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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) Bhutan and the National Organic Programme (NOP) Bhutan promote organic farming in the Himalayan Kingdom. The overall plan of the government is that organic farming in Bhutan shall be promoted through the use of viable alternative methods, whilst harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides will be phased out.
The Bhutanese situation
Whilst this development is very encouraging, it is also true that there are many current issues contemporary farmers face in Bhutan e.g. a lack of appreciation by society at large, wildlife encroachment and rural exodus. Young people with a certain degree of education, similar to many other places in the world, do not see a future in pursuing a career as farmer. Often, they also do not possess the knowledge and long standing wisdom of their grand parents and parents, having lived away from home in hostels during school time. Another reason is that development within the country has been differential, whereby the West has been favored in terms of infrastructure and accessibility whilst villages in the East and South are rather remote and often not easily accessible. It is also true that like in so many places around the world, young people are attracted to towns and cities by the prospects of taking on more prestigious employment. Young people may also often consider going abroad for work where they believe life is easier and more opportunities exist to make money. Commonly, educational trips abroad have been taken for granted by medium and high level civil servants in Bhutan who enjoy training opportunities all over the world. Similarly, plenty of schemes exist for students to study abroad and get exposure. However we argue that manual labor also has to be learned. Why then do such schemes not exist for people at the grassroots, working in vocational professions, – for people like farmers and those in vocational professions do not have access to such networks and training opportunities easily. With our OFEP programme we want to offer such opportunities to farmers and people in the field of agricultural education at the grassroots level.
- To reduce the rural exodus in Bhutan
- To assist the reduction of youth unemployment by promoting organic farming as a meaningful profession
- To support initiatives that lead to a long term change of mind set regarding the value of manual labor and agricultural professions
- To stimulate economic growth and the reduction of poverty by encouraging and enhancing activities related to rural life, organic farming, and the marketing of organic produce in Bhutan
- To support the empowerment of women who are traditionally and in many regions the “boss of the farm”
It is our philosophy that exchange should take place at the grassroots level based on our thuenlam approach where social relations are taken seriously. OFEP offers study tours and targets young villagers who will dedicate their lives to organic farming and village life. It is our intention to facilitate integrated small scale quality exchange by offering young Bhutanese farmers the chance to experience organic farming in Switzerland, in its particular socio-cultural context. Organic farming in Switzerland has been continuously promoted over the past several decades. Traditional local knowledge related to organic farming has been re-discovered and re-contextualized into contemporary modern life, and our partner farms are multi-resource oriented. The historical context of why organic farming in Switzerland has become popular again is different from the Bhutanese, and it will be left to the Bhutanese farmers to decide which knowledge will be useful back home. Similarly, the Swiss farmers visit the farms of their Bhutanese colleagues in order to understand the particularities of the Bhutanese situation. The concept of what is considered organic for instance might be very different in both countries. What measurements are taken against organic fertilizer and against pest control? What is the local socio-cultural perception towards organic/non-organic food in terms of well-being and health? How can organic products be marketed in Bhutan? The farmers of both countries will study onsite the farms of their respective colleagues and thus will experience farming life first hand, embedded in its natural context whilst putting a strong focus on shared experiences and building relations. The aim is to establish a long-term connection and exchange at the farmers’ level to mutually benefit and strengthen the organic grassroots movement,- with all its differences as well as similarities. This will stimulate a growing awareness among young farmers that organic multi-resource farming is not an out-dated activity. We would like farmers to experience first-hand that in countries such as Switzerland, becoming an organic farmer also increasingly is a choice by people with a high formal education who strongly believe that it can lead to a sustainable and responsible way of life.
Feedback from Bhutan
Zondhölzli Association, Emmenbrücke/LU
Alpine Permakultur Schweibenalp, Brienz/BE
Candidates 2019 (together with Austria)
Ms. Sangay Tshoki, Tang, Bumthang
Ms. Pema Wangmo, Khengrig Namsum Cooperative (KNC), Zhemgang
Mr. Sonam Tshering, Pangbisa, Paro
Mr. Ugyen Wangdi, Trashigang