100 Percent Organic: Bhutan Leads the World

The tiny kingdom of Bhutan is leading the world with a plan to make the country's agricultural production 100 percent organic. An exotic tourist destination and trekker's paradise, Bhutan is known for the climb to Tiger's Nest Monastery, a sacred spot for Bhutanese Buddhists. Bhutan is also the home of the highest unclimbed mountain in the world. Offering breathtaking Himalayan views, the country has maintained one of the most intricate and intact ecosystems in the world, protecting more than 5500 varieties of plant species and medicinal plants as well as endangered species such as the red panda and snow leopard.

Located east of Nepal, bordered by India to the the north and China to the south, the ancient kingdom of Bhutan has become a world leader in sustainable social and economic policy. Whereas Gross Domestic Product or GDP (the market value of all goods and services produced in the country per year) guides the economy of every nation in the world, the Bhutanese government has established Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of the country's growth and social/economic success, putting happiness, sustainability, and well-being ahead of economic gain. The four pillars of GNH include sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of natural environment, and good governance.

With a population of over 700,000, an estimated 80% of the native Bhutanese people are engaged in farming. The choice to pursue organic agriculture in Bhutan is a good one, since the organic food market and its premium prices are a lucrative venue for quality produce. As of February 2015, the global organic market was estimated to be worth $72 billion U.S. dollars, reflecting 43 million hectares of organic agricultural land world wide. According to policy leaders, the main benefit of becoming 100 percent organic is an assurance of quality to consumers. The choice for 100 percent organic agriculture eliminates the problems of contamination faced by countries in which organic farms are in proximity to conventional farms, and acknowledges that the widespread use of harmful pesticides, herbicides, and GMOs make it difficult for growers to keep their crops and supply-chain free from contamination. Bhutan's 100 percent organic policy will give the country a reputation of high quality pesticide-free and non-GMO organic food which could in the long run give Bhutan a market advantage.

Some sources say that the transition to 100 percent organic is both a practical and philosophical decision. Because Bhutan's terrain is mostly mountainous, the use of chemical agriculture has a very strong impact on the country's water quality as well as the already very pure environment. According to Bhutan's Ministry of Agriculture, the organic program will train farmers in new methods to help them grow more food and move the country closer to self-sufficiency, while protecting the environment. The agricultural ministry trains extension workers and gives farmers who grow organic crops a priority for financial assistance. Bhutan's agricultural philosophy suggests that "by working in harmony with nature, farmers can help to sustain the flow of nature's bounties." The major crops in Bhutan include rice, corn, fruits, and vegetables. One of the few exports from Bhutan to the U.S. is red rice, which is said to be more nutritious than more well known varieties.

The commitment to 100% organic requires continued focused attention from the government and towards this end, Bhutan has launched a region-by- region, crop-by-crop approach which could be a model to make 100 percent organic doable in every country. From this perspective, Bhutan's decision to be 100 percent organic by 2020 will have widespread implications for agricultural practices and policies around the globe. In May 2014, Bhutan's National Organic Program Coordinator, Kesang Tshomo, visited the U.S. and spoke at a meeting of the Organic Trade Association emphasizing that the transition to organic would help the indigenous mountain farmers and protect Bhutan's biodiversity.

Bhutan has been ranked as the happiest nation in the world. Supported by a United Nations initiative to make Gross National Happiness the national standard for every country, Bhutan's 100 percent organic plan sets a powerful global example for food purity and the creation of a healthier, happier world.

Simi Summer, Ph.D., is an organic advocate, independent researcher, educator, and freelance writer.


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Posted 6/29/2015