Lemon grass oil is the only organic product Bhutan exports today

NOP: Bhutan could soon export organically grown products to neighbouring countries in South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

SAARC agriculture experts will soon work on a common standard and certification system that would allow farmers to export agriculture produce grown under organic conditions complying certain standards.

Representatives from member countries expressed the need for a regional standard and certification system for organic crops at a recent meeting in Thimphu.

Experts said such a system could create opportunity for farmers to exploit the potential of the market in the region and promote organic agriculture.

National Organic Programme coordinator, Kesang Tshomo, said that even a small piece of the regional market would be enough for Bhutanese farmers. She said Bhutan could only export lemon grass oil in the past 12 years.

“We could not export any other product partly due to the absence of such a standard and certification system,” she said.

The programme is focussing on asparagus and buckwheat. The problem is volume.

“We’re working on increasing the volume and promoting these two crops for export,” Kesang Tshomo said.

She said that it is easier for Bhutanese farmers to grow organic as many of them have been growing organically. The history of chemical use in agriculture is short, thus agriculture officials would not take long to reverse the process to organic.

The recommendations were either the SAARC Agriculture Centre create a new system or modify the Asian Standards and Certification System.

Agriculture experts said as the region has most of its farmland chemical free, they could come up with a suitable certification system considering the local factors.

Agriculture farming in South Asia is dominated by small landholdings. Except for Pakistan, farm landholdings below one-hectare account for more than 60 percent of total land holdings.

Bangladesh’s organic farming researcher, (Dr) M Nazim Uddin said that conversion time is a common problem for the small landholde. “Therefore, the conversion time,  should be two cropping cycle instead of two years as in other systems.

According to regional agriculture officials the demand for organic products is growing.

In general, the demand projections for South Asia for low-income and high-income scenarios demonstrate that demand for fruits, vegetables and livestock to rise by approximately three percent or more under high-income scenario annually.

Countries are investing increasingly in organic farming. India in two years would declare Sikkim as an organic state.

Bhutan strives to develop and promote organic farming as a way of life among Bhutanese farmers and trade in organic food items, to enhance nutrition, health and farm household income, and to become a net exporter of organic agricultural products. Bhutan has a target to become organic by 2020. More than 95 percent of all cultivated crops are organically managed in Bhutan.

The country has 40,627 acres under organic management today with Non-Wood Forest Products certification of 38,558 acres.

However, there are 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.

Tshering Palden