Agriculture: The agriculture department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests yesterday signed a Partnership Project with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to conduct a research trial to find solutions to manage weeds in rice cultivation in Bhutan without the use of synthetic herbicides.

Officiating director general of Department of Agriculture (DoA), Ganesh B Chettri, said that currently the farmers in the country face problems controlling weeds in paddy fields and resort to using synthetic herbicides.

“The project is expected to help farmers solve the weed problem in paddy fields,” Ganesh B Chettri said. “The idea is to discourage farmers from using pesticides in paddy fields and replace it with organic solutions.”

Rice is an important crop for the Bhutanese. The department expects at least some solutions after the end of the project period in 2019. “The wetland in the country is limited therefore we need to focus on the available wetland for rice cultivation to intensify production.”

To produce organic fertilisers from different agricultural products such as defatted soya bean seeds and mustard cakes are some of the other objectives of the project.

National Organic Programme (NOP) coordinator, Kesang Tshomo, said that some agricultural value additions such as making of tofu from soya bean and oil extraction from mustard or rapeseed will also be explored. Different crop rotations including green manuring with legumes will also be tried to control the weeds and to enhance rice productivity.

Kesang Tshomo said that weed management is one of the biggest challenges in farming system in the country. “Solutions obtained through the project will be very crucial for organic agriculture sector development in the country and to strengthen the long-term organic farming vision of the country.”

The agriculture research centres at Bajo in Wangdue and Yusipang in Thimphu will be the key implementers of the three-year project – Creation of Active Local Communities through the Introduction of Organic Agriculture with the System of Circulating Natural Materials in Bhutan. Staff with the research centres and some selected farmers will be involved in the field implementation.

Japanese experts will assist and guide Bhutanese researchers to conduct the trial. Two staff with the DoA are currently being trained in Japan.

The research centres will work in collaboration with the National Organic Programme, National Plant Protection Centre and National Soil Service Centre.  High, mid and low altitude places in the country have different weed problems. Trail locations will be prioritised accordingly.

To start with, the project will be implemented in Thimphu and Paro and then spread to other dzongkhags by local staff and selected farmers.

The director of Civil Institute of Organic Rice Cultivation in Japan, Mitsukuni Inaba, said that the project’s method had been developed in Japan in order to overcome the tragedy of the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2013.

Japan developed organic agriculture with the system of circulating local materials by cycle cropping of rice-wheat-soy beans. However, consumers stopped purchasing soya beans in the area near Fukushima fearing radioactive contamination.

The Japanese processed the soya beans and rapeseeds to remove radioactive cesium from the oil extracted from the crops. It was found that the defatted soya beans and rapeseeds are excellent materials for organic fertilizer. The soya beans contain 45 percent protein and can be utilised as organic nitrogen fertilizer for rice cultivation without damaging the development of rice plant roots.

The project is expected to increase rice yield by 150 percent without any use of herbicide and human labour.

“We hope to establish this method by experimental trials in research and development centres in Bhutan and the techniques will be spread among the farmers in Bhutan. The nation’s goal of going 100 percent organic can be achieved,” Mitsukuni Inaba said.

Dechen Tshomo