Bhutan made a pledge in 2008 to go organic by 2020, but agriculture officials say we are far from achieving the pledge.

Paddy transplantation is in full swing in Paro these days. Farm mechanisation and weedicides have now reduced manual work to a few days from weeks.

Three days after the transplantation, farmers would spray weedicide for effective control of weeds.

According to a farmer, Wangmo, if the paddy plants do not grow well, they spray urea, a nitrogen fertilizer to make the plants look lush and healthy.

Although farmers try to control fertilizers and herbicides, she said that it was laborious and expensive. “If we don’t use a weedicide, weeding is a strenuous job.”

She said that unlike in the past, it was difficult to get farm labourers. “The weedicide has reduced farm labourers significantly. Five people can complete the task where it took 20 people in the past.”

According to Paro dzongkhag agriculture officer, Tandin, the dzongkhag made the ambitious pledge to go 100 percent organic, but it looks impossible.

He said that almost 90 percent of paddy growers in Paro use weedicides—butachlor and sunrice for decades due to labour shortage. “The use of weedicide is unavoidable.”

As of today, gewog agriculture extension officers distribute herbicides as per the demand of the farmers.

Tandin said that although weedicides helped farmers, its use would affect the organic vision of the country and also soil fertility.

He cited examples of how the chemicals kill earthworms that increase soil nutrient and help in better drainage and stable soil structure. “Earthworms help in improving farm productivity.”

He said the dzongkhag agriculture office had carried out various awareness programmes to encourage organic paddy cultivation but failed to convince people.

There are some farmers who grow organic paddy, but they face challenges.

Kinley Wangmo is among the last 16 households that grow organic paddy in Paro. She had been growing an acre of organic paddy since 2008, when Bhutan formally adopted the concept.

Amid numerous challenges, her interest and family’s health has helped her continue with organic farming.

Considering the harmful effect of herbicide on health, she had been growing organic paddy without any profit. “I want to grow organic paddy in my other fields too, but they are in the middle of the paddy terraces. It is impossible when everyone doesn’t do it.”

Before the pandemic, Kinley Wangmo sold her rice to high-end restaurants, often fetching triple the premium price, but she is selling it at a regular price now as many could not afford it.

She said that it was difficult to get farm labourers and pay Nu 800 with a day’s meal. “The amount I get from selling rice is lesser than the production cost. The good thing is I don’t have to go looking for buyers.”

Organic paddy growers also face the challenge of sharing irrigation water.

Tandin said that only those farmers who own lands near a water source and don’t have to share the irrigation water were engaged in growing organic paddy.

It was learnt that Bhutan deferred its policy to go organic to 2035.

By Phub Dem | Paro