Bhutan: First Organic State by 2020?


Bhutan could be the first country with 100% organic farming. At the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development (2012), the Prime Minister of Bhutan announced country’s plans to convert all his nation's agricultural land to organic farms. In 2014, during the global conference of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) held in Bhutan, country’s agricultural minister announced that the country’s target to become organic is the year of 2020 (Bhutan: Organic By 2020).

Reports from National Organic Program of Bhutan have shown that country may not be able to become fully organic in less than three years. However its progress towards it is considered quite important and significant, advancing region-by-region, product-by-product. According to the Government it seems that there has been lack of ‘proper policy and financial support’ for the nation to go fully organic for now.

Small Country with Big Opportunities

The Kingdom of Bhutan is a tiny landlocked Himalayan country where main occupation is agriculture and livestock raising (69%). Two thirds of Bhutanese people are farmers. Myriads of them cannot actually afford the fertilizers and pesticides which are used in chemical farming so they could be considered as “organic by default”. A very limited number of farms have actually been certified as organic. So in 2011, Bhutan resolved to get rid of chemicals. Nowadays production on around 80% of the farms is chemical-free. Exceptions are often farms located by the roads because there the farmers have easier access to chemical fertilizers.

From the announcement from 2012 about going organic, the Ministry contributed technical assistance to farmers. According to the Ministry all farmers are going to receive knowledge, advice and training. Organic agriculture was even included in the school curriculum. National Organic Program (established in 2006) promotes organic agriculture in Bhutan. Dr. Appachanda Thimmaiah was organic agriculture consultant to Bhutan from 2008 to 2013. He created A Guide to Organic Agriculture in Bhutan, an open source training manual which is distributed free and translated into the local language. Dr. Thimmaiah is also responsible for developing the Bhutan Organic Certification System (BOCS) by which it became the responsibility of the government to inspect and certify the organic farmers free of cost.

Organic farming as part of the Gross National Happiness

Primary goals were to increase food self-sufficiency and to reduce poverty. Besides that there is a concern about clean water since a third of citizens get their water from rural sources (which can quickly become contaminated by chemical fertilizers). One of the main drivers for this was a wish to achieve Gross National Happiness (GNH) - which quantifies (and prioritizes) the health and happiness of the country. Bhutan is the only country in the world that does not use gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of progress. Bhutan’s organic agriculture consultant describes organic agriculture as a big part of the GNH since one of its pillars is sustainable development and the conservation and preservation of environment.

Target is achievable

There are still difficulties to prevail, as Bhutan becomes increasingly urban and continues to rely massively on imported food. However with farmers and political working in harmony, the country's effort for a more sustainable future has all the elements it needs to accomplish its goal.

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