Bhutan Aiming for 100% Organic Agriculture by 2020

Rice paddy field management without herbicides made possible by Japanese aid

By Koa Tasaka (CUJ co-chair and Asian Rural Institute director)

Bhutan, the nation of happiness

Recently, I have been engaged in a grass root technological cooperation project for organic agriculture, in the country where the national aim is happiness. Bhutan wants to develop local agriculture with a focus on organic farming through a project with Mr. Inaba Mitsukuni from Minkan Inasaku Kenkyujo, a rice growing research center in Tochigi prefecture. I was able to help him and his research center get funding for the project from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

Bhutan is known for making Gross National Happiness (GNH) an index of state development instead of GDP, which is the economic indicator of gross domestic product. Many will also remember that the Bhutanese king consoled Japan just after Japan’s suffered from the earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011. It was in November 2011 that their Majesties the King and Queen of Bhutan visited Japan. Their Majesties’ visit to areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake encouraged many people.

Massive herbicide use is a problem

Bhutan covers educational expenses and medical expenses for its people without charge as a national policy, and it is possible to say it is an ideal welfare state. But food remains a big problem. The self-sufficiency rate of rice, which is Bhutan’s principal food, is only around 50% and almost all meat is imported from India.

During the global conference of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) held in Bhutan in March, 2014, the Bhutanese agricultural minister announced the target for agricultural production to be 100% organic agriculture by 2020. All agricultural chemicals such as DDT that are left in the country are now being collected and sent to Switzerland for disposal there, a policy carried out without exception. But it was explained that it is a big problem that a great deal of herbicides are still being used in Bhutan.

When hearing the lecture of the agricultural minister, I raised my hand and spoke: “There is a place in Japan where herbicides are not used at all. It is a Japanese private rice growing research center based in Tochigi prefecture. Moreover, they have established a method to control weeds in rice paddy farming.”

The agricultural minister showed a very big interest, and wanted to know more in detail. I provided him with English articles written by Mr. Inaba Mitsukuni of the rice growing research center, as well as information about the weed control method. He expressed a strong wish to bring Mr. Inaba and others to Bhutan.

Fighting rice paddy weed

I received a very positive answer from Mr. Inaba: “Let’s do international cooperation for Bhutan to help them achieve 100% organic agriculture!” Fortunately, JICA decided it would support the project for three years. A visit to Bhutan was arranged including Mr. Inaba and staff from JICA. Discussions were held with the Bhutanese Department of Agriculture in June, 2016 and the project could start right away.

The problem in Bhutan is rice paddy weed (Potamogeton distinctus). The plan is to deal with it at two experimental farms, with one of the test fields run by an organic farmer. Two Bhutanese Department of Agriculture staff have begun a study from this spring at the rice growing research center in Tochigi together with Asian Rural Institute*. After the training has finished, we are going to begin activities in Bhutan in December.

Most people in Bhutan follow Tibetan Buddhism. Soybeans are cultivated and used for their daily food. If the use of soybeans protein is developed instead of importing meat, it will also be possible to use the leftovers from soybeans, for example as fertilizer.

I’m sure Bhutan, the nation of happiness, will conquer these issues and reach its target, 100% organic agriculture, by 2020.


*Asian Rural Institute is a training facility to train rural leaders in agricultural areas aiming at self-support through organic agriculture in Asia and Africa.