Choki Wangmo 

Bhutan’s dream of going 100 percent organic might be drawing closer with the registration of National Centre for Organic Agriculture (NCOA) and the National Seed Centre (NSC) as the first organic centres this week.

Registration and certification were the two critical requirements for a product to be certified as organic, said an official with the National Centre for Organic Agriculture, Kailash Pradhan.

The centres were registered under the Bhutan Organic Guarantee System (BOGS).

The centres have committed to adopt the organic farming principles and practices. They will have to adhere to Bhutan Organic Standard (BOS) requirements to have their products certified as organic and have access to Bhutan Organic Mark.

BOS is a system which assures the production and supply of food and food materials are free from unnatural treatments, additives and any synthetic agro-chemicals that are hazardous to human health and ecosystem.

Kailash Pradhan said that if the products are certified under the BOGS, NSC would be able to produce organic seed of the traditional chili variety Sha Ema.  “NSC will be able to replicate the same process for other crops and produce and sell organic seeds with Bhutan Organic Mark.”

The move would also help NCOA to technically package and promote any technologies generated from research farms as certified organic.

The centre is an apex body for organic agriculture with the technical mandate on organic research and development. It was declared as an organic research farm in 2004 by the agriculture ministry but was not formally registered and certified.

The centres have to follow the four principles of organic farming—sustaining and enhancing the health of the soil, plants, animals, and human health.

Currently, products like garlic, carrot, potato from Gasa, turmeric powder, rice and watermelon from Zhemgang, herbal tea and seabuckthorn tea from Bumthang, green tea from Trongsa, rice and apple from Paro, among others, have Bhutan Organic Mark.

Edible flowers and Bhutan herbal tea are exported.

However, Bhutan’s organic dream is not without challenges.

Kailash Pradhan said that the organic vision was in contradiction with the food self-sufficiency policy which focuses on enhancing domestic production through use of agricultural inputs such as fertilisers and agro-chemicals.

“The country also has limited access to organic alternatives and organic inputs for pest, disease, and soil fertility management,” he said.

He said that shortage of farm labour and limited scope for mechanisation impeded 100 percent organic target. Organic production is more labour intensive.

The registration and certification process were, however, in the formative stages and may not meet the standards, he added.

According to Kailash Pradhan, most of the consumers complained about hiked prices for organic products because the organic products lack a premium price. “Upscaling organic production and availability could be a way forward to reduce the price.”

NCOA was inaugurated in 1969 as a horticulture research station and has been reformed into a centre for organic agriculture in Bhutan. NSC was established in 1966 for the production of vegetables and other horticultural crops for improving the livelihood and nutrition in the country.

Both centres are supported by the National Organic Flagship Programme.