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Health, Inspiring Stories

Fantastic Friday: Increasing Food Yields Via Organic Agriculture Edition


James L. Stanfield/National Geographic/Getty Images


The entire country of Bhutan is going organic…and a small village in India may prove to be the example of how to do so.

Of course, the entire country of Bhutan has less people than Manhattan, but that’s besides the point.  Well, actually, it sort of is the point.  The fact that it is so small (and has largely been cut off from many outside influences) probably adds to the likelihood that the country and it’s residents would adopt so many interesting, refreshing and contrarian (by Western standards anyways) positions, ranging from basing its economic development on the pursuit of collective happiness to being held as a shining example of environmental friendliness.  In fact, according to The Guardian,

Bhutan is already called the poster child of sustainable development. More than 95% of the population has clean water and electricity, 80% of the country is forested and, to the envy of many countries, it is carbon neutral and food secure.

And now, they’ve decided to rid the country of the use of pesticides from it’s agricultural system and rely on what is provided naturally – animal and farm waste – for fertilization and crop support.  It’s a bold move, especially in a place that is still largely an agrarian culture and remains relatively poor.

But, to Pema Gyamtsho, Bhutan’s minister of agriculture and forests, this is precisely the reason for the decision.  As he states:

“Ours is a mountainous terrain. When we use chemicals they don’t stay where we use them, they impact the water and plants. We say that we need to consider all the environment. Most of our farm practices are traditional farming, so we are largely organic anyway.

“But we are Buddhists, too, and we believe in living in harmony with nature. Animals have the right to live, we like to to see plants happy and insects happy,” he said.

And as a farmer himself, Gyamtsho is well informed to be leading this transition with his fellow food producers (an aside: the disconnect between those making decisions and those who are being decided for is a major flaw in leadership in general in my opinion).  He realizes that it will be difficult and that many farmers will be reluctant to stop using chemicals given their personal needs to produce enough food for themselves and their communities, as well as the lack of knowledge on organic farming techniques.  In fact, Bhutan believes that yields can actually be enhanced using an organic approach.

Systems like “sustainable root intensification” (SRI), which carefully regulate the amount of water that crops need and the age at which seedlings are planted out, have shown that organic crop yields can be doubled with no synthetic chemicals.

“We are experimenting with different methods of growing crops like SRI but we are also going to increase the amount of irrigated land and use traditional varieties of crops which do not require inputs and have pest resistance,” says Gyamtsho.

And right on cue, as The Guardian reports, “in a village in India’s poorest state, Bihar, farmers are growing world record amounts of rice – with no GM, and no herbicide.”  Using SRI, a young farmer, Sumant Kumar, grew a world record 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare of land last year.  To put that in perspective,

It beat not just the 19.4 tonnes achieved by the “father of rice”, the Chinese agricultural scientist Yuan Longping, but the World Bank-funded scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, and anything achieved by the biggest European and American seed and GM companies. And it was not just Sumant Kumar. Krishna, Nitish, Sanjay and Bijay, his friends and rivals in Darveshpura, all recorded over 17 tonnes, and many others in the villages around claimed to have more than doubled their usual yields.

While questions remain of whether SRI is the sole reason for the increase in yields, it does provide an interesting challenge to the status quo that introducing chemicals, pesticides and genetic modifications is actually necessary to meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population.

As a result, the Indian “miracle” is a hopeful example of how food can be grown organically using sound techniques and crop management methods.  And the brave attempt and commitment by Bhutan may yet prove that sustainable agriculture can be achieved on an even grander scale.

“Going organic will take time,” Gyamtsho says. “We have set no deadline. We cannot do it tomorrow. Instead we will achieve it region by region and crop by crop.”

He’s just talking about Bhutan, but the same idea could be said of everywhere else in the world.

Have a Fantastic Friday everyone!



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