Bhutan Aims to Be The First Fully Organic Nation
03 Oct, 2012
The tiny Buddhist-majority nation wedged between China and India has an unusual and some say enviable approach to economic development, centred on protecting the environment and focusing on mental well-being.
Its development model measuring “Gross National Happiness” instead of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been discussed at the United Nations and has been publicly backed by leaders from Britain and France, among others.
It banned television until 1999, keeps out mass tourism to shield its culture from foreign influence, and most recently set up a weekly “pedestrians’ day” on Tuesdays that sees cars banned from town centers.
Its determination to chart a different path can be seen in its new policy to phase out artificial chemicals in farming in the next 10 years, making its staple foods of wheat and potatoes, as well as its fruits, 100 percent organic.
“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 AFP in an interview by telephone from the capital Thimphu. “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.”
Bhutan has a population of just over 700,000, two-thirds of whom depend on farming in villages dotted around fertile southern plains near India and the soaring Himalayan peaks and deep valleys to the north.
Overwhelmingly forested, no more than three percent of the country’s land area is used for growing crops, says Gyamtsho, with the majority of farmers already organic and reliant on rotting leaves or compost as a natural fertilizer.
“Only farmers in areas that are accessible by roads or have easy transport have access to chemicals,” he explained, saying chemical use was already “very low” by international standards.
In the large valleys, such as the one cradling the sleepy capital Thimphu, chemicals are used to kill a local weed that is difficult to take out by hand—a challenge compounded by a lack of farm labour.
Elsewhere, the fertiliser urea is sometimes added to soil, while a fungicide to control leaf rust on wheat is also available.