Gardening the Bhutanese Way

Friday, September 8, 2017

Letter from the Cabinet-Support to Bhutan's Organic Agriculture Movement.

This letter has reference to the 30th Lhengye Zhungtshog (Cabinet Meeting) held on March 25, 2014. The letter from the Cabinet to the Ministry of Agriculture & Forests (MoAF), dated 4th April, 2014 reads as follows:

The Government has directed the MoAF on the following:
1. The MoAF is to study and submit recommendations to the Lhengye Zhungtshog regarding the necessity of the development of organic agriculture by the government. The ministry is directed to use the expertise within the ministry and expertise from other relevant agencies if required to study on the impact of organic agriculture development. While studying, the MoAF is also directed to take into account the current status of organic products and alternatives for food security, fertilizers, input benefits, budget and timeline, etc.
2.  To study whether and how FDl projects negatively impact organic agriculture development.
3. The Government felt that there is a need to provide government support to the people especially in terms of marketing of organic products and also the need to develop proactive measures such as government buying the organic product and selling it. In this regard, the Government directed the MoAF to work on providing premium price for being organic and to work on the method of marketing as well as to work on how to provide government support on branding/Labeling and transportation cost for marketing the organic products.
4. The Government felt that if the country is self sufficient with the organic products and has adequate surplus for sale, the government can look into selling it to hotels, resorts and then gradually export to other countries. The government directed the MoAF to look into the possibility of locating organic market at a separate location, i.e., other side of Wangchu river, opposite to the current vegetable market
5. The MoAF to find out approximate budget, duration and benefit of going organic. 
6. To review Samdrup Jongkhar initiative and submit to the Lhengye Zhungtshog soon.
7. Bhutan Agriculture and food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is directed to work on developing organic products certification system and be ready to provide certification services, if required.
8. To look into replacing/combining CoRRB with NOP as a cross-cutting agency.
9. Current human and other resource shortage to be addressed after the government considers the organic programme.
10. To look into harmonizing current Pesticide Act with the organic development policy, if enacted.
11. The reputation of the country will be uplifted with food security ensured by increasing domestic food production organically. The Government is of the view that any economic activity within the country can be undertaken without having to depend much on other countries. Therefore, if decided to consider the organic programme, the Government will announce to the public through media.

This is indicative of the strong political will of the government in promoting Organic Agriculture in Bhutan.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Bhutanese Obsession with Chili - How climate change will impact its cultivation by 2050?

'Ema Datshi'; Bhutanese chili cheese curry would top the list of favorite dish. The Bhutanese obsession with chili stems from the fact that it is deeply ingrained in our culture. Parents would assign their children the first sign of growth and bravery to being able to gallop down some chili curries. The dose and the interest to eat more follows sequentially with each round of applause from the parents or elders. Those who detest or fail to ingest chilies are looked down with being immature or mocked with words that can demoralize the child. 

Indeed, a heap of appreciation from parents and the twinkling glaze of satisfactory achievement in children's eye are the basic foundation for the high Bhutanese chili palatability. Ema datshi would be the only indisputable dish available on the table on any occasion. It also acts an appetizer; invoking more to be rolled down along it. That is why many claim that they can eat more when they are served ema datshi or Ezay or raw chillies along with food.

Many Bhutanese are holding contradictory views against the government's ban on chili import. Well, this is a very wise decision. Bhutanese people have been consuming chemical-loaded Indian chilies for a very long time. When Indian chilies gets rejected to the International market owing to the stringent tests and accordingly the products exceeding the maximum residue level, it had no problem entering the Bhutanese market. Why? Our country did not have the sophisticated equipment for testing. Not knowing that the toxic materials are being accumulated bit by bit every time we consume such products, we succumb to a chronic malfunction in our body when eventually our body cannot take the last trace of toxic material. And what do we do? We simply attribute the mishap solely to karmic residue. In fact, it is the toxic material residue, not karmic residue, that goes on accumulating in our system and disrupts it ultimately. Such toxic materials doesn't get eliminated easily as our excretion does.

Now, in lieu of the aforementioned facts, there is a huge demand being placed on the Bhutanese producers. The situation aftermath the import ban witnessed a huge outcry on the shortage as well as the affordability of chilies produced within. In fact, price per kilogram of chili shot to as high as 700-800 Ngultrum earlier this season. It is a big relief to the consumers as the price has stabilized now. 

During the peak production season, the price might drop drastically with glut in the market. However, consumption of negligible quantities of Indian chilies seems inevitable even during our own production season as many of the Bhutanese taste buds are after the fiery hot Indian chilies. I think there is a need for advocacy and awareness on the health hazards associated with it. 

Bhutanese people are so fond of eating imported chilies at the cost of their own health. The behavior is similar in traders alike consumers. Consumers are madly in search of pungent Indian chilies that the traders, a few lucky ones manage to conceal and dispense for their consumers at a higher rate. Many were found hidden elsewhere in black plastics. My sister once brought me chilies, around 250g. She got it from a vegetable seller, who managed to pull it from beneath her chair, the knot firmly tied that she was unable to open it for ascertaining the quality. The seller ensured that it is of top quality while she averted her head here and there in fear of inspectors. Perhaps in the due course of time, our taste buds might get acclimatized to the degree of pungency of our own Bhutanese chilies, and the longing for top pungent imported chilies ebb eventually.

The reason why the pinch for the import ban on cauliflower and bean wasn't felt as much as that of chilies might be on account of the fact that these are the vegetable commodities the people can do away with as long as there are other alternatives. However, chilies in any form; raw, dried, pickled or powdered form is a mandatory ingredient of the Bhutanese cuisine.

The MoAF is putting in tremendous efforts in bridging the gap after its conscious decision on the import ban. The mass production of chilies started in certain belts of the country. Some individual farmers converted their entire potato farmland to chili production plot after the ban. Every individual, who owned a piece of land for gardening, consciously expanded the acreage for chili production. The ministry has imported cold tolerant varieties from abroad, which are under testing at various field stations.

The assessment and planning workshop for winter chili production has been completed. Scheduled plan for chili nursery establishment is underway with the nurseries of hybrid seeds been raised in the first week of August. This will continue on a staggered basis and the warmers belts of the country might see their lands covered by chili plants this winter, provided the arid wintry conditions find other means of irrigation.

Nevertheless, this is just a short-term measure. Bhutan is no exception to the brunt of climate change. The carbon negative status of this speck in the ocean of other nations is not going to hold us from bearing the consequences. Global warming has taken its toll; we already have experienced glacial lake outbursts and floods. This change in the trend of global climate is going to impact food production to a large extent. A recent study by a team of officials from the MoAF and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) on the crop climatic suitability is clearly indicative of the change. Impacts of climate change on climatic suitability of priority commodities like Potato, Quinoa, Kiwi, Chilli, Tomato, & Cardamom were carried out. The link to the entire report is available at

Chili Current Climatic Suitability & Future Projections (2050)
In addition to the already existing challenges to chili production, Bhutan is going to witness a shift in the chili climatic suitability. The warmer (Southern) belts are expected to experience loss in suitable areas, probably due to net increase in the global temperatures. On the contrary, the cooler belts in the North will be able to grow crops that didn't grow in the past. While the areas that observe loss in suitable areas will have to search for other alternatives or resort to the cultivation of heat tolerant ones; people in the North might have to keep on exploring the climatic suitability of new crops.
A slight discrepancies might be there in the map for we used the FAO parameters with minimal changes form our side and climate data from Worldclim for the analysis since we don't have our own. However, I can see a good correlation in the current suitable areas under cultivation.
Current Chili Climatic Suitability map

FAO parameters used for the analysis.

Chili climatic suitability: current; future & the change using rcp 4.5
Chili climatic suitability: current; future & the change using rcp 8.5.
Chili Suitability map in 1994-1995, according to an information from Integrated Horticulture Development Project (the first map) against that of 2016 (2nd map) and the change/gain in suitable areas (the last map)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

My Tale of Life (Part-II)

In continuation to My Tale of Life (Part-I)

She now realized why her mother always insisted her on going somewhere far from home. She could vividly remember her saying, “Actually, I feel so much relieved and happy to have you around with me, but you will find peace elsewhere than here”. Though reluctant at first, she relented eventually. Her heart murmured, “Better be slavery at others' door than being in a hell like this”. But what about her mother who has to be in the hell her entire life? She deeply empathizes and sympathizes with her and she reassured herself that she is going to change everything sooner.

For the first time in ages, Namgangmo felt a little bit of the heaviness drifting from her head and her tired eyes brightened. It was a new lease of life to her with her relatives. She would babysit, clean the house, wash clothes; and in the due course of time, she learnt how to cook meals. She could give some rest to her ears. She was careful not to let them to find any lapse in her doings.

In addition, they would bear her educational expenses. On the contrary, her grandmother would pile stakes of money in a box and lock it up. She would collect the money given to her by her sons and the tourist guests they often bring home; from the sale of her locally brewed wine, ‘Ara’; and of course from the sale of butter and cheese; and she would subsequently add it to the already existing pile to make it a bigger one or to make another one.

Forget about spending a single penny on the girl who sacrificed her holidays herding cattle, she would be deprived of the very right to eat the butter and cheese. It was even more pathetic to see that her mother had to purchase butter and cheese from others while her grandmother sold the same. It was astounding as to how a mother could be so cruel to her daughter and granddaughter but it was a fact.

Her mother gave birth to the second girl when Namgangmo was two years old and she was the one to run to the kitchen to fetch the cutter to have the umbilical cord cut. It was shameless of the father who worked as a manager at a nearby farm, who had her sister traded for worth of a pack of rice and a tin of oil and disappeared. Only her mother was left to face the cruelty and the reality of life.

Since then, the number of slaves at the mercy of grandmother’s door increased from one to two. Slaves get paid in cash for their service but they got paid with cartloads of brutality and humiliation.

Her grandmother hated the two sisters being together. “These two bastards would sit together always; can’t you be without each other?” They would exchange a glance of dismay, hated being called so. “Always sticking together, talking unnecessary things, eating like a pig but what is the output?” Their eyes would be welled with tears and they would avert their heads from the monster in front, blinking.

“You…coal-hearted girls, from where do you think all that you push down your mouth come from? Have you ever seen them falling from the sky? Did you know that your fathers didn’t feed you even a single bowl of rice? You are eating from my hand, staying at my house, what did you have from your useless fathers?”

A slightest act of rebel would put her grandmother in the deepest mood of anguish. Once she lost her control and said abruptly, “You bitch drove my father away”.

“What did this bastard utter from her mouth? Are you trying to spit on the face that fed you? I can’t tolerate such things at all. Get out of my house right now! Go and live with your father”, saying this, she dragged her out of the house. She could have fled to somewhere far but it was already dark. On this account, she took shelter in the cattle shed. As she laid there on the dry pine leaves scratching one of the calves on her neck, she murmured her pain, “I am nothing different from you. You are even luckier as my grandmother loves you more than me”.

A third man came along her mother’s life and yet added another member to the pool of tragedy. No sooner was he driven back. Her poor mother didn’t have any say in all those acts. People took advantage of her innocence, kindness and submissiveness. It was only when the last child and the only boy brought back their father several years later that her mother found some relieve and solace to her mind.
But the chaos in the house didn’t come to a cease. Her grandmother’s daily humiliation and orders from dawn till dusk had led to nothing more than an argument and soon they became the worst enemy. Indeed, she was an implacable enemy. Her grandmother’s implacability rather astounded and unnerved her. She would rarely be at home but even for a short while when she did stay, she was sick of the emotional turbulence in the family. She would wonder how her mother is bearing all those.

One thing that makes her emotional and upset as well was the frequency of the forms that she had to fill up in schools, which always had father’s name and occupation. She had seen none with mother’s till now. That made her to approach her teacher one day and enquire, “Sir, can I write mother’s name in place of fathers?” When the response was not what she expected, she raised her voice, “Sir, but that’s insane to write one when I don’t have and don’t belong to him”. “Whatever, write his name”, and the teacher would zip her mouth.

But all those miserable scenes had not discouraged Namgangmo. Instead, she drew courage and strength from it. She felt the need to study hard, the need to be someone great enough to change the situation and the need to take her mother out of the whirlpool of turmoil. She realized the potentiality to do so only if she excelled in her studies. That was the only motivation behind her hard work.

Accordingly, she came to the proper notice of the teachers when she was selected to go to Japan on a month long cultural exchange program. It was when she was in the fifth standard that she was selected through an interview. The following winter vacation, she got a call from the VAST, the Voluntary Artist Studio Thimphu, to attend a week long art workshop and to collect the prize for the painting that she has sent earlier.

Apart from her studies, she took an active part in extra-curricular activities. Not only does it ease her painful memories but every activity taught her something new. She was always ready to learn though not always liked being told. Singing and dancing was one of her passion but she limits this to only her national and traditional ones.

 Besides, she played games and sports. Though not good at it, she acknowledged it as it soothed her physically as well as mentally. Often, she would be on the stage, delivering an extempore speech, Elocution, inter-regional quiz or inter-dzongkhag debate competition, etc. She never regretted for being a part of everything. Consequently, she was given due recognition and she was awarded the Best Female Student twice which added further motivation to her act of will.

The little pocket money that she brought from home would she wrap in a piece of cloth. Along with the money earned from some sort of competition or dancing for a movie, she shall reach it back to her mother or buy her something. Nothing makes her happy than to see her mother in a blissful mood.
She would console her mother, “Ama, don’t be depressed because I am there for you. Once I complete my studies, I will take the sole responsibility of ensuring you all a happy life. I mean it and am I not meant for that?” the only response would be a humble smile accompanied by a simple nod. Despite her mother’s pretext, she knew how much her heart wept for freedom and happiness.

And now, she is dwelling in the other part of the world, millions of miles away from her home. Though out of sight, her mother wasn’t out of her mind. Neither has she lost the focus in her life.  His Majesty the fifth king has emphasized during the Royal Audience, “Good is not good enough, you should excel” and a briefing at the Department of Adult and Higher Education outlined, “Your first priority should be your health and then your studies. If you neglect the former, you can’t excel in the latter”.
 Every time, she reminds herself of these words, a flash of new energy would splash through her mind and thrill her heart to motion. With God as the sole guardian and trustee of her soul, she is determined to move forward in pursuit of happiness for her mother, her family and her small nation.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Evaluation of Bio-fertilizers on Cauliflower Productivity

1. Background.

The center resorted to undertake this research trial as such initiatives are felt mandatory if we are to achieve our nation's steadfast mission of going organic by the year 2020. It is also geared towards finding means of replacing our current trend of agricultural system, wherein we are using excessive chemical fertilizers in nourishing our plants while we are least bothered about the health of our soils. While many dwelling in the farming  community have minimal or no knowledge on the beneficial soil microbes, it is also to be emphasized that farmers need to be educated on this aspect of maintaining soil health and the crucial role such microbes can play in agriculture. The need to stress on the maintenance of soil health which is a gateway to sustainable farming is also to be prioritized.

Seedlings in the nursery

2. Objectives:

Ø  To address the increasing problems associated with the use of synthetic agro-chemicals in agriculture through the use of bio-fertilizers.
Ø  To find means of practicing sustainable agriculture by providing an ecological environment where all the microbial community could live in harmony wherein they can balance each other in their quest for food and space.

3. Materials & Methodology

The RCBD experimental design was used to carry out the trial. A total of 7 treatments including control and 3 replications were designed. The trial encompassed a total area of 105 sq. m. with 21 plots of 5 sq. m. each. The seedlings were spaced at 30*45 cm, amounting to a total plant strength of 693.

Transplanting Stage
The 7 treatments namely; FYM, vermi-compost, vermi-wash, liquid manure form biodigester tank, compost tea, heap compost and control were used. 
Treatments 1-3: FYM; Vermi-compost;Vermi-wash.

Treatments 4-7: Liquid manure; Compost tea; Heap compost & Control
The solid bio-fertilizers were applied around the root zone  while the liquid formulations were poured around the root zone of the crop on fortnightly interval except for FYM which was stopped after its second application. In total, there were 6 applications in the entire crop period.
Treatment application

4.  Result & Discussion

For yield analysis against different treatments, 10 plants per plot were randomly selected and the curd weight recorded. The average curd weight are as depicted in table 1. 

Table 1: : Average curd weight(g) of 10 randomly selected plants/plot 
Sl. No.
Treatment plots
Average curd weight(g)

From the data, the average curd weight of the plots with same treatment were derived, & the yield per acre and the comparative yield advantage of the other treatments over the control plot were also worked out accordingly as illustrated in table 2.

Table 2: Comparison of yield  between treatments
Sl. No.
Avg. yield/curd(g)
Yield/acre of individual treatments(MT)

Comparative yield advantage of other treatments over control plots

Liquid manure
Compost tea
Heap compost

Cauliflower curds from first replication

Curds from second replication

Curds from third replication

4. Conclusion

Though the data didn't show much statistical significance between the treatments, it does have some difference in the physical weight of the curds. Accordingly, the comparative yield advantage of the different treatments over control can be seen.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Get to Know Your Plant/Crop Better

§     You have sown your seeds in the freezing chillness of the December month. Remember, your extraneous covering of blankets & clothes are still intact over the poly-tunnel. And you might be wondering when and how should you go on about removing the protective covers.
§     Well, the seeds would reside under this shed ranging from 10-22 days depending on weather conditions, after which it will gradually peep through the soil.
§      It will be fine to keep everything as it is (covered) until emergence of the cotyledonary (first) leaves.
Seedlings under poly-tunnels
§     However, the blankets, rugs or any covers other than the polyethylene sheet shall be removed during the daytime to allow light into the soil. You should peep occasionally to check the status of seedling emergence.
§     The extraneous covering is only a measure to protect the seedlings against the harsh weather & hence, it should be put back in place during the nights.
§     The beds shall be given occasional watering, providing water just enough to maintain the soil moist.
§     After emergence, the poly-tunnel cladding will have to be removed slightly at the ends for the entry of air.

v You should remember the four basic requirement for plant growth & development;
a.    Sunlight: In general, almost all crops perform well if they receive uninterrupted radiation from the sun. For this reason, the outer cover of clothes or blankets will have to be removed during the day time. Otherwise, it would lead to the sickly yellowish development of your crops. I bet I made it clear in my earlier post that the extra sheathings are simply provided to resist the entry of frost during nights.
Right-Outer protective cover removed for light interception; Left-Plastic folded from side for aeration
b.    Nutrients/minerals: If you have made a conscious effort to select a plot left fallow in the previous year, your seedlings will do fine even if you don't provide other organic supplements. In case that hasn't been possible, try adding a little amount of completely rotten organic manure. The previous crop might have depleted your soil of the necessary nutrients. The nutrient requirement will also differ to a great deal with the varying soil types & conditions. Usually, heavy manure application will lead to overgrowth and thereby, makes the seedlings susceptible to disease & pest attack.
c.    Water: The daily weather conditions and the soil type will have direct correlation to the frequency of irrigation requirement. Copious watering would be detrimental to the nursery crops. Diseases like collar rot and damping off are very common in heavily watered and manured nurseries. So follow the basic rule of  irrigating your nursery just to maintain the soil moist.
d.    Air (Oxygen): Air is a vital to plants as it to humans or any other living beings. Hence, provisions should be made for the plants to have access to air the moment they start peeping from the soil. On account of this fact, the polythene sheet should be opened from the sides for the entry of air. Why only from the sides and not the entire plastic? The open space from the sides is enough for allowing air inside. The idea behind keeping the plastic still intact is to retain heat for the faster growth of seedlings. The harmonious combination of these major entities would determine the health & performance.

Openings for aeration

One-month old seedlings (dated 16-1-17)

Hardening: Let me touch a bit on this aspect of seedling management.
Hardening of Seedlings 
§     When your seedlings assume quite a good growth and you are expecting it to be transplanted within 10-15 days, it is good to expose the seedlings to the cold air outside.
Robust stand of Seedlings (dated 10/02/17)
§     The seedlings shall be left to get acclimatized to the outside/ normal air condition so that they don't suffer from transplanting  shocks. 
§     This process will equip the seedlings to face the outside environment with boldness.
Seedlings left for acclimatization to cold air outside
§     Seedlings transplanted directly from poly-houses or poly-tunnels to the outdoor fields experience shock due to abrupt change in the air temperature.
§     The seedlings cannot resist the change in their environment & some might not survive even.
§     In addition, the growth of such seedlings become retarded while the hardened one will assume fast & healthy growth immediately after transplanting. 
1 month 25 days old seedlings

All said & done, you should make it mandatory to cover the seedlings at night. If not, you will be losing all your outcome of hard work in a single night. The frosty bite is not going to spare your lush leaves. Unless you are absolutely sure that there won't be frost, never take a chance to keep your seedlings exposed at night.
Having catered to the aforementioned requirements of the plants, you are heading for a healthy bunch of seedlings for your crop in the ensuing season. Well, the reason why I emphasize so much on healthy nursery management practices is not something anyone is unaware of. My motive here is to reiterate everyone on the importance of good nursery management practices for the health of your seedling is going to determine the produce you are going to harvest.
While some farmers of Thimphu practice nursery raising under poly-tunnel, farmers of Paro & Haa remained afar from the idea. With the recent intervention by RDC-OA, where farmers & extension agents of  Thimphu & Paro were being trained on the said topic , I am of the view that there will be early production of vegetables from the coming seasons.
Though this method of nursery raising is highly lucrative for farmers as they fetch premium price for their early crops, it also has certain setbacks. Unless you have someone to monitor the poly-tunnels on daily basis, you won't be reaping the same benefit. Hence, the major limitation of the technique is the labor-intense nature of the work involved.
One of the young attendee of farmers training came up with the suggestion to use double layer of polythene sheet to protect the seedlings from frost injury. His idea was that the air retention in between the plastic layers might not permit the frost to penetrate. The idea seems appealing, especially in view of not having to tend to the nursery on a daily basis. However, this is something that needs to go through experimental test to confirm its effectiveness.

Seedlings ready for Transplanting