Friday, January 11, 2019

Korean Chilies to substitute the Import ban?

Representative sample from the 11 varieties

Chilies constitute the daily dietary item of the Bhutanese. In fact, the Bhutanese obsession with chilies is deeply ingrained in our culture and the trend is likely to be the same for the years to come. Almost every Bhutanese is fond of eating chilies, and hence there is a huge market within for internal consumption, if not for export. However, with the import ban imposed on chilies by the government in July 2016 (Kuensel report July 24, 2016 & The Bhutanese News July 23, 2016), there was a huge outcry on the shortage as well as on the affordability of chilies produced within.

The MoAF in an effort to bridge the gap after its conscious decision on the import ban started the Mass Winter Chili Production Program in the Southern belts in the fall of 2017. Simultaneously, the ministry also imported Eleven varieties of Korean chilies which are known for its cold tolerance. The seeds were distributed in May with an instruction to test it at various locations in the country for its production potential as well as for cold tolerance.

The 11 varieties of chillies viz. Jinheung, Suwon, Boseong, Geongochu, Hadong, Youngyol, Gangeung, Mungyeong, Gimhae, Sange and Gwanju were sown on 4th May, 2017 in raised beds protected under  poly-tunnels. The germination percentage was very poor and reports from other research centers across the country confirmed the same. The seedlings attained transplanting stage in 48 days after sowing and were transplanted in raised beds of 6 sq.m. The seedlings were transplanted at a spacing of 45cmx40cm (row-row & plant-plant).

Field view of the trial site

Korean chili seeds

In addition, the trial site was mixed with the recommended dose of FYM before planting and a handful of vermi-compost placed near the root zone of the seedlings at the time of transplanting. The total plant population per plot was 30 and the trial with 11 treatments(varieties) and 3 replications accommodated a total of 990 plants. Intercultural operations like manuring, irrigation, weeding and hoeing, and mulching were done as and when required.

In fact, mulching with chopped Artemisia leaves provided multiple benefits and resulted in robust growth of the plants. Fruits attained maturity five months  after sowing and the first picking of the matured fruits was done on 4th October 2017. A sampling population of 10 plants from each plot was randomly selected for measuring the yield parameters. The subsequent harvest could not be done as the fruits succumbed to frost injury.  This totally nullified the claim that the varieties are cold tolerant.
The yield data obtained from the first harvest was analyzed using Analysis of Variance with SPSS statistical software.

Result & Discussion
The result presented is not representative of the actual yield data as only one time harvest was done. The complete yield data could not be obtained as the plants couldn't tolerate frost damage. However, one-way anova of the yield parameters yielded result of statistical significance as reflected in the Table 1.
                                    Table 1: Anova of the yield parameters

Mean Square
Total Fruit Weight (g)
Between Groups
Individual Fruit Wt. (g)
Between Groups
Diameter (mm)
Between Groups
Length (cm)
Between Groups
                 **:Highly significant; *: Significant

The multiple comparison using Post Hoc Test showed significant difference between some varieties on the total weight of the fruits harvested. In fact, the variety Suwon exhibited difference of statistical significance in the total fruit weight with all the other 10 varieties as indicated in Table 2.

Tukey HSD                                     Multiple Comparison
Dependent variable
Variety 1
Variety 2
Sig. at 95% confidence level
Total Fruit weight (g)

Boseong                                                Hadong                                                                Gimhae        

Suwon                                                                Jinheung                                                                Youngwol                 

Sange                                                            Mungyeong                                                          Gwanju                     

Gangeung                                                                                   Geongochu                           

The overall performance of the plants was good with prolific bearing. There wasn't any major incidence of pests and diseases. In general, all the yield attributes were promising and the analysis indicated difference in the yield of statistical significance . However, all the varieties failed to exhibit cold tolerance. This was also attributed to the late receipt of seeds and accordingly delayed nursery raising.

The major limiting factor that contributed to the discontinuation of the trial and or further cultivation was its slightly metallic taste. The organoleptic test confirmed non-palatability to the Bhutanese taste buds. Everyone who tasted it had nothing good to say about the chilies; be it texture, taste, degree of hotness, shape, etc.  Moreover, none of the Eleven varieties exhibited varying traits in contradiction to our initial hypothesis of  having a pool of Korean chilies with varying characteristics and taste. Rather, all were similar in their structures and taste too. In addition, the comparatively thick rind that rendered the fruits harder was another drawback that rid Korean Chilies a fate in the Bhutanese soils.

The best strategy in this regard would be to conserve, promote and make the best use of our own available traditional varieties possessing the most desirable traits, with high degree of  compatibility to Bhutanese taste buds. We have many popular indigenous varieties like Urka bangla, Nubi Ema, Begup Ema, Pakshikha Ema, Khasadrapchu ema, etc. each with their own typical trait. This will also save cost on procuring new germplasm from places elsewhere.

Designating certain areas for the conservation and production of the specific types of chilies would not only help in conserving the existing germplasm but also maintain purity of the gene pool. If the farmers of such designated areas are incentivized through some means, this would assure greater continuity of the rich germplasm we have in store.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Celebrating Earth Day-Hear Mother Earth's message to all...

Wondering what the Earth Day or International Mother Earth Day is all about? Well, spare some time and get to hear what message our Mother Earth has in store for us. Earth Day is celebrated annually on April 22nd to remind each of us that the earth and its ecosystems provide us with life and sustenance (source: Greening The Blue).

To begin with, our attempt in celebrating the big day need not be grand. Some very simple and small gestures of ours towards the earth can sum it all up. In line with it, get to know what small gestures we did to mark the important day

As an act of due reverence to the Mother Earth and to take a step closer to Bhutan's vision to Produce Zero Waste by 2030, a multiple stakeholder came to celebrate the International Mother Earth Day on 22nd April, 2018. The HOTEL SIX SENSES BHUTAN, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, the Bondey Institute of Hospitality Management, the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECD), Shari, and the villagers of the would-be eco-village, Damchena in unison observed the Earth Day. 

The day was observed with the Vision hinging on "Zero Tolerance to Plastic".  A deep sense of gratitude to the dynamic leaders for the gift of the constitutional mandate on environmental conservation as well as the unique developmental philosophy of Gross Nation Happiness, which acts as the guiding principle in Bhutan's pursuit to growth and development in all its sphere.

Bhutan has also pledged to remain carbon neutral for all time. Its carbon negative status at the moment knit closely with around 72% of  its total area under forest cover  rides smoothly on the constitutional mandate of maintaining 60% of the total area under forest cover for all times to come. This coupled with its mission of going Fully Organic has tagged the small Himalayan kingdom with a uniqueness in its own sense despite it being a speck among giants. The lush green valleys; ridges and mountains adorned  with trees and shrubs of all kinds; and a pristine environment is all what it has in offer.
Nevertheless, the trend of globalization is setting in gradually. Waste and plastic litter is seen as a huge hazard to the pristine nature. If not acted wisely to nib the trouble at bud stage then trying to manage the situation at a later stage will not be worth it. If we not make efforts to manage waste today, tomorrow might be too late.

What marked the Big Day at Damchena village?

The day began with the birds chirping their soothing hymn amid the nearby woods as they gleefully bid farewell to the enveloping dusk.  Cattle in their sheds mooed as the bright sun rays peeped over the valley hilltop and comforted their furry cladding. As the rays descended further down the valley, everything swung into motion- children played in excitement; adults brewed tea and breakfast; a few vehicles roared over the uneven road, ferrying people and materials required for the big event.

People started assembling in the natural comfy provided by the lush green pasture. Banners for the big event hung from apple trees. The trees with its first flush of leaves and protruding buds seemed to have assumed its tedious work for the season after months of hibernation. Wooden tables stretched across to enable the display of various healthy food items: pine needle juice fortified with honey and lemon; wild mint flavored lemon juice, quinoa seasoned with fresh mint leaves and other ingredients; steamed asparagus; wild fern neatly glued by cheese, dried kale leaves, sliced and dried beet root, carrot, sweet potato, and  black and white sesame cake.

The villagers in particular were keen to try making various juices at home aftermath the event. They remarked, 'These plants have been growing over here for ages. We just didn't know how to make use of it'.

The event reeled in harmonious balance with nature: the entire celebration in the backdrop of the evergreen trees swinging to the tune of the gentle breeze; while the azure blue sky augmented the aesthetic essence in the firmament above; grannies and grandpas capped in grey hair plodded in while kids caroled at top velocity as if springs were attached to their heels;  cattle and horses grazing crazily over the freshly sprung pastures came in for the celebration; dogs tirelessly wagged their bushy tail in anticipation of the event, their eyes fixated on what was lying over the table; while hens raced in to be part of the gracious occasion- knowing that the event is crucial for their daily sustenance as well as for their future generations to come. And together, we celebrated the grand day, the International Mother Earth Day.

The guest from Six Senses Bhutan graced the occasion- his introduction on the event with emphasis on the vision of Zero Tolerance to Plastic was remarkable. The theme of 'Growing with Six Senses' implied very much to the children attending the program as well as the villagers.  Advocating on the proper management of plastic wastes to the children at a very young age is viewed as a tactful means of rooting up of problems associated with waste at infancy stage. This would inculcate  in the young minds a sense of awareness so that they cautiously deal with problems at the later stage of their lives.

The children of Shari ECCD was the epitome of the event. Their shrill and sharp voices on Plastic waste reduction and management echoed through the valley. Their messages were clear, "  Say No To Plastic; 3 Rs of Waste- Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and Don't Throw Plastic in the River" said it all.

The rural folks could also grow with Six Senses. This is evident from the concept of 'Farm to Table', which Six Senses is adopting to help rural communities generate income and alleviate poverty. This is what exactly is happening at the Damchena Eco-Village.

The ministry of Agriculture and Forests and the Agriculture Research and Development Center, Yusipang in particular and the Six Senses Bhutan is in the process of molding the village- with more than 17 acres of the village farmland registered organic. Exploring organic means of growing fruits, vegetables and herbs, flowers and other horticultural products that would find the ultimate shelf at the Six Senses Bhutan is heart-thrilling.

Organic crops could not only fetch premium for the producers but the greatest contribution would be the utmost care and respect rendered to the mother Earth. This will ensure that we don't compromise the health of our soils and its capacity to nurture us for generations to come while working towards food and nutrition security. With technical and input support from the research center in close collaboration with the Six Senses Bhutan, we aspire to develop this model Eco-Village, which might find its replica in the years to come elsewhere.

In aligning with the Farm to Table concept, the team also prepared land and sowed the seeds of super foods like Quinoa and Chia along with herbs like fennel, lettuces, parsley, chocolate mint, etc.
The ministry would also like to applaud on the initiative and role-model Six Senses Bhutan is setting by way of bridging the wide gap existing between production and marketing. This will be a realistic approach to 'The farm/garden to table' concept.

Many a times, all the hard work the Bhutanese farmers endure to produce various cash crops  goes in vain. All the days hard toil on small, fragmented farmland with minimal feasibility of mechanization, and no assured market leaves the farmers deprived of motivation to proceed further. On top of that, safer, healthier  produces from the mountains stand no match with the chemical-laden imported produce in the market, as price dictates everything. This is the biggest disgrace to the hard working small scale farm holders.
However, with the produce being directly linked to the Six Senses Bhutan, this will act as the greatest incentive for the farmers to produce more. The way of growing high value, nutrition-laden super foods as dictated by ultimate market will also contribute immensely towards meeting the daily nutritional intake of the farming community itself.

Hopefully but gradually, the Bhutanese farming community will find a way of blending their traditional food habit with that of the nutritious super foods. This will also enhance nutrition security as Bhutanese diet at the moment is carbohydrate-rich and lacks diversity and other essential nutrients. The growth of high end consumers like Six Senses, stretched across the country as well as other similar hotels could boost the production of high value crops by acting as the ultimate sink of the farm produces.

All in all, let's eat healthy, live healthy and promote healthy way of living by saying 'No To Plastics' and enriching our gardens with super plants so that we have nutritious foods on the table. Together, we shall find a way of saying Plastics are our greatest enemies for it indiscriminately pollutes our soils, dwindling its capacity to produce to the optimum and sustain billions of lives on it. Let's all grow together, healthier, cleaner, greener and happier but without compromising the health of our mother Earth. Please help us spread our love and message for our Mother Earth.

Some images as the memento of the Earth Day, 2018.
Super-foods in display

Villagers of Damchena Village
Message on the earth Day from the children of Shari ECCD
Nursery Raising of Chia seeds

 Sowing of Quinoa Seeds

Children bidding Goodbye after the program

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How far has Bhutan Traveled in Pursuit of its Organic Mission?

In continuation to my earlier post on Bhutan's organic mission and the journey thus far (, I would like to share some insights into where Bhutan stands at the moment.

The Course of Bhutan’s OA Development

2004- Renewable Natural Resources-Research and Development Center, Yusipang  was declared as organic research centre.
2005-2007- The National Framework for Organic Farming in Bhutan (NFOFB) developed and launched.
2006-  National Organic Programme initiated informally.
10th FYP- Organic formally established as National Programme
2009- Technical Working Group for Organic Agriculture constituted.
2010-   ABSD – Initiative- Organic charter –  which promoted organic Asparagus production.
Role of NOP (National Organic Program)
Apart from various programmes initiated and implemented by NOP, most significant achievements have been:
1.Development of supportive framework documents, guidance material, and a comprehensive Masterplan for Organic Agriculture in Bhutan. ( National Framework for Organic Farming in Bhutan)
2. Introduction of a certification scheme in Bhutan as well as developing other standards.
3. Achieving over 55,400 acres under organic management
4. 2014: International Workshop hosted; resulted in the Thimphu Declaration.
5. 2015:  SAARC Regional Expert Consultation Meeting on 'Status & Future prospects of Organic Agriculture for Safe Food security for SAARC countries and resulted in Organic Agriculture-Final Recommendations for SAARC Nations.
6. 2016: An executive order issued to rename the RNR-RDC as Research & Development Centre for organic Agriculture (RDC-OA)
7. 2017: Inception of Model Organic Village at Langpa Nobgang, Haa.
8. May 2017: National Workshop on Roadmap for Organic Agriculture Policy in Bhutan in consultation with ICIMOD. This was viewed as an important step int the organic movement for it resulted in the Proceedings and way forward of the workshop as follows:
      vOrganic Agriculture to be promoted as a flagship programme under the 12th five-year plan.
  vNeed for an apex body/mechanism
  vBuild on existing frameworks: Selected products and regions
  vIncentivizing the private sector
  vIncentivize organic growers through:
MSP to bridge the requirements of premiums, especially for organic small holders in the country.
Creation and search for organic premium
Market mechanism for organic produce: exploring & creating both domestic as well as international market.
Assess to finance for organic groups.
Cold storage chains for organic produce.
Input support
Technical support
Promote value chain sector.
Incentivizing the local production of organic inputs for local producers(reduced transport cost)
Set up of Labs for required testing; research & development on biological pest and disease control mechanism.
Ecosystem service payments to organic farmers.
Integration of eco-equitable tourism including a focus on rural farm-stays, revival of local and traditional crops as well as traditional farming systems and experience.
So you think Bhutan is Going Fully organic by 2020?
Well, the answer would obviously be 'Not Sooner' in this short span of time. Bhutan has started the movement some years ago and it will take time. It may become fully organic some years in the future but not in 2020. At the moment, there are lots of works that needs to be done to materialize the idea of going fully organic. However, there are numerous glitters of hope and positive aspects of the move and hopefully in the near future, may Bhutan cut through some of the barriers and achieve its mission of Going Fully Organic.

Bhutan's Organic Mission: Origin and the Journey

From where did the statement originate?

Well, wondering how, when and why the much talked about statement of ''Bhutan's Mission of Going organic by 2020'' came into existence? 

The Former Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Y. Thinley in 2012 during the Rio +20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development stated,
   "And as rural prosperity and urban well-being become a development theme, we are determined to become the first wholly organic food producing country by weaning our farmers and crops away from chemical dependency to ensure food security and sustainable agriculture. Bhutanese farmers have begun to plant the seeds of a new and sustainable society''.
PM’s remark at the closing session of the 2012 Conference of the International Society for Ecological Economics as follows:
"And we are working towards becoming the first country in the world to be 100% organic".
That is how the popular statement originated and became widely talked about by the outsiders as well as in  the country.

Why Bhutan is ideal for the shift from conventional to organic agriculture?

    vThe principles of Organic Agriculture aligns well with Bhutan’s developmental philosophy of GNH.
vStrong Policy support fostered by the Seed Rule, Pesticide Act of Bhutan, etc.
vStrong political support from the highest authority  (letter from the Cabinet instructing the ministry of Agriculture and Forest to pursue the organic movement)
vSimilarity to traditional farming system
vFarming in most of the far-flung villages, marked by small land holding, tugged along the mountainous topography are organic  by default.
vPristine environment.
vCompatibility with good local farming knowledge.
vStrong national organic program and the institutionalization of the organic center.
vIncreasing international support for the move.
vReligious sentiments over the use of agro-chemicals and destruction of other forms of life.
vInstruction from the PM/present government  that we should promote OA as a Flagship Programme under the 12th Five Year Plan
vRegulated import and supply of plant protection chemicals through a single national agency

Small land holding and natural farming in practice

All the aforementioned factors make it conducive and place Bhutan at a comparative advantage for the shift to OA. Though there are hardships and challenges to the approach, Bhutan is tagged with a lot of factors that ideally place it at the apex of opportunity for organic agriculture than a lot of other nations in the world.