Bhutan: What matters is Gross Domestic Happiness - EDITORIAL

11 April 2015 02:26 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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ith Bhutan’s Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay on a state visit to Sri Lanka there is much we need to learn from this tiny and remote kingdom nestling in the Himalayas between its powerful neighbours, India and China.
Most Sri Lankans may remember Bhutan especially for the Thimpu declaration which comprised four conditions put forward by the Tamil delegation at the first round of peace talks with Sri Lankan government leaders in 1985 in an abortive bid to end the civil war. These talks were arranged by India but after they failed, India’s Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi came to Colombo to sign the Indo-Sri Lanka Peace Accord which brought thousands of Indian Peace Keeping Forces here for another abortive mission.





Above and beyond Thimpu, the Bhutanese name for the country is Druk Yul, which means “Land of the Thunder Dragon”. Bhutan’s population according to latest figures is only about 770,000 with about 70 per cent following the teachings of Buddhism while about 30 per cent follow Hinduism.
Deeply significant in Bhutan is that it is keen to promote a balance between spiritual and material happiness.  King Jigme Singye Wangchuck -- the father of the present monarch -- went to great lengths to preserve the indigenous Buddhist culture. The Bhutanese monarchy has also scientifically promoted the principle of measuring not the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as most countries do but the “Gross National Happiness (GNH).” This process has been accepted by the United Nations and many other countries are trying to follow it. It would be good for Sri Lanka also, in the aftermath of a regime where spin-doctored growth rates and other figures were widely circulated.





According to the Guardian newspaper  Bhutan could within a decade become the first country in the world to go wholly organic in its food production. Agriculture and forests minister Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji and opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho, who held the post in the previous government, say there is a united commitment to rid the country of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
While no formal time frame has been put in place, both parties believe the goal is within sight as long as practical, natural solutions can be found to the pest and disease problems still affecting a few crops.





To speed up the search for these answers, the newspaper says, Bhutan recently brought together experts on organic agriculture from across the world.
“If we continue to have the same intensity of commitment and intention, then we should be able to do it in five or ten years,” says Mr. Gyamtsho, who estimates that around 70% of produce is already grown without chemicals. “But on the other hand, if we just use it as a slogan, it might take 20 or 30 years or it may not take place at all. It really depends on how serious successive governments are in taking this forward.”
Mr. Dorji says the new government is maintaining the previous administration’s strong commitment to organic agriculture but says any moves to eradicate chemicals needs to be done on a voluntary basis. While he also says it is possible to become an organic nation within a decade, this is dependent on the government being able to “demonstrate that the benefits outweigh the costs and people should be willing and happy about the transition and choices. That means investment into agriculture research and support through conversion.”





For several years Sri Lanka also has been suffering because of the excessive use of chemical fertilizers, weedicides and pesticides. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars to import these agro-chemicals from transnational giants but the consequences today are the pollution or poisoning of most of the food we eat while extensive ground water pollution has taken place and mother earth also is being slowly killed through soil pollution. The worst affected is the North-Central Province, the home base of President Maithripala Sirisena. Apparently due to water pollution thousands of people in that province are suffering from serious kidney ailments and require painful dialyses before they slowly die. So extensive is the crisis that President Sirisena recently worked out a deal with China to build a 500-room kidney hospital in the NCP.




We hope the visit of Bhutan’s prime minister and his talks with government leaders here would inspire Sri Lanka to take a bold step towards organic agriculture so that our people could have access to food safety and security from the farm to the plate.          
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