Growing herbicide use threatens organic dream

Labour shortage in farms is one of the main reasons for rising herbicide use
Farming: Bhutan’s aspiration to go organic by 2020 is threatened if a proper substitute is not found for herbicides.
Most farmlands in the country are managed organically except for few that use low quantity of agrochemicals.
The use of pesticides and fertilisers has declined over the years since their introduction in the 1960s while the use of herbicides is increasing.
Agriculture officials said this is a serious hurdle in going organic.
From less than 50 metric tonnes (MT) in 1990, the use of herbicides has shot up to 362MT in 2012, more than seven times in the last 22 years. In 2000, farmers used about 150MT but that figure more than doubled in 2012.
The total agrochemical use including insecticides and fungicides across Bhutan in 2012 was about 27MT. Fertilisers usage has stabilised at about 1,000MT of Suphala and more than 1,300MT of Urea.
National Organic Programme coordinator, Kesang Tshomo said the lack of labour on farms has compelled farmers to opt for herbicide use.
“The herbicides are mainly used to control weeds, which needs a lot of people but as farmers cannot find labour in the villages, they resort to using herbicides,” she said.
Recent data show less than five percent of farmers use agrochemicals in their crops such as cereals, vegetables, spices, legumes, and oils. Less than two percent of farmers use agrochemicals in fruits and nut crops and of these, half the volume is herbicides and tree spray oil.
Agriculture officials said it needs urgent measures to fulfil Bhutan’s goal of going organic by 2020.
“The government is at cross roads of going organic as a niche product or as the mainstay,” she said.
Bhutan lacks pesticides residue testing facilities and bio-control laboratories, bio-pesticides development programme with labs, and microbiology lab to promote bio-fertilizers.
The existing agriculture research institutes in the country are not mandated to study organic alternatives.
In the last 12 years, the country could certify only one product as organic. Lemon grass oil is today exported to USA and Europe as the only  organic product from Bhutan.
The issues with expensive marketing, premium, certification of produce, and lack of incentives to farmers to grow organic on large scale are some of the factors limiting the cultivation of organic produce.
As incentives, farmers are today provided free seeds, advice and crash course on organic farming.
Agriculture director general Nim Dorji said the country would have a planned practical approach supported by research and development programmes to find solutions to problems of pests, weeds, and soil fertility.
He was addressing the representatives from SAARC countries at a two -day meeting  of the SAARC  Agriculture Centre that ended yesterday in Thimphu.
Representatives are deliberating on the status and future prospects of organic agriculture and safe food security at a two-day meet that began yesterday in Thimphu.
Bhutan strives to develop and promote organic farming as a way of life among Bhutanese farmers to become a net exporter of organic agricultural products.
More than 95 percent of all cultivated crops are organically managed in Bhutan.
“The advantage in the country is that the organically produced food is important as a large section of the population is eating naturally grown food,” Kesang Tshomo said.
Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people.
There is however steady movement in organic farming driven by cooperatives and non-government organisations including youth opting farming as a career. The school agriculture programme is also organic.
The country has 40,627 acres under organic management today with Non-Wood Forest Products certification of 38,558 acres. The main organic crops are asparagus and buckwheat.
By Tshering Palden

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