Agriculture ministry confident about Bhutan’s organic dream

Recognizing that going organic as a challenge, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) and has come up with the National Organic Flagship Program (NOFP) that identifies 12 agriculture and livestock products with specific target production by 2023.

The flagship is themed “Sustainable Socio-Economic Development through the Commercialization of Organic Farming” in the 12th Five-Year-Plan with budget allocation of Nu 1bn, of which Nu 189.9mn was earmarked for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

Of the 12 products identified, six crops are targeted for export markets – Buckwheat production to 1,500 Metric Tons (MT), Quinoa (25MT), Ginger (5,000MT), Cardamom (5,000MT), Mushroom (20MT), and Turmeric (500MT), one livestock product, Trout (7MT) and one Non-Wood Forest Product (NWFP), and Lemon grass oil (10MT).

The Program Director of Agriculture Research and Development Centre (ARDC), Yusipang and the National Organic Program’s Coordinator, Kesang Tshomo said going organic requires lots of research and capacity building for the agricultural staffs, farmers, private sector, and entrepreneurs.

“With the flagship, the ministry is confident to go organic. However, it would depend on the market and the interest of the farmers to grow organic, as one cannot force,” she added.

The estimated volume of export is to generate 12,062MT of agriculture products, 7MT of livestock products and 10MT of NWFP to generate a total of Nu 3,383.76mn within four years.

For domestic markets, four crops are selected namely – Asparagus with producing capacity of 80MT, Beans (1,369MT), Chili (4,445MT), and Cauliflower (1,061MT). The domestic production is estimated at 6,955 MT and would generate revenue of Nu 617mn annually.

The flagship would cover 43,728 acres of land and generate 1,587 employment opportunities.

To help in going organic by 2023, agriculture ministry has also initiated School and Hospital Feeding Program on July 30 this year with budget of Nu 3.198mn to provide nutritious and healthy food, sourced locally from farmers and cooperatives.

According to government’s annual magazine, ‘The Executive’, the feeding program expects to supply perishable agriculture produce to institutions to fully consist of domestically produced food by 2022.

Under the feeding program, 12,835 students in 115 schools across the country receive the benefit. The feeding program empowers farmers, Farm Machinery Cooperation Limited and Bhutan Livestock Development Cooperation Limited to negotiate and supply farm products to the parties without having to participate in open procurement bidding.

Meanwhile, the ARDC in Yusipang will spearhead the organic program and will do the process certification of local organic products through the Local Organic Assurance System.

For the third party certification, the produces to be exported, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is in the process of setting up an accredited certification system that needs to be expedited with required testing facilities.

The implementing agencies- National Plant Protection Centre (NPPC) and National Soil Service Centre (NSSC) are responsible for the procurement, distribution, and supply of bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers respectively in the country.

The National Post Harvest Center (NPHC) will look after post harvesting, processing and value addition of the produces, the Department of Agriculture and Marketing Cooperatives (DAMC) into market information and marketing, and extension agents will look into field implementation.

NPPC’s Program Director Yeshey Dema said there is no overnight solution to organic inputs and it would take some time for both the agencies and the consumers alike to gain confidence in organic agriculture.

“With the NOFP in place, there is a room to explore for alternatives to synthetic pesticides and promotion of these substitutes would hopefully help reduce demand and use of the current conventional synthetic pesticides,” she added.

NOFP’s Program Coordinator Kesang Tshomo also pointed out the farmers can use imported bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides, and bio-fungicides, while farmers would also be trained to make their own with local materials in short term.

The flagship recognizes eco-friendly pest and disease management practices for crop loss due to pests and diseases with use of botanical pesticides (eco-chemicals) isolated from  parts of the plants such as leaves, roots, barks, fruits, seeds or seed kernels.

“The people should be educated and advocated in differentiating between the local produces and organic as all local produces are not organic. It is not expensive to grow organic produces but farmers would have little difficulty as they cannot use any herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers,” Kesang Tshomo said.

She added that organic produce in Bhutan do not get premium price because people are not willing to pay because people assume that all local produces are organic.

As the existing markets do not have designated organic outlets, information and organized value chain, according to Kesang Tshomo, the NOFP has to support farmers in finding and linking them to potential market, both for domestic and export.

“We have to start building market, market research, doing research and development on processing, value adding and packaging as well as putting the whole system through the process of certification,” she added.

Kesang Tshomo urge encouraging the private sector, entrepreneurs, and foreign direct investment to come forward and manufacture bio-manure, bio-fertilizers, bio-pesticides, and organic feeds.

Currently, there are around 25,667 acres of land under organic management of crops, livestock and wild collection, of which 19,366.9 acres comprise forestland for wild collection of various NWFP, according to the NOFP blueprint.

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu