The lessons we can learn from Bhutan
Posted on June 11th, 2013

Michelle Alexander

 The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked state in South Asia. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by the India. Further west, it is separated from Nepal by the Indian state of Sikkim, while further south it is separated from Bangladesh by the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal.

 This small Himalayan nation is the only country to guide its policy according to Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The four pillars of GNH are: Sustainable Development, Cultural Integrity, Ecosystem Conservation and Good Governance. 

  • Bhutan plans on being 100% organic. This means that it plans to eliminate herbicides and pesticides from the food chain.  The tiny south Pacific island of Niue has set itself a similar goal with 2020 as its target year. The same can be applied to Sri Lankan produce as well. In recent times a study had shown agricultural pesticides and fertilizers as the likely culprit for an incurable and deadly kidney disease that has afflicted thousands of Sri Lankans. The complete report can be read at the following link http://www.arsenic.lk/content/Situation_in%20_Sri%20Lnka/Arsenic_and_CKDu.pdf.

Further, an associate who was involved in the Tea Trade informed that so many pesticides and other chemicals had been used that it would take a few years up to a decade or so for the contaminated top soil to be washed off. While it would be difficult to make abrupt changes, we should be aware of the dangers posed by the overuse of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and chemical preservatives and make mindful changes to break this trend. The emphasis could be on quality over quantity – producing less food but focusing on premium, organic crops. The success of such a venture would also depend on the subsidies extended to farmers, especially considering the current global movement for a clean environment and natural products is increasingly creating a niche market for organic products. If feasible, suppliers should also have direct access to the farmers, thus reducing the need for a middle man.

  • Bhutan aspires to be a country where development is Holistic, Inclusive and Sustainable.

Part of this is the idea of a “Green Economy”. They already posses several advantages in this area. These include:-

A constitutional mandate to maintain 60% of the land under forest cover; limited number of polluting industries; predominantly agrarian society; nature-based economy; a very positive state of natural environment; political stability and social harmony; a young democracy opening up new socio-economic development opportunities; and an extensive development governance structure

            The major avenues for a Green Economy in Bhutan are

 Development of clean energy by harnessing hydropower and renewable energy sources

 Agriculture, forests and biodiversity resources as assets for economic development in a manner that enhances their value including through organic production practices whilst promoting their conservation and sustainable use;

 Sustainable high value and low impact tourism with focus on the country’s natural and cultural endowments and engagement of local communities;

 Transportation based on replacement of fossil fuel with clean energy, improved road communication network, and efficient and affordable mass transport systems;

 Industries with strict compliance to legislated environmental standards and with access to, and capacity for, use of clean production technologies;

Bhutan: In Pursuit of Sustainable Development

National Report for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development 2012

While all of this may not be practical, we can adopt the best methods to suit our own countries requirements.

  • Bhutan maintains strict regulations on its craft industry. Bhutan established the Agency for Promotion of Indigenous Crafts (APIC), which is mandated with the task of promoting the traditional crafts industry. Certifications issued by this agency ensures that a buyer is in a positions to make an informed choice, it acts as a marketing tool for craftsperson and their dealers and protects/promotes genuine Bhutanese handicrafts and motivate local artisans. They also maintain very strict guidelines when it comes to architecture, mainly in an attempt to preserve traditional architectural design. While it may be difficult to issue standardized certification for our traditional craft industry, there must be a method to ensure genuine crafts are recognized and their makers promoted.
  • Bhutan’s traditional society has been defined as both patriarchal and matriarchal. Foreign observers have noted that women shared equally with men in farm labor. Overall, women were providing more labor than men in all sectors of the economy. Less than 4 percent of the total female work force was unemployed, compared with nearly 10 percent of men who had no occupation. The matriarchal structure – where women inherit property unlike other women in some of the neighbouring countries – grants women access to land and property. Bhutanese inheritance law stipulates equal rights for all children, regardless of sex or age. Unlike some other neighbouring countries, the birth of a daughter is looked on more favourably. In some of Sri Lankan families, the view is still held in favour of sons and not daughters. Perhaps this is due to the insistence of dowries. In modern times, a potential partner’s character, intelligence, values and a certain level of independent financial stability in terms of employment should be of more value.

Bhutan maintains a certain level of uniformity, consistency and they are mobilized for the preservation of their values. Some of their standards may not work for us, but there is a lot we can learn from Bhutan.

4 Responses to “The lessons we can learn from Bhutan”

  1. Sunil Vijayapala Says:

    a country needs just one wise leader. sri lanka wanted become the first country to be free of genetically engineered products. but alas it did not materialse. why? we have the worst corrupt government in the history of heladeepa, who thrives on commission from abroad. (malayasia the worst culprit) the same story with pesticides. when you have a corrupt leadership anything is possible. tea, the curse of sri lanka, introduced by the anglo saxon ungulate,which destroyed our hill country forest cover contributes to the erosion of land and sedimentation in the sea, through polluted rivers.
    we need a mass movement to kick these bastards out of the political scene and have a strong leadership to implement long term recovery plan to restore the country we had before the advent of the ungulate.

  2. Voice123 Says:

    Hasnt India reduced Bhutan to a vassal state?

  3. michelly200 Says:

    @ Voice123- I only researched from the aspects of the GNH… but there could be interference from India considering that Bhutan has a Hindu minority and that China shares a border. It may not be as obvious as it is with regards to interfering with Sri Lanka(nothing for the South Indian, in particular Tamil Nadu political parties to gain).

  4. Voice123 Says:

    Yes, the GHI rocks!

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