Situated in the craggy foothills of the Himalayas, only 3% of the kingdom's territory is actually farmland. However, 80% of the population of Bhutan, a nation of 700,000 citizens, depends on agriculture as their livelihood.
"Bhutan has decided to pursue the idea of a green economy, in light of the enormous pressure on the planet," Bhutan's Agriculture Minister, Pema Gyamtsho, said.
By taking up organic farming, which is particularly adapted to small farms and is a market which is vastly expanding around the world, Bhutan is hoping to offer new export opportunities to its farmers, who are struggling to compete with neighboring India's intensive farming industry. Numerous villages dotted around the mountains do not have access to chemical fertilizers; therefore, organic farming would allow them to preserve their traditional farming techniques.
Bhutan's Prime Minister Jigme Thinley first announced that the country's farming industry would be converted in 2008, while launching the label "Grown in Bhutan," to be synonymous with “organically grown.”
"Organic farming will enrich and preserve our soil's fertility in a sustainable way, rather than exhausting or damaging with chemical products. This will protect our biodiversity," Jigme Thinley said in 2011. Thanks to this biodiversity, Bhutan is able to export rare varieties of mushroom to Japan and red rice to the U.S. It also produces natural dyes and aromatic oils that are very popular with perfume manufacturers.
Training the farmers
In a 2008 report, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that Bhutan needed to invest in order to accomplish this conversion. "Organic farming requires expert knowledge and a large labor force to succeed, two resources that are extremely rare in this country."
Bhutan will have to start training its farmers in quality control. But first it will have to convince them to make the transition to organic farming and to create cooperatives, despite their geographic isolation from one another. Collaboration has already started between Bhutan and Nahdanya, a network of organic farmers and seed keepers in India, where Navdanya has trained more than 500,000 farmers in organic farming.
This conversion will also contribute to increasing the country’s “gross national happiness” index. This list of priorities for the country puts protection of the environment and the" happiness of its people higher than an increase in the gross national product (GNP). On a site of 19 hectares (about 50 acres) at 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) above sea level, Bhutan has also begun building a center dedicated to human interaction and harmony with nature.