study in 2006 found that more than 85 percent of the rice produced in the country is consumed at home. Active trading involves mostly apples, mandarin oranges, potatoes, and gingerroot.

Still, Bhutan’s red rice has set a profitable example. Many rice farmers in the high altitude areas produce red rice for export markets in the United States and Europe, where about 100 tons of milled rice is exported annually, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Nierenberg said that while the decision to go organic will mainly benefit the country’s own citizens, it can also serve as a good example for other regions and countries that do not have huge populations but do have a good amount of arable land.

“They can learn from Bhutan how to do it,” added Nierenberg.

The idea to go organic came first in 2002 as a part of a National Framework for Organic Farming in Bhutan, but the plan was formulated in 2008 by the Ministry of Agriculture. The policy aims at promoting organic farming as a way of life among Bhutanese farmers and at raising their standard of living.

Farming in Bhutan is already nearly organic, as almost no pesticides or fertilizers are used. Still, there are challenges such as insufficient awareness and understanding of organic production among farmers, lawmakers, and consumers.

In Bhutan, organic farming is often confused with traditional agriculture and is viewed as being backward, while modern farming is related to green technologies.

Another problem is the lack of a proper legal framework, standardization, and developed institutions to give support to organic producers.

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