OFEP: Organic Farmers Exchange Programme

OFEP 


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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES

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Background
The Strategic Action Plan for Development of Organic Farming in Bhutan clearly states that in the reformed policy for agriculture and biodiversity, organic farming will be a major focus for the Royal Government. Organic farming in Bhutan will be promoted through the use of viable alternative methods, whilst harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides will be phased out.

The Bhutanese situation
Whilst this development is very encouraging, it is also evident that contemporary Bhutan suffers from a high degree of rural exodus. Young people with a certain amount of schooling do not see a future in pursuing a farming career. Often, they also do not possess the knowledge of their parents and grandparents, having been away from their home villages living in hostels for many years during school terms. Another reason for less interest in farming is that development within the country has been differential, where the West has been favoured in terms of infrastructure and accessibility. It is also true that like in so many places around the world, the youth are attracted to towns and cities by the prospects of taking on more prestigious employment. Young people may also often consider going abroad where they think life is easier and more opportunities to make money exist. Commonly educational trips abroad have been taken for granted by medium and high level civil servants in Bhutan. Others – people outside of the civil service like farmers and people in vocational professions – do not have access to such chances on a larger scale.

Objectives

  • To reduce the rural exodus in Bhutan
  • To assist the reduction of youth unemployment by promoting organic farming as a meaningful profession
  • To support initiatives that lead to a long term change of mind set regarding the value of manual labour and agricultural professions
  • To stimulate economic growth and the reduction of poverty by encouraging and enhancing activities related to rural life, organic farming, and the marketing of organic produce in Bhutan
  • To support the empowerment of women who are traditionally and in many regions the “boss of the farm”

Strategies

It is our philosophy that exchange should take place at the grassroots level. OFEP offers study tours and targets young villagers who will dedicate their lives to organic farming and village life. It is our intention to facilitate integrated small scale quality exchange by offering young, preferably female, Bhutanese farmers the chance to experience organic farming in Austria, within a particular socio-cultural context. Organic farming in Austria has been highly developed over the past several decades. Traditional local knowledge related to organic farming has been re-discovered and re-contextualized into contemporary modern life, and many of these farms are multi-resource oriented. The historical context of why organic farming in Austria has become popular again is different from the Bhutanese, and it will be left to the Bhutanese farmers to decide which knowledge will be useful back home. Similarly, the Austrian farmers will be visiting the organic farms of their Bhutanese colleagues in order to understand the particularities of the Bhutanese situation. The concept of what is considered organic for instance might be very different in both countries. What is being used as organic fertilizer and against pest control? What is the local socio-cultural perception towards organic/non-organic food in terms of well-being and health? How can organic products be marketed in Bhutan? The farmers of both countries will study onsite the farms of their respective corresponding colleagues and thus will experience farming life first hand, embedded in its natural context.

The aim will be to establish a long-term connection and exchange at the farmers’ level to mutually benefit and strengthen the organic grassroots movement,- differences as well as similarities. This will stimulate a growing awareness among young farmers that organic multi-resource farming is not an out-dated activity. We would like farmers to experience first-hand that in countries such as Austria, organic farming has increasingly become a highly regarded choice of profession and can lead to a sustainable and responsible way of life.

Feedback from Bhutan
Dr. Pema Gyamtsho (former Minister of Agriculture and Forests): Letter of Appreciation

PHOTOGALLERY OFEP 2014