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Bhutan to become world's first wholly organic country with pesticide ban

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 12th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Declaring that they will only rely only on animal and farm waste to fertilize crops, Bhutan intends to become the first country to produce exclusively organic food. Banning the sale of pesticides and herbicides within its borders, Bhutan is largely organic already. The government expects that this will enable Bhutan to produce even more foods for its neighboring nations, India and China.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - This small Himalayan kingdom of 1.2 million people is hoping to export increasing amounts of high quality niche foods to other countries.

Pema Gyamtsho, Bhutan's minister of agriculture and forests, in Delhi for the annual sustainable development conference, says that the decision to go organic was simultaneously practical and philosophical.

"Ours is a mountainous terrain. When we use chemicals they don't stay where we use them, they impact the water and plants. We say that we need to consider all the environment. Most of our farm practices are traditional farming, so we are largely organic anyway.

"But we are Buddhists, too, and we believe in living in harmony with nature. Animals have the right to live, we like to see plants happy and insects happy," he said.

A farmer himself, Gyamtsho studied western farming methods in New Zealand and Switzerland. "Going organic will take time," he said. "We have set no deadline. We cannot do it tomorrow. Instead we will achieve it region by region and crop by crop."

Bhutan is facing many of the development pangs being felt everywhere in rapidly emerging countries. Young people here are resistant to live by farming alone, and are migrating to India and elsewhere. There has also been a population explosion, with the attendant pressure for consumerism and cultural change.

Gyamtsho says that Bhutan's future depends largely on how it responds to interlinked development challenges like climate change, and food and energy security.

"We would already be self-sufficient in food if we only ate what we produced. But we import rice. Rice eating is now very common, but traditionally it was very hard to get. Only the rich and the elite had it. Rice conferred status. Now the trend is reversing. People are becoming more health-conscious and are eating grains like buckwheat and wheat."

Organic food growing in the west is widely thought to reduce the size of crops as they become more susceptible to pests. This is being challenged in Bhutan and some regions of Asia, where smallholders are developing new techniques to grow more and are not losing soil quality.

"We are experimenting with different methods of growing crops like SRI but we are also going to increase the amount of irrigated land and use traditional varieties of crops which do not require inputs and have pest resistance," Gyamtsho says.

Recent warm years and erratic weather, however, has left many farmers here doubtful they can do without chemicals.

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