Meet Bhutan, a tiny landlocked kingdom, wedged between China, India, and Nepal. The home to approximately 1 million people, Bhutan is still largely agrarian. But unlike most other third world countries, its farmers have for the most part resisted western fertilizers and pesticides.
The country is about 80% organic today, and and there is a tension between adapting to the modern way of doing things, and the traditional farming methods. Organic farming aligns nicely with Buddhism, which values harmony of man and nature.
30 years ago, Bhutan was mostly organic. But several things changed that. First, the country up to the west. Large families started seeing their children move off the land to cities, leaving fewer hands to tend to the land. Erratic weather patterns of recent years decimated crops. These led farmers to explore the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The result was an increase in yield.
Although farmers were joyful at first, they soon discovered the real price of their new farming practices. The soil was dying. It needed increased levels of synthetic chemicals to keep producing crops. It has become a no-win situation.
Which is why the country now wants to revert back to organic practices. Pema Gyamtsho, Bhutan’s minister of agriculture, announced last year that Bhutan will become fully organic within the next few years, but he did not specify a date. This is an exciting test case for organic farming. Gyamtsho believes that when properly done, the country can double organic yields. It will be most interesting to see if the promise of sustainable farming can be achieved at a country level, despite all the western temptations.