Hidden among lush green forest and far away from the madding crowd, there is a lot of activity happening at Wobthang, Bumthang. It is an agricultural programme on a scale that many had been talking about. The Wobthang Organic Wonders, WOW in short, is venturing out in organic farming, a potential we had recognised for a long time ago.
Although still at an initial stage, the project could already been seen as a model farm that could help decide thousands of Bhutanese who are now rethinking farming as a source of livelihood or even business.
It may be a long time for the group to reap the harvest, but it is already showing what needs to be done if we are thinking agriculture. From the images coming out of Wobthang, it takes more than a few likeminded people joining hands to go big. If we want to relook at agriculture as an alternate means of livelihood or business, there are so many things that we have to consider.
The noise of tractors and tillers may not be a rare sight for farmers in Bumthang, but it shows that we need farm machinery, experts – both scientific and indigenous and above all, the willingness to get the hands dirty. There are soil experts, livestock veterans, machines and operators and a lot of young hands engaged in WOW. It will be a different project, not only from the scale but the purpose and will leave a lasting impression.
Then there is the support and appreciation of people. Government officials, cabinet ministers and the curious ones are stopping by Wobthang to see what is happening. In fact, one returnee from the WOW site said he never thought agriculture was that “sexy.”
The success of the project would depend on many factors. As of now, it has passed as an exemplary project. The approach itself is different. When the project invited people to join, it was not through the regular “financial incentives, future scope or qualification.” All they needed was people with interest, appreciation of nature and the will to work. There are about 50, mostly young people. Some may leave when school or colleges reopen, but they would have learned the value of hard work and national priorities.
The project, an initiative of the Leader of the Opposition Party, is also drawing another kind of attention. Supported and pre-financed by the Prime Minister, it is a case of rising above party politics and leading by example. If the project becomes a WOW factor in the next parliamentary election, both parties could claim an equal share of the credit. The political mileage would be greater if more WOW projects can be replicated in other dzongkhags.
The objective of the project, however, is a national inspiration- ensuring food-self sufficiency. Governments have come and gone, but the promise to reinvent the way we farm our land and make Bhutan food secure has remained a rhetoric.
Like the OL overseeing the project said, we shall reap what we sow. The initiative, the way it is done, and the interest, if sustained, could let all reap more than cabbages and cauliflowers.