Bhutan: Digging the furrows of happiness

- through Sophie Solere

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In 2012, the Kingdom of Bhutan announced its desire to live from 100% organic agriculture by 2020. In this state, whose main religion is Buddhism, it is a question of ensuring happiness, especially insects. and plants. Will the deadline be respected?

From words to deeds

“Intensive agriculture, because it involves the use of many synthetic chemical substances, does not correspond to our Buddhist belief which asks us to live in harmony with nature”. It was with these words that in 2012, Pema Gyamtsho, then Minister of Agriculture of Bhutan, declared his wish to live from 100% organic agriculture by 2020. Landlocked between two giants, China and India, a country slightly smaller than Switzerland with a population of 700. Agriculture employs 000% of the active population. Of this number, in 60, 2012% used conventional techniques.

When everyone is involved, the world changes

With his feet rooted in his vegetable garden, laid out in terraces on the foothills of the Himalayas, Yuden, thirty-two years old, cultivates his garden. In the distance, the clouds wrap the tops of the trees, which the wind rustles, giving voice to the spirits, guardians of the forest. In this spring, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce and crunchy cucumbers come out of nourishing earth. The woman rinses her harvest under the only tap that equips her modest farm and goes home to prepare the meal. Sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor, her husband, Sangay, thirty-nine, and her eleven-year-old son each take a dumpling of red rice, which the peasant couple grows in their mountainside rice fields, then roll it between the palms of their hands to wash them, and with great noises, suck in a curry of mushrooms seasoned with green peppers, accompanied by potatoes from their fields. Nestled in the Punakha district, a dusty, pothole-strewn two-hour drive from Thimphu, Bhutan's capital, their village switched to organic farming techniques in 2012.

While chewing doma, a quid made from areca nut and betel leaf, which reddens her gums and lips, Yuden talks about their transition to farming. Her memories are hard as stone: “My husband and I come from the land. My parents were farmers, his mother too. It was she who entrusted us, in 2002, with these plots with a total surface area of ​​half a hectare. For more than ten years, chemicals have been used. In the beginning, it was enough to spread them and everything grew quickly; the vegetables were big. But as time went on, the ground became harder and harder. To end up like stone. Eager to deal with the harmful consequences of the use of fertilizers and pesticides from synthetic petrochemicals, the couple joined forces with twenty-one farmers from this locality to found a cooperative. In 2012, all members benefited from training in organic farming techniques provided by the National Organic Program from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Sangay Dorji goes to get his notebook in which he has conscientiously written down some “recipes”. “We were advised to use manure as a natural fertilizer, to feed the soil; so we put ferns in our cow's shelter. To make a natural insecticide, you mix urine and cow's milk and dilute it with water. It's very effective. Finally the weeding, he underlines, we do it by hand, the problem is that it is long. Since these methods have been applied, the soil is soft and easy to till. »

Pioneer: humbly lead the way

A twenty-minute walk away, their neighbors at the Druk Organic Farm follow the same organic processes. This farm, a pioneer in Bhutan (its creation dates back to 2008), is managed by Danka Dorji. The twenty-five-year-old young woman with a pretty, slender silhouette always moves around surrounded by five stray dogs that she tamed with biscuits! She is at the head, with Jigme Tshering, her right arm, of an area of ​​2,5 hectares, a herd of ten dairy cows and a team of six people. Every week, they sell their vegetables, cheeses, milk and butter in the stall reserved for the products of the Druk Organic Farmers Cooperative. The small space is located on the first floor, that of local products, of the Centenary Farmers Market, the large central market of Thimphu, inaugurated in 2008. “Growing organically requires patience, recognizes Danka Dorji. And it's only since 2015 that we have reached a financial balance, but seeing a seed germinate, turn into a vegetable, then sell products that respect the environment and are good for the health of farmers and consumers, that makes happy. We are aware of the dangers of conventional agriculture, given what is happening in India. It is not too late to act here, thanks in particular to the knowledge of the elders. I also learned a lot from them. »

As Yuden remarks, who came to visit him, “the ancients knew how to work with nature. When they heard the birds chirping, it was time to plant. And when they saw the first flowers in the trees, they had to harvest. »

Climate change, however, is upsetting the agricultural calendar. Witness Jigme Tshering: “The mountains, a few years ago, were white until May. Now, from the month of March, the snow has completely melted”. Serene under his big straw hat, the young man of twenty-three, who practices meditation twice a day, sees the world with his philosophy imbued with Buddhist wisdom: “Meditation is my only medicine. If everyone took care of his "inner life", the climate would not be disturbed. We would reconnect with nature. Fortunately, our leaders are aware that we must preserve our ecosystem ».

A committed but realistic people

Lecturer at the College of Natural Resources (CNR), in Lobesa, in the Punakha district, Sonam Tashi recognizes that “political commitment is strong, above parties”. As proof of this, the opening in 2014 in Thimphu of the first store stamped organic and local: the BCoop shop, on the initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture. Or the official certification, by the Bhutan Agriculture Food and Regulatory Authority of (for now) three food products: potato, garlic and carrot. Latest examples: the launch, last summer, of a five-year program devoted to organic farming, endowed with one billion ngultrums (more than 12,5 million euros). Or even the establishment of a Master 1 in organic farming.

“The ancients knew how to work with nature. When they heard the birds chirping, it was time to plant. And when they saw the first flowers in the trees, they had to harvest. » Yuden

Despite this political will, it is clear that 100% organic will not be achieved, in this deadline year, in the land of Gross National Happiness. "Bhutan wants to act cautiously rather than rushing," he said. The government has thus postponed the deadline to 2035.” This specialist in agricultural issues lists the obstacles to be overcome. Among which, access to water. The country is so rich in rivers that it produces hydroelectric energy, however, for lack of financial means, it cannot invest enough in reservoirs, pumps or pipes to irrigate its agricultural land. Another challenge, conflicts with wild animals: difficult to find a lasting solution so that farmers can live harmoniously with elephants, wild boars or deer, which wreak havoc in the fields. Sonam Tashi also evokes the rural exodus and the future lack of manpower. Young people, more and more of whom are going to school – for free – do not want to return to the hard life of the fields after their studies. Their dream: to become a civil servant in the city. Another source of concern is the low-cost import of food from India. Despite these obstacles, Sonam Tashi remains optimistic: "I think we can reach the goal well before 2035. Thanks to its geography, which varies between the subtropical plains in the south located at 200 meters above sea level and the subalpine mountains in the north, where the peaks rise to 7 meters, Bhutan can cultivate everything”. Even happiness!

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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