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Field letter of internship at Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative by Chisato Maeda, Wageningen University - Vol.

2 – 22 May 2011

Go Organic @Bhutan


Dependency on imported food from India
spite of the image that Bhutan is a closed country, large parts of commodity and food consumption are dependent on India. 35.3% of households in Samdrup Jongkhar Vegetable shop in Dewathang market (SJ) can produce enough grains for their own consumption. 51% of rice, which is a staple food in Bhutan, 50% of pulses, and 75% of edible oil are imported mainly from India. It is hard to find local vegetables in the market of Dewathang. Why is this? Most of farmers answered that because their lands are too small and wild animals such as wild boars or elephants destroy their farms, they cannot produce enough food. Local vegetables are available in the market only when they can produce more than they consume. Soil erosion exacerbates this situation. Farmers are aware of importance of top soil, saying “most of the fertile soil is flown into India. We gift our happiness to them”. Bhutanese government set a goal to achieve food self-sufficiency by 2015. To achieve this goal, rice production should be doubled. A journalist of Bhutan Observer warns organic and food self-sufficiency cannot be compatible, stating as “the country might end up failing on both fronts”. It is required to increase yield without using chemical fertilizers to achieve two goals.


9th April 2011, I arrived at Bhutan after the three weeks stay in India. Passing through the border gate from Assam to Samdrup Jongkhar, suddenly different wind blew. The air is clean, and the ever-green forests eased my eyes. No dust, no noise of cars and construction. All I could hear were the voice of birds and winds. I settled down the cozy town of Dewathang, one hour journey from the border by car.



Jongkhar Dzongkhag (district) is an eastern gateway to Bhutan, bordering to Assam, India. There are 11 Gewogs (block) under the district, and each Gewog consists of 5-10 Chiwogs (village). It lies in the sub-tropical belt, with average temperature 35 and annual rainfall 5,300mm. 71% of the district is covered with forest, with elevations ranging from 600m -1,200m.

Agriculture and Livestock in Samdrup Jongkhar

Agriculture is an important living source. 79% of
populations live in rural area dependent on agriculture as their livelihood. 18 % of the land is used for agriculture in SJ. Maze is a major crop, accounting for 37% of crop area, followed by rice with 28% (Fig1). Fruits such as areca nuts and citrus are the main cash crops in the district. They produce maze for domestic use. 50% of maze is fed for their livestock and 50% are used for making Khalang (mixed with rice), Tenma (smashed dry food), Ara, Banchan (local alcohol).

11 Gewogs in Samdrup Jongkhar


Field letter of internship at Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative by Chisato Maeda, Wageningen University - Vol.2 – 22 May 2011

7% 3% 4% 13%

8% 28%

rice maze millet bean potato spice


Dewathang milk group is one of the oldest farmers’
cooperative in Bhutan, formed in 1993 with the aid of Denmark. It collects around 400 litres of milk every day from 125 members. The price of fresh milk is Nu. 30, higher than packaged milk (Nu.18) imported from India, though people prefer to buy local one, and the demand is increasing. According to a consumer, fresh local milk is more suitable for cheese and Suja (butter tea) than processed one.



Fig1. Percentage of cultivated area in SJ Dzongkag


livestock officer in Dewathang pointed out that local breeds are usually substituted by jersey cross breed. One jersey can produce five times more milk than local cow. While jersey produces more milk, jersey cannot jump from cliffs, and susceptible for diseases. “Jersey needs more attention and good quality of feed. So, I converted half of maize land into grassland, and have to watch on cows all the time. No time for caring about maize. Maize production is not enough now”, said a farmer in Dewathang.

4.0% 13.3% 0.8% 0.4%


Milk Road One day, I joined a 3 hours journey of collecting milk throughout the villages by milk van. The van started at 6 am, visited 5 villages. Farmers usually start milking 30 min before the collecting time to assure its freshness and wait for the van at the collecting points. I recorded the amount of collected milk, breed of cattle and geographical information by using GPS. 60km journey ended at 9 am, and geared towards the direct shop in SJ city. There was a long queue in front of the milk booth, and people rushed into the van even before reaching the store. Milk production is not enough for increasing consumer demand for fresh milk.

Yangku Doeb
Deothra Nublan Jaba




Jersy cross

Fig2. Percentage of cattle breed in Dewathang Gewog

Organic farming

Bhutanese government set a goal to shift 100% of
organic farming by 2025. Many farmers are based on a subsistence scale with less than 1 ha, and is considered “by default organic”. The average usage of chemical fertilizers is 9kg/ha, which is considerably low compared to other countries. Chemical fertilizers became available in Bhutan in 1960s, when the government agencies directly supplied to farmers as a part of government strategy to improve productivity. Druk Seed Corporation (DSC) is authorized agent to import fertilizers. There is no domestic production of artificial fertilizers and pesticides, though, improved transportation enable to access easily to chemicals throughout the country. The usage of chemical fertilizers was more than doubled in 2007 from 2000.

Dewathang Milk Group’s van collecting milk from farmers

Map of Dewathang Gewog and the path of milk ban digitized by Arc GIS


Field letter of internship at Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative by Chisato Maeda, Wageningen University - Vol.2 – 22 May 2011

General assembly of Dewathang milk group is held

once a month. Around 80 members attended on 3 May. If a farmer comes late, he/she has to pay Nu.10 for penalty charge. A leading organic farmer, Tsering Gyelpo, who joined the organic farming training in India, presented what he learnt in India. “I am making composting now, and will apply it tomorrow. I would like to show you all”, said Tsering with passion.


Especially, they eat rice a lot, but fewer vegetables. It is common that we also eat rice three times a day, though, Japanese cuisine is opposite. We eat vegetables a lot and less rice. When I look for a lunch box to buy, there are only big size boxes. When I asked to have a smaller size, a shop owner said with smile that this is for one person, which was for at least 3 persons to me. That is why Bhutanese belly become so big! Size of belly is an indicator of GNH. The bigger belly, the happier the person is. I should eat more to increase my GNH.

Time consciousness
Bhutanese consider the time for relax without doing anything as a happy day. At the time I arrived at Bhutan, I had to wait for permission to visit villages for three weeks. I was frustrated that I could not do my research work. One of my Bhutanese friend said, “What are you worrying about? I know Japanese are busy people, but this is good opportunity for you to take your time. We can watch movies together, if you do not have work to do”. I call this type of person, “GNH gay”. I consider the time of just relaxing as spoiling time. It is difficult for me to change my mind, but I learned a secret of enjoying life.

General meeting of Dewathang milk group

Shachop is a Tibeto-Burmal language (Himalayan language) spoken by over 400,000 people in eastern Bhutan. There is no written letter. Local kids are my teachers. This is basic conversation. Let’s practice together!  Hello = Kuzuzampo la  What is your name? = Nan ga ming han gila?  Where are you going = Oga delay/dincha?  How many boy/girl friends do you have? = Nan ga arogaro haptur cha?  No money, no car, no girl friend! = Tiru mala, Gari mala, Arogaro mala!  I like you = Jang nan ga lek la  Really? = Gila mo?  Can you marry me? = Nan ga nyen takpe mo?

Social bond
Bhutanese like “social gathering”. When I asked the source of happiness, many people answered family and social relationship. Farmers work together for weeding, land preparation, harvesting in turn within a community. This is called exchange labour. After the work, they eat together and drink Ara, Banchan (local wine) together. They looked very happy. After my visit to village, I am often encountered to see many people were drinking together with my Bhutanese roommate. In Japan, we do not have so much time to spend with friends or with family. I would like to bring this good culture back to Japan. Lastly, I would not mind if some of you can visit me with Ara, Banchan. Thank you!

One day, when I was looking for a school teacher in a royal university in Dewathang, he was attending the English speech contest as a judge. At the time I entered the hall, the contest was almost over. While waiting for the result of judgment, a narrator asked some volunteers to make speech. Two boys made speech, but the result was still not yet ready. The narrator recruited girl’s volunteer. Suddenly, the teacher told me to make a speech. I happened to make speech, titled “The cultural difference between Japan and Bhutan in related to GNH”.

To be continued…

The first difference I noticed between Japan and Bhutan was the size of belly. Bhutanese eat a lot.

After the speech contest, I became a bit famous foreigner in Dewathang. Unknown people offer me Ara, Banchan, luckily :P

Contact: Chisato Maeda
MSc Organic Agriculture Wageningen University