Nu 1 billion flagship program for organic farming with Sikkim in mind

Recognizing the importance of organic farming to the environment, sustainable livelihood, health and nutrition, the government launched the National Organic Flagship Program in July 2019.

The task force members under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) drafted the proposal on supporting organic sector development towards enhanced food security and livelihood for 12th Five-Year-Plan (FYP) to produce safe and nutritious food on sustainable basis in a clean environment.

The program is expected to enhance organic production, its marketing, strengthen organic regulatory system and sustainable livelihood. Due to an increasing number of farmers and groups showing interest in organic farming, more farm produce are expected to turn organic.

The government’s flagship program further strengthens the National Framework for Organic Farming in Bhutan, adopted in 2007, the year a conscious effort began towards organic farming.

A budget of Nu 1 billion has been allocated for the flagship program, of which Nu 189.9 million was earmarked for the current fiscal year. The flagship program will be implemented in 20 dzongkhags covering a variety of crops and dairy products.

The program comprises goal, objectives, strategies, result matrix, implementation modalities and monitoring systems for sustainability. It aims to sustain livelihood system through increased organic production, domestic production of bio-inputs, enhance organic value chain and marketing.

It will also strengthen policy and institution and regulatory environment for the organic program. To meet Bhutan Organic Standard provisions, farmers or agricultural groups seeking organic certification of their products are required to fulfill procedures mandated in the Local Organic Assurance System (LOAS) manual. Farmers are also required to attend basic training on organic agriculture, and agriculture extension officers provide assistance, including supervision of farms.

Agriculture Minister, Lyonpo Yeshey Penjore, said that the concept of organic farming is not new to Bhutan, in fact, several initiatives towards organic farming were undertaken by the first and the second governments. The first government of Bhutan declared Gasa as the organic dzongkhag followed by the second government who tried to expand it to two or three more dzongkhags.

However, there was a lack of infrastructure or facilities which could certify the products produced by such dzongkhags as organic, Lyonpo said.

Agriculture Minister said, “Even today, though we have RNR research center at Yusipang where small testing is done, we do not have high level certification process which is compatible to international standards. So the present government is trying to put in place the testing and certification process, which will prove that whatever we produce is organic, and is in line with international standards”.

Bhutan has embraced the ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first 100 percent organic nation.  “The possibility for Bhutan to become 100 percent organic by 2023 is quite vague as Nu 1 billion flagship program is just for setting up preparatory facilities in place,” the minister said.

Lyonpo said that Sikkim was the first Himalayan state to go for 100 percent organic state of India, eliminating pesticides, chemical fertilizers and GMOs, and working closely with the local ecosystem to preserve biodiversity and prevent erosion.

Sikkim’s organic mission started in 2003, when its chief minister Pawan Chamling declared his intent to make Sikkim, India’s first organic state. First, the state officially banned the sale of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, forcing its farmers to go organic. And it ran a number of events, like a two-day workshop in March 2010 where organic experts and scientists advised farmers on making the transition. But Sikkim’s organic switch is not just good for public health; it’s also good for the economy as organic produce has higher profit margin for farmers, Lyonpo said.

He said that as Sikkim has been declared as organic farming state, they have started producing bio-fertilizers and bio-pesticides and also identified land for commercial farming. Lyonpo said such a concept can be replicate easily in Bhutan, given the similar geographical and climate conditions.

“Compared to many countries across the world, I feel Bhutan is much closer to achieving 100 percent organic,” Lyonpo said.

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