“Farmers” are the least GNH happy

“Agriculture is not just an industry for Bhutan but also an important source of culture in Bhutan. If the power of agriculture were to decrease, so would the power of country”. These are words of wisdom from His Majesty The Fourth King that JICA received and has cherished. In line with the importance of agriculture in Bhutan, JICA has continued to cooperate with the Government of Bhutan in the field of agriculture since 1964. In such a setting, one astonishing fact came to light after implementing the 2015 GNH Survey conducted by the Centre for Bhutan Studies & GNH Research(CBS) with assistance from JICA. Farmers were found to be the least happy among other occupational groups.

JICA Horticulture Project

Conversely, one of JICA’s most successful projects, “The Horticulture Research and Development Project (HRDP-JICA)” came to our mind. HRDP-JICA was a technical cooperation project (2010-2015) between the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests and JICA led by chief advisor Tomiyasu, coordinator Sasaki and other Japanese experts. The overall goal of the project was to make horticulture more popular as a source of income in six eastern dzongkhags. The main focuses of the project were to identify horticulture farming practices and crops in each target area and to strengthen the technical training system. The implementation approach was based on the technical transfer approach through the practice of learning-through-working together on the basis of mutual understanding and trust.

Farmers were trained thoroughly in horticulture starting from pit digging to post-harvest techniques. At the same time, farmers were also encouraged to transfer their skills and knowledge to other farmers. This approach helped in making a big difference compared to the conventional distribution of seeds, tools and manuals to farmers. In recognition of its success, His Majesty The King awarded the National Order of Merit Gold to Lhap Dorji, the program director at the Renewable Natural Resources Research and Development Centre, Wengkhar, and Tomiyasu.

Impact Survey from the Perspective of GNH

In order to find tips and solutions from HRDP-JICA for the alleviation of farmers’ unhappiness, CBS and JICA spearheaded a special GNH survey in November 2016 to evaluate the impact of the project on the GNH index (9 domains and 33 indicators).

This was the first memorable study on assessment of a project’s impact based on GNH that is the overriding philosophy which should guide all development activities.  Like the 2015 GNH Survey, analysis at indicator level was made by comparing the headcount of people enjoying sufficiency in 33 indicators between the beneficiary (47 households) and the non-beneficiary (196 households) groups in Mongar.

Significant Differences in GNH indicators 

It has been only 3-4 years since most of the beneficiary farmers joined the project and orchards are at the early stage of fruiting. However, the project has made significant impact on the following indicators.

First, in the Living Standard domain, significantly positive impacts were found in household per capita income and asset ownership. Second, in the Community Vitality domain, beneficiaries were found to be better in community relationships which included trust towards neighbours and a sense of belonging.

Further, social support and the frequency of socialisation were found to be substantially higher among the project beneficiaries. Third, in the Psychological Wellbeing and Health domains, there were statistically significant impacts on mental health and negative emotions (a low frequency of occurrence of negative emotions).

Findings showed that 97.9 percent of beneficiaries had ‘normal mental wellbeing’ compared to 87.8 percent of the non-beneficiaries. On the other hand, in the Time Use domain, the proportion of people who achieved sufficiency in both the work and sleep indicators was lower in the beneficiary group.

The threshold for sufficiency was set at less than eight hours for work and more than eight hours for sleep. It is also true that horticulture activities require a lot of time and energy. Overall, improvements in community relationships and the psychological wellbeing indicator were noteworthy considering the results of the 2015 GNH Survey which showed a concerning decline in these indicators over the last five years.

3 Psychological Needs for Farmers

The study also evaluated the impact of the project on farmers’ motivation level following the Self-determination theory (SDT). SDT is grounded in the humanistic psychological and theoretical perspective stating that human beings have an inherent need to develop, grow and reach their full potential when conditions are favourable. SDT identifies three basic psychological needs for all individuals: the need for competence, autonomy and relatedness. Results showed that the percentages of people who “agree” to the project’s positive impact on these three psychological needs was about 99 percent (competence), 98 percent (autonomy) and 94 percent (relatedness). The project’s impact on all the three psychological needs was overwhelming.

Tips for Farmers’ happiness

Chief advisor Tomiyasu, who has worked for over 15 years in Bhutan, believes there are two requirements for a project to be successful. First, there should be a trustworthy relationship among the people involved. Based on mutual trust and unquestionable technique, careful hands-on practice trainings led to 753 farmers planting 14,549 orchard trees. As a consequence, the products of HRDP-JICA became well known as the “Wengkhar Brand” – a token of trust.

Second, horticulture should have the potential to draw the attention of youths to it as an attractive occupation. When farmers can cultivate and see fruits overspreading their lands, people can gain not only income but also confidence and pride from the aspect of psychological wellbeing. He always encouraged Bhutanese youths to involve in the project, showing signs of attractive aura in horticulture. We believe this dedicated attitude, that cultivates trust among people and guides horticulture as an attractive occupation, satisfied the 3 psychological needs for farmers, and contributed to improvements of GNH indicators like community relationships, mental health condition and negative emotions beyond the scope of income.

JICA continues to cooperate in order to spread these “Fruits of Happiness” for the enhancement of GNH in Bhutan.

Source: Fruits of Happiness – Impacts of Horticulture Project on Gross National Happiness in Mongar, Bhutan – (CBS)

Contributed by Sho Takano (Deputy Representative, JICA Bhutan) and Jigme Phuntso (Researcher, CBS)


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