Rich in biodiversity and home to medicinal plants and nutritious crops, mountain ecosystems are threatened by deforestation, soil degradation and erosion. The International Conference on Organic and Ecological Agriculture in Mountain Ecosystems held in Thimphu, Bhutan, presented a wealth of evidence proving that going organic is key to sustaining vulnerable mountain ecosystems. A total of 105 participants, 61 international and 44 local, including farmers, agriculturists, academics, entrepreneurs, development partners, government officials, and planners all came to together with the aim of expediting the realization of ‘Organic Himalaya’.
Following the opening address by Minister Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji, Ministry of Agriculture & Forests Bhutan, where the country’s commitment to 100% organic was reaffirmed, the audience heard contributions from Pema Gyamtsho, Opposition leader in Bhutan, Andre Leu, IFOAM President, Vandana Shiva and Hans Herren, both Alternative Nobel Prize laureates from Navdanya and the Millennium Institute, to name but a few.
The generally promoted high external input monoculture models are unsuitable for mountain eco-systems and are contributing to climate change, loss of biodiversity, water exploitation and pollution. This cannot be the way forward, as already stated in the IAASTD report, Agriculture at a Crossroads (IAASTD, 2009). A number of issues though need tackling on the journey from chemical based farming to organic.
“Soil health is fundamental to all our activities but we are losing 30 soccer fields per day,” pointed out Volkert Engelsman, IFOAM World Board Member and CEO of Eosta. Organic and ecological farming is the answer to sustaining soil health.
Knowledge gaps and policy shortcomings will have to be addressed. "The United Nations needs to learn, that evidence for potential ecological nutrition for all is there,” says Hans Herren, Head of the Millennium Institute.
The conventional system is failing. A billion people go to bed hungry every day. It is high time for the organic alternative, particularly in mountain systems. As Markus Arbenz, IFOAM Executive Director, says “Everybody agrees that 100% organic is the way forward but local stakeholders need to know how this can happen". Such processes may take time and Bhutan Minister of Agriculture Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji reassures "We will not implement organic at the cost of farmers”.
IFOAM will support this transition by devising a National Action Plan in close cooperation with the National Organic Programme (NOP). Roberto Ugas, IFOAM Vice-President is hopeful that “ the steps implemented here will trigger a similar transition in the Andes.”
The International Conference on Organic and Ecological Agriculture in Mountain Ecosystems closed with a declaration establishing the actions to be taken in order to implement the paradigm shift from chemical based farming to organic.
Information on the Conference Organizers
This conference was co-organized by the National Organic Programme (NOP) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF), the Royal Government of Bhutan, Navdanya (India), the Millennium Institute as well as the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM). IFOAM represents the organic movement in its full diversity and is dedicated to increasing the global uptake of organic agriculture. The NOP, MoAF is mandated to coordinate and promote organic agriculture development in the country. IFOAM, represented by its President Andre Leu, and Navdanya, represented by Dr. Vandana Shiva, fully support and assist Bhutan in realizing its organic vision. The Millennium Institute headed by the renowned scientist Dr. Hans Rudolf Herren is committed to establishing a link between Bhutan and the global agriculture policy setting community.
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IFOAM is the international umbrella organization of the organic world dedicated to taking organic agriculture to the mainstream. IFOAM unites, leads and assists the organic movement in its full diversity, while providing a common voice on relevant organic issues. IFOAM implements the will of its broad-based constituency, with Affiliates in more than 100 countries and is governed by a World Board originating from all continents. More information can be found under www.ifoam.org