9 September, 2010:
Dr. Vandana Shiva, seen right, was the main resource person at the one day seminar on “Moving towards Organic”, its opportunities and challenge for Bhutan, conducted by the national organic programme under the Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Forest organised a Hon’ble Minister, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) graced the seminar as the chief guest. Member of Parliaments, Representatives from JICA, NGOs, ministries, head of Departments, media and the Resident Representative of UNDP attended the seminar.
Lyonpo said that going organic was not as easy as it seems and that it had more to it than just shying away from the use of chemicals. He said that although the policy objectives of Bhutan for organic agriculture were very good with all the required incentives’ for the farmers, questions like what products to be made organic? What kind of inputs to be utilized? And where to sell the organic products, still requires to be carefully addressed. Lyonpo also added that labour constraint being a key issue in the Bhutanese agriculture sector, the linkage between food security and the use of chemicals has to be carefully examined.
Hon’ble Minister, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho, MoAF
Dr. Vandana Shiva, a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award who was the main resource person for the seminar is in the country on Hon’ble Prime Minister’s invitation to share her knowledge and experience on organic agriculture. She is a philosopher, environmental activist, eco feminist and author of several books and over 300 papers in leading scientific and technical journals. Dr. Vandana Shiva has fought for changes in the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food. Intellectual property rights, biodiversity, biotechnology, bioethics, genetic engineering are among the fields where she has contributed intellectually and through activist campaigns. She will be working with the Royal Government of Bhutan for the next 3 years sharing her expertise in the field of organic agriculture. This visit was upon the initiative and invitation by the Hon’ble Prime MInister with request to advise Bhutan on the journey towards Bhutan becoming an Organic Sovereign country with a Brand Bhutan that was organic.
The seminar discussed on science of organic farming including biological alternatives to agro-chemicals and issues in the transition from chemical to organic farming. Later she talked about crop production, soil fertility and plant health management challenges in farming in view of food security and sustainability. She also explained the economics of organic farming especially the sustainability of farm families explaining that it was important to measure the total output of the farm or unit land and not just yield per unit area of one crop as in a biodiverse organic farm the total output and the net income earned after taking away the cost of production was usually higher than one high yielding crop. Marketing challenges especially when there is little premium or quantity, certification issues and marketing options for Bhutan were also discussed.
Dr. Vandana said that with the growing awareness and understanding about consumption of products with chemical content amongst the people and the ever rising cost of production, the world is now slowly moving towards organic farming. She said that the GDP only measured commercial transaction and overlooked many negative drawbacks on society and the environment. She also added that a one way extraction form the soil is also a form of desertification and that the well being of the society and the environment depends on the emphasis on organic agriculture as it has the potential to address many issues like public health, diseases pertaining to under or malnutrition and poverty.
Dr. Vandana also addressed the issue of WTO and its relevance to rural and local economy and how if Bhutan joined WTO would make Bhutan much poorer and be tied by various conditions which comes as a package deal. This would mean giving up the right to say no to GMOs, seed sovereignty and accepting to settle with cheaper imports which would lead to rural urban migration, development of slums, fallow farm lands and farmers not being able to sell their produce in the local market as they cannot match the cost of production.
Dr. A. Thimmaiah (above left) and Ms. Kesang Tshomo
Dr. A. Thimmaiah, Advisor, National Organic Programme talked on the status of organic farming in Bhutan. He said that addressing important issues such as poverty and food security was a major concern in Bhutan. He also added that the fact that the RGOB is taking up organic agriculture on a large scale with complete support to those interested was a huge step towards addressing the issues of food security and rural poverty. He said that with much effort and support from the RGOB and the MoAF availing information regarding the benefits for organic agriculture, many Bhutanese farmers has taken up organic farming seriously.
Ms. Kesang Tshomo, Coordinator, National Organic Programme made a presentation on the traditional farming practices in Bhutan which is slowly disappearing according to the survey carried out in several villages. Nevertheless she added that still many farmers do follow the traditional beliefs of farming practices. Other presentation on the status, history and trend of chemical usage in Bhutan and the use of fertilizer and the challenges in Bhutan for food security were also presented.
Reported by Tshering Wangdi, ICS Photos by Chodiup Zangpo, ICS