In 2013, Bhutan announced it would be the world's first country to go one-hundred percent organic and started a qualification program supported by Organics International.
Because the traditional cultural practices of Bhutan’s isolated communities have remained unchanged for centuries, the country is a treasure house of biodiversity with over six-hundred unique cultivars, landraces and wild species of rice. These lead the country’s crop production with estimated ninety-thousand metric tons in 2017. While Bhutan is close to achieving its goal of food self-sufficiency, rice yield falls about forty-percent short of rice consumption, with the balance imported from India—though local varieties are much preferred and command a premium in the market.
Fifty-eight percent of Bhutanese are self-sufficient farmers and seventy-nine percent of these farmers live beyond motorable roads. The Ministry of Agriculture reports that the major obstacles facing farmers are a labor shortage, damage done by wild animals and a lack of motorable roads.
Young people are moving to the towns and cities. To counter this trend and achieve their mandate of food self-sufficiency, the Bhutanese government started the National School Agricultural Program to provide incentives for high school and university graduates to make careers in agriculture.
Agricultural Minister, Yeshey Dorji, declared, “Right now, oil rules the world and is destroying our planet. As oil consumption drives global warming and takes its toll on the earth’s ability to support life, food and water and the forests that sustain them will once again be recognized as our most valuable resources.”
While trekking in the Mo Chu valley with my friend Wangchu, about a day from the closest road, I notice a woman walking barefoot through standing grain in a flooded rice field, holding a wide basket and broadcasting shiny white granules into the water. She refills her basket from a sack of nitrogen fertilizer sitting on a flat rock next to the irrigation ditch.
“The glaciers are melting. The frozen dam of a huge lake in Lunana broke and released a terrible flood,” explained Wangchu. “This village lost much of its topsoil. In many places, all they have is gravel and sand. Now they can’t grow their rice without these chemicals.”
From BHUTAN: Hidden Lands of Happiness, by John Wehrheim (Serindia 2011)