Phub Dem | Paro
It is drizzling and a seven-acre organic farm on the outskirts of Paro is bursting with every shade of green.
Kinley Wangmo, 49, lives on the farm where she grew up, but she’s adding a twist to the family tradition.
She has transitioned her share of land from chemical-based practices to organic farming.
It hasn’t been an easy switch.
As a new organic farmer in the dzongkhag back in 2003, she tended the farm through trial and error as it was a new concept then.
Kinley Wangmo is the first to have a certified organic farm in Paro. Her farm in Chimakha is located about three kilometres from Bonday.
She ventured into organic farming when the formal institutionalised processes to promote organic agriculture in Bhutan began.
She recalls a group of agriculture officials identifying her farm ideal for organic farming as there are no other lands nearby. “As the nearby farm has to share irrigation water, it is impossible if others do not practice organic farming.”
Considering the health benefits of organic produce, she took up the challenge, which many deemed laborious and difficult.
The challenges are plenty.
The transition period to organic farming is a significant challenge and a test of perseverance. Farmers need to keep land free of chemicals for three years before being certified as organic with a drastic decrease in income.
According to Kinley Wangmo, organic farming is laborious, exhausting, and the yield and quality of the product are often compromised at the start.
From picking up worms underneath asparagus plants to losing apples to pests and disease, Kinley Wangmo said that practising organic farming required patience and enthusiasm.
Kinley Wangmo soon realised it wasn’t a matter of simply putting off chemical sprayers. She had to learn how to manage soil nutrients without fertiliser and tackle weeds and insects without herbicides and insecticides.
On a conventional farm, she says, she can spray acres of land within a day, but it takes many hands to do the same in her organic farm.
She said that farm production reduced drastically, and it took her many years to stabilise the production. “For three years, my apple orchard was infested with pests, and there was no yield. But today, it bears the most delicious apple.”
Had it not been for her husband and eldest son, who dropped out of school, Kinley Wangmo said that her dream of organic farming would have failed. “One has to tend the farm every day.”
During those days, access to organic seeds was a significant challenge facing organic farmers.
Kinley Wangmo took the matter into her hand without any option and made most of the seeds she required. “I have all the organic seeds which I have to sow in my field. It was difficult at the beginning.”
Kinley Wangmo’s farm was certified only in 2019.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest’s report, Sanam Drupdrey, the National Centre for Organic Agriculture (NCOA) in Yusipang certified her seven-acre family farm, including wetland and dryland. The farm was certified under the local organic assurance system, an organic certification system for the domestic market based on the Bhutan Organic Guarantee System.
Her three organic produce—asparagus, rice and apple—are certified.
Bhutan remained organic based on traditional farming system and remoteness, which provides a strong foundation for organic agriculture. However, the arrival of conventional farming, though it helped farmers, distorted the organic dream.
Kinley Wangmo practices mixed farming where livestock is reared as an integral part of the system for manure.
Although conventional farming benefits the farmers, she said it affected the soil fertility and it wasn’t healthy.
Before the pandemic, Kinley supplied vegetables to high-end hotels.
While marketing isn’t an issue, she said that due to the pandemic, pricing was affected. “Locals do not understand what organic vegetables are, and many do not buy them as it is expensive.”
Many tourists visited her farm during peak season and bought vegetables.
More than profit, she said that it was a healthy choice for her family. “My daughter gets sick when she eats imported vegetables.”
She has plans to certify other products such as potatoes, beans, zucchini, chillies and many more.
Considering seasonal and inconsistent supply, Kinley said that she didn’t explore the export market. “One should have huge landholding and mechanised farming if we have to export it. It is difficult at the moment.”
“If one is not determined, organic farming is impossible,” Kinley Wangmo said.
The dzongkhag agriculture office has been striving to make Paro an organic dzongkhag.
Agriculture officer Tandin said that the office was helping with land development, but it is difficult to reach all the areas due to a shortage of machines.
Although the dream is to make Paro 100 percent organic, he said it was challenging as Dogar and Naja gewog grow cabbage at a commercial scale.
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk