“I apply organic manure that I compost right here at home,” said Phub Zam, a farmer from Bhutan, “imported vegetables do not taste so good.”
She earns 40,000 rupees ($ 600) a month, three times more than she made before, when she worked with traditional agriculture.
Zam’s success is part of Bhutan’s plan to support sustainable agriculture as one of the keys to building a thriving “green” economy.
Bhutan has become one of the greenest countries in the world. Currently the country’s emissions rate is a negligible 0.8 meter tons per capita, according to the World Bank.
According to recent figures, the country emits around 1.5 million tons of carbon annually, while its forests absorb over 6 million tons- making Bhutan one of the few countries in the world to have negative carbon emissions. However, this is not enough for them; they have planned to zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and zero waste by 2030.
In 2011, the government launched the National Organic Program, which aims to help the county go 100 % organic by 2020. Reuters reports on the success of the program so far:
By teaching farmers good organic farming practices, by showing how to make money growing organic produce, and by providing start-up financial support, Bhutan hopes to reduce waste, dependence on imported food and ensure it remains climate neutral, producing no more climate changing emissions that its forests absorb.
Already praised by environmentalists for its low carbon emissions and heavy use of hydropower, Bhutan hopes to become even greener by showing that environmentally friendly farming can also be economically sustainable.
The government is offering free training programs in organic farming to turn Bhutan’s subsistence farmers barely eking out a living into small entrepreneurs. Besides, funding is provided through the purchase and the sale of compost, thus promoting waste reduction.
After attending a three-day training course, Zam started her home compost heap. Today, she sells about 60 kilograms of compost — made of grass, leaves, cow dung and sawdust — every two months to tourist resorts and other buyers.
Before learning how to compost, she used to end every harvest season with two or three truckloads of dead leaves and other organic waste that she would either burn or pay someone to dispose of.
According to a 2014 report on food security by the Royal Bhutan College of Thimphu, less than 4 percent of Bhutan’s total land is under food cultivation, which is why almost 50 percent of the country’s rice is imported from India and Thailand.
It is essential to persuade Bhutan’s farmers to use organic methods, showing that the switch to organic agriculture can enhance economy and lead to higher domestic production.
Promoting organic farming practices like composting is a “logical step towards the goal of remaining carbon neutral," said Peldon Tshering, chief strategist of Bhutan’s environmental commission.
Zam, Paro valley farmer, supports the government’s plan to convert its farmers to organic agriculture. But for the project to succeed, she said, the government needs to help widen the market for organic produce.
Bhutan is currently 72 percent forested and the constitution requires that no less than 60 percent of the country remains forested. The Buddhist nation also refuses to judge its success on Gross Domestic Product, instead using an index that measures Gross National Happiness.