Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Back from Druk Yul

I have been a lazy blogger lately. There were all the hollidays, then I spent a lot of time with the Swedish edition of my book, Garden Earth. I have also spent ten nine day for a trip to Bhutan, called Druk Yul, the Land of the Thunder Dragon in Bhutanese. The main task for me there was to participate in a workshop by the ministry of agriculture on "Organic Agriculture Strategy, and Standards and Certification Systems". The workshop was successful and I believe the Bhutanese will crafty a strategy for development of a simple and practical system for their own national market. For the export market they have not many options as the rules of the importers rule...

Compared to other countries, the Bhutanese government has been very pro-active in the promotion of organic agriculture. It has a vision that all of Bhutan should be organic, but it treads slowly in the implementation. Only a decade earlier Bhutan promoted use of pesticides, but most farms don’t use any inputs. Important features of the organic development in Bhutan are:
- a three-pronged approach were organic is recognised as relevant for household food security production; as a local market strategy and for export marketing. The emphasis is on local market development
- many farms in Bhutan are integrated farms where crop production, livestock and collection of wild product interacts with each other and contributes to the household livelihood. Some seventy percent or more can be characterised as “organic by default”
- most export production is wild collection and medicinal herbs
- all schools have agricultural training and own school gardens, they are organic since a few years
- when it comes to extension the policy of the government is that the starting point is that advise is organic. If there are farmers that want to be non-organic they can also get advise for that, thus quite the opposite to the approach in most other countries
- one (out of four) research centre is dedicated for organic production

The picture is from the stupas of Dachu La seen through prayer flags.

Bhutan is a fascinating country that makes huge efforts to preserve their culture and the environment. It is very beautiful and people are calm and peaceful. I went o Bhutan overland and it is a very interesting experience to pass the Indian border to Bhutan. On the one side there are millions of people, very busy commerce, people being agitated and a bit pushy (don't take this as being critical to Indian people they are nice), on the other side it is laid back and relaxed.

Perhaps the serenity comes with a certain price as well: Bhutan is one of the poorer countries in the world and half of its GDP is development aid. Interestingly enough most aid comes from India, which itself recieves aid, but for the Indians this is mainly strategic - to keep Bhutan out of Chinese influence, and the Bhutanese seem to be able to capitalise on this.

The forests, which make up 70 percent of the land are protected, and there is no hunting and no fishing allowed. There is a ban on tobacco and there are plenty of regulations that aims at preserving nature and culture. This combined with that it is a very government heavy country makes the private sector and NGOs weak. Entrepreneurship is not well developed. For me it felt a bit strange that it was so cold in the houses while all that forest was just next door (mind you, I have been heating my house with firewood for more than thirty years).

In a way Bhutan exemplifies another choice than the mainstream capitalist way. And it is very nice and a fabulous place to visit. However, I am not sure it is so fabulous as a model for other countries. I would rather like to see a third way than have to choose between a commercial, industrialised consumer society and the somewhat museal Bhutan way.

I will always look back to Bhutan with fondness and hope I can go there again.

I have uploaded three videos of my trip overland from Bhutan to Siliguri in India. The Bhutan part of the road is quite scary, 180 km takes six hours, because it is so steep and the road is narrow. The India part is scary just is India!
Border to Siliguri (India)