Bhutan Pledges to be First 100% Organic Nation

Farmers in Bhutan hope to be 100 percent organic in ten years. Photo by *christopher* via flickr

Bhutan Pledges to be First 100% Organic Nation

The small, Himalayan kingdom plans to be chemical free within decade

The small nation of Bhutan, nestled in the Himalayas between China and India, is committed to becoming the first "hundred percent organic" nation.

At the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June, Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley announced that his government is developing a National Organic Policy and a plan to convert 100% of his nation's agricultural land to organic farms. The policy's goal is to phase out artificial chemicals in farming over the next 10 years.

"Bhutan has decided to go for a green economy in light of the tremendous pressure we are exerting on the planet," Agriculture Minister Pema Gyamtsho told the Agence France-Presse. "If you go for very intensive agriculture it would imply the use of so many chemicals, which is not in keeping with our belief in Buddhism, which calls for us to live in harmony with nature."

The Himilayan kingdom of 700,000 became a pioneer in 1972 when Bhutan's fourth Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck coined the term "Gross National Happiness" and announced that the nation would measure their success based on well-being and other Buddhist spiritual values rather than economic measures. This value rating has been publicly embraced by the United Nations and other countries worldwide. Other measures Bhutan has taken to ensure their quality of life include banning television until 1999 and deterring mass tourism to protect its culture from foreign influence.

According to Gyamtsho, Bhutan's chemical use is already "very low" by international standards. He explained, "only farmers in areas that are accessible by roads or have easy transport have access to chemicals." The majority of farmers are already organic and rely on rotting leaves or compost as a natural fertilizer. Two-thirds of the country depend on farming the nation's 7.8 percent arable which is peppered among the plains in the south and the Himalayan peaks to the north.

The Prime Minister is employing a step-by-step strategy to going organic: "We have identified crops for which we can go organic immediately and certain crops for which we will have to phase out the use of chemicals, for rice in certain valleys for example." Staple food exports include of wheat, exotic mushrooms, red rice, potatoes and fruits.

Gyamtsho released a report (pdf) explaining that the organic program is not just about protecting the environment. It will also train farmers in new methods that will help them grow more food and, consequently, move the country closer to self-sufficiency. Bhutan has sent a number of farmers to India to study at Vanadana Shiva's organic training farm and has invited consultants from the farm to help educate locals so they can help other Bhutanese farmers transition to organic.

The Prime Minister had said in his speech that his goal is for the 'Raised in Bhutan' label to be "synonymous with 'organically grown.'" In addition to the obvious ecological benefits, the Bhutan Observernotes that the hope is for the program is to "pursue organic farming as the finest recourse to alleviate rural poverty in the country."

There is a growing market for organic goods in neighboring countries, like India, with a growing middle class. Nadia Scialabba, global specialist on organic farming at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, told the AFP that this trend is "happening in very small countries who are not competitive on quantity, but they would like to be competitive in quality."

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