The tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan serves as home to just 738,000 people—about the population of Alaska. But this tiny landlocked nation is on track to make one of the biggest pro-organic moves in the world.
At the June 2012 Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, the kingdom’s prime minister, Jigmi Thinley, announced plans to convert all his nation’s agricultural land to organic farms with, he said in his speech, “the ‘raised in Bhutan’ label synonymous with ‘organically grown.'”
The country is already well on its way to organic: Two thirds of Bhutanese citizens are farmers, and many of them are organic by default, unable to afford the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides required in chemical farming. Very few of the farms are actually certified as organic, but the country has sent a number of farmers to India to study at food activist Vanadana Shiva’s organic training farm, and has asked consultants from Shiva’s farm to educate its local extension specialists so they, in turn, are better prepared to help farmers convert to organic.
Greater profits and self-sufficiency are two of the major driving forces behind the move, Thinley added in his address. Bhutan currently imports more food than it can produce, which means farmers are losing out on a valuable revenue stream. And neighboring India is experiencing “exponential growth” in demand for organic food, a demand, he said, that isn’t likely to taper off anytime soon.
Then there’s the issue of clean water. A third of Bhutan’s citizens get their water from rural sources, which can easily become polluted by chemical fertilizers, and 6 in 10 children living in rural areas do suffer from health problems that can be traced back to polluted, unsanitary water.
But the move to convert all Bhutan’s farms to organic is driven as much by those factors as it is by a desire to achieve “Gross National Happiness,” a term Bhutan’s fourth king coined three decades ago as a more important measure of success than gross national product. “The main reason why we would like to motivate rural living is because we are convinced that it is on the farm that people can find happiness amid vital communities boosted by the necessity of interdependence, active spiritual life, and daily communion with nature and other living beings,” he said.