Bhutan’s organic vision impossible in short to mid-term: ICIMOD

Bhutan’s stated vision to go 100% organic by 2020 will be easier said than done.

According to the Organic Agriculture Development Strategies report published by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF), aiming for 100% organic agriculture is impractical in the short to medium term, especially given the significant challenges involved, including the fact that the country currently imports about 50% of its food requirements.

Given the compulsions of ensuring food security and a desire to attain import substitution in agriculture, this vision demands a serious reappraisal, according to the report launched on Wednesday.

“Nevertheless, it is feasible to move towards an agriculture that is predominantly organic, particularly in selected crops and agro-ecological settings, promoted in a phased manner and over a long term-term framework,” the report states.

ICIMOD signed a letter of intent with MoAF to assess the potential and challenges for organic agriculture in Bhutan, with the objective of supporting the development of mountain rural livelihoods in the context of socioeconomic and climate change in Bhutan.

With the aim of supporting mountain-specific policies and livelihood diversification and resilience for mountain communities, ICIMOD in collaboration with MoAF has designed a road map including several local and national level consultation, fieldwork in target areas, and the production of a comprehensive study on the challenges and opportunities for organic agriculture in Bhutan.

Director General, ICIMOD, David Molden said that Bhutan’s commitment to carbon neutrality has paid off since it is the world’s only carbon negative country.

“Going organic can reduce the dependency of agriculture on fossil fuel-generated fertilizers and pesticides and contribute to ensuring Bhutan remains a carbon neutral country,” said David Molden.

Agriculture is a primary sector that serves as the main source of livelihood and provides employment to about 58% of Bhutan’s population.

Currently, about 40,000 acres of the land (including largely wild non-wood forest product collections) are currently under organic management. An additional target of 10,125 acres of land under organic management has been proposed under the 12th five year plan.

The priority and challenge for the MoAF is to meet the national self-sufficiency while keeping the agriculture systems largely organic. Although the national organic program was recognized and given a program status to take up the national organic agenda, it did not have the adequate resources to meet the desired goals. It is thus presumed that organic agriculture received relatively lower priority in the 11th five year plan which is indicated by the progressively lower budgetary allocations. The national organic program coordination was also difficult.

In the current 12th five year plan process, the organic agenda has been recognized as one of the agency key result areas for the MoAF.

According to the report, in the present context, organic agriculture is faced with different types of challenges.  Empirical data relating to organic agriculture is largely unavailable and research on organic agriculture is at a nascent stage and needs emphasis to generate alternatives for organic farming.

“The framework for organic agriculture is not very comprehensive for each sector to prioritize and focus,” the report state.

The organic sector is also beset with a number of issues related to markets and value chains, including lack of appropriate supply and demand side mechanisms such as the relatively poor quality of organic produce currently available, absence of price premiums over local produce and low consumer awareness.

While most of the necessary frameworks to support organic agriculture, currently exist, they have largely remained un-implemented because of limited resources and implementation capacity.

The recommendations from the report were to adopt a phased approach over the immediate short, medium and long term strategies and priorities and it will be presented during the multi-stakeholder validation workshop held in Thimphu in the coming week.

Grounding the national organic program through value addition, product development and marketing and promotion of local organic products to immediately show the existing strength of traditionally organic agriculture are included in short term priorities ( five years).

Establishing a research program to cover selected principal crops in pilot projects across relevant agro climatic contexts in the country as a key strategy and developing a common policy for organic agriculture are some of the few priorities included in short term.

The medium to long term priorities include the integration of more holistic and broad approaches as a strategy for promoting organic agriculture. These approaches include adopting landscape approaches to planning and implementing organic agriculture interventions, explicitly incorporating risk management and mitigation strategies into organic agriculture policies and programming.

Pema Seldon from Thimphu