Choki Wangmo 

Bhutan is expected to produce 2,435 metric tonnes (MT) of crops and vegetables under the national organic flagship programme (NOFP) by the end of this year.

With a total budget of Nu 1 billion, the programme will focus on the production of quinoa, buckwheat, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, asparagus, mushroom, beans, cauliflower, and chilli in the fiscal year 2019-2020 on 1,000 acres.

While presenting the update at the Prime Minister’s Office January 23, NOFP manager Kezang Tshomo said that organic buckwheat and vegetables were already in the market. Vegetables were sold to the local market and a portion of buckwheat was bought back as seeds.

“Under the flagship programme, certification is necessary. As soon as cultivation areas are identified, and cultivation starts, certification will also begin,” Kezang Tshomo said.

Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is working on the accreditation process and is expected to implement it by June this year.

Under the International Organisation for Standardisation 17065, a prerequisite for certification bodies certifying products, processes and services, BAFRA will be accredited as the country’s organic agriculture produce certifying body.

“Quinoa and buckwheat will be BAFRA and Local Organic Assurance System certified by June,” Kezang Tshomo said. “We are exploring international organic certification opportunities in different regions as well,” she added.

The certification would enable Bhutan to explore international markets for organic products.

The programme was suggested to explore opportunities to set out a sales outlet through Bhutanese embassies in other countries and involving the export promotion division in the Department of Trade.

The locations for organic sales outlet in Paro and Thimphu were identified but are not operational as of today.

Currently, most of the organic produce in the country were sold to One Gewog One Product initiative and Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited. An official suggested that market opportunities in the school feeding programme should be explored too.

PMO said there should be a link between production, collection, aggregation and transportation of organic products to encourage growers. The producers were found to be discouraged due to the lack of an established market chain.

Meanwhile, 2MT of organic seed would be produced by the end of this year. By the end of the programme, 20MT of seed and 31,000MT of organic products are expected to hit the market. The programme registered local seed growers for organic seed production.

“Sowing is not yet complete due to seasonal variations but quinoa and buckwheat seeding has started in the south,” Kezang Tshomo said.

To reduce imported chemical fertilisers by 50 percent, the organic manure production plant is under construction in Pasakha while upscaling activities of vermicompost unit in Samtse and organic manure production unit in Glelephu have started.

But the programme’s progress is impeded by lack of expertise and laboratories, among others.

NOFP’s Annual Performance Agreement was signed last August between the Prime Minister and the agriculture minister to bring in socio-economic development through sustainable production of safe and nutritious foods. It is also expected to increase revenue and GDP while engaging youth and farmers.