News and Views on Tibet

Interview: Striving for a more eco-friendly agricultural policy

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The political and social landscape has undergone certain changes since the 12th Kashag (Cabinet) headed by Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche took over. One noted policy which has been discussed widely in the community is the agricultural policy the administration is currently pursuing in the Tibetan settlements. Tibetnet spoke to the head of the Agriculture division and additional secretary of the Home Department of the Central Tibetan Administration, Mr Thudop Dorjee. He is the man overseeing the transformation of the farming practise from chemical-based to organic farming. He explained in detail what the Administration strives to achieve in the near future.

Q. How did the Agriculture division, which you are heading, first started?

A. The Agriculture division, which is now part of the Home Department was first started in 1996. The idea first came up through the initiative of an Israeli couple who volunteered to help the exile community in agriculture. After two weeks of working in a project in Orissa Tibetan settlement funded by the Danish Foreign Ministry, the Israeli friends broached the idea on setting up a separate department for Agriculture in order to effectively carry out the various Agricultural projects.

The Kashag reviewed the possibilities and after much consultation decided to start a separate division rather than a new department. I was asked to take over this new division in the Home Department because of my background in Agricultural Science from Norway.

Soon after the setting up of the office, we began training Tibetans from the 12 agrarian settlements. On completing the training, we received funds from the European Union and with that we began building better-equipped storehouses and helped our farmers by providing better-quality seeds and other necessities. Various programmes were carried out with the hope of imparting our farmers with the latest know-how in the agricultural world.

Q. Any change in the annual yield or in the living condition of the farmers after these efforts?

A. In the last eight years or so, we have put lots of efforts in educating our farmers to make the most of the natural resources they have in their hands. We tried to teach them to make an effective use of the organic and green manure and keep the soil less dependent on chemicals. We also stressed on local techniques in soil and water conservation.

If we look at the farming trend in the various settlements, almost all the settlements had till then adopted a mono culture- mostly focussed on growing maize. This has made the soil lose its natural ability to produce the required nutrients and also destroyed the natural habitat for the soil organisms that play an important part in keeping the soil fertile and live. In light of such happenings, we have taken steps to educate our people on the different methods of farming and sustainable land-use practices. We encouraged on adopting multi-cropping and crop rotation techniques.

It is not easy right now to say about our success in terms of yield and living condition of the people. Since we are dealing with something that is dependent on many factors; namely the condition of soil, local climate and the people involved, I think it is too early to make a judgement. However, I know that we have been able to make our farmers aware of the need of practising a more environmental friendly and sustainable method of farming.

Q. Please enlighten us on the concept of organic farming.

A. The technique of organic farming per se is not new as people think. India, for instance, has had this method of farming for a long time. It was replaced later on, as a result of the overdriving policies to increase agricultural yield; effectively propagated by the major chemical companies. The extensive and excessive use of pesticides, weed killer and genetically modified seeds did bring bumper crops initially. However, it did not guarantee such yield in the long run. Dependency on these artificial external agencies has now begun to put pressure on the future of bio-diversity, on the natural process of soil’s ability to regenerate ,on the environment in general and the health of the people in particular. The crop production has also begun to decrease.

In simple words, organic farming does not use man-made, chemical based fertilisers, pesticides, weed killer and genetically modified seeds. Instead, simple techniques of crop rotation, organic green manure, legumes and seed protection measures are used for that.

The present Kashag has in keeping with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s vision for a future Tibet based on principle of non-violence, that would emphasise on the adoption of a more humane and compassionate agricultural policies, decided to promote this method of farming. The underlying goal here is to make Tibet in the distance future, the only repository of natural and chemical free crops in the world. The Kashag has also given the utmost importance to the provision in our Charter of the exile Tibetans, guiding future Tibet towards adopting such methods in the areas of agriculture and animal husbandry.

It has been almost two years now since we started promoting this project in the exile community.

Q. What are the difficulties you face in making a smooth transition from earlier practise of chemical -based farming to organic farming?

A. The Kashag’s decision to adopt this method of farming was duly endorsed by the 13th Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies during their 2nd and 3rd Parliamentary session. Soon after that, in April 2002, I went to the three Tibetans settlements in Arunachal Pradesh to speak on the policy. But since in those areas, the farmers have mostly used the traditional methods, thus promoting the idea was not so much of a problem. It was more difficult in the more populated and agrarian settlements in Orissa and south India.

The problem here is obviously in convincing our people about the long term benefits. When we tried to tell about this method of farming to the people, the first thing they wanted to know was on the prospect of quick return from such practise. There exist a deep sense of scepticism among our people with the notion of such a thing being non-profitable. As a result of that, we feel we still haven’t received a 100% willingness from our people to go ahead with organic farming.

We are just telling our farmers to make less use of chemicals and adopt a more eco-friendly method of farming.

Q. Won’t there be any problems in marketing organic products and does the administration plan to provide institutional support to the farmers in this respect?

A. It is true, before the economic liberalisation, India did not have the market for this brand of food. However, I know things have now changed and the market for such food products is not confined only in the west, but a growing section of the Indian consumers are also into this. For instance in Bangalore, the hotels have now started adding organic food in their menus, mainly due to the demands it has. It will therefore be wrong to say such products has no market in India. Instead, the market is becoming more promising now.

I don’t think our administration will do anything to facilitate the sale of the organic food products. The co-operatives of the respective settlements will have to take care of this aspect.

Q. Have you fixed a timeframe for completing the whole process?

A. It’s hard to fix a timeframe for such a project. So far, what we have done is educate our people about this method.

In each of the agrarian settlements, we have put about half acre of land under this technique and half acre on natural farming on an experimental basis. With this, we hope to convince our people to buy the idea.

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