Feature

Bold Bhutan

Green Lifestyle magazine

This little country is pledging to be the first nation that’s 100 per cent organic.

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Nestled in the folds of the Eastern Himalayas lays the remote but very beautiful Kingdom of Bhutan. With pristine forests and waterways, this tiny country of just over 700,000 people boasts an enviable natural environment – a modern day Shangri-La.

For more than a thousand years the ‘land of the thunder dragon’ remained isolated from the rest of the world. There were no roads, no cars, no electricity and no telephones. It was a place untouched by modernisation or globalisation. Bhutan offers a rare glimpse into how our planet might have been had we followed a different path.

As it opened to the outside world, Bhutanese leaders understood the need to balance modernisation with tradition, development with environment, and growth with long-term sustainability. To achieve this the Kingdom took an unusual approach. Rather than focus purely on financial outcomes as a measure of success, Bhutan developed the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) to use as a yardstick for progress and as a blueprint for future growth. Yes, it is a country where happiness is officially more important than wealth.

The concept of GNH rests on four pillars: sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation and good governance. Every policy implemented in Bhutan is tested and filtered through these four principles. As a result, it has some of the most progressive green policies and economic initiatives anywhere on the planet and is blazing a sustainable trail that is attracting the attention of many around the world.

At the base of Bhutan’s green policy is the constitutional requirement that at least 60 per cent of the country remains forested, forever. This will ensure that Bhutan maintains its diverse ecosystems, and its place as a global biodiversity hotspot. It will also help Bhutan remain carbon neutral, a pledge it made at the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009, grandly titled the “Declaration of the Kingdom of Bhutan – the Land of Gross National Happiness, to Save our Planet”.

Bhutan has also announced that it aims to be the first nation in the world to be 100 per cent organic. Bhutan’s Prime Minister made this pledge in the lead-up to the Rio+20 climate conference last year, stating that “without food security there is no other kind of security”. “And without sustainable agriculture there is no food security,” he said. “We need to work with nature to enhance rather than degrade our precious soil and water.” It’s a message he hopes will be heeded by other nations around world.

Bhutan’s initiative to go organic will be a boost to the environment, but should also be a boost to the incomes of the predominant rural farming community. With the global organic market growing, and organic products usually demanding a premium, promoting Bhutan as an organic brand is likely to bring many benefits. And if constitutionally preserving the environment, being a carbon sink and going organic weren’t enough, Bhutan has a slew of other inspirational green policies.

To reduce dependence on fossil fuels, Bhutan has implemented a green tax on private transport and designated every Tuesday pedestrian day, banning all private transport in urban areas.
The education department has introduced a ‘green schools’ policy, where not only are all materials used in schools recycled but, alongside the three Rs, Bhutanese children are taught about agricultural techniques and the crucial importance of environmental protection.

It may seem strange that a small country that consists mainly of subsistence farmers, and where television and the Internet were banned until 1999, could teach us in the developed world. But thanks to insightful leadership and out-of-the-box thinking by Bhutan’s monarchy, Bhutanese policy is making big strides in green circles.

In our society, which seems so intent on economic growth at any cost, maybe some inspiration from a country like Bhutan is just the breath of fresh air we need.