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It was in 2011, Pema Gyalpo organized some of the interested individuals of his native village of Chimung, and started the SOCOP. A year earlier his friend Keibo Oiwa, an anthropologist and ecologist from Japan visited Chimung and was profoundly impressed by its natural and cultural richness. It was the beginning of a passionate international discussion over the future of the village, and pursuit of a sustainable rural development most suitable for the village. Pema Gyalpo and Oiwa came to focus on the traditional cotton culture that had been abandoned since 35 some years and almost forgotten.
As it turned out, the whole process of cotton culture, from farming, spinning, dying, to weaving was still remembered by a few older members of the community and seemed possible to revive. It was also fortunate that some seeds were found in a nearby village where on farmer had maintained cotton cultivation until recently for self-consumption. Organic cotton plantation was initiated in 2012 on an acre of land, as a pilot project. The harvest was woven into various garments using the traditional village methods. The locally available dyes were used for coloring. In the following year of 2013 the cotton farming was expanded, with a better and more yield and products.
The response to the “Chimung Moan” has been positive to say the least. The entirely hand-made, organic, and authentically traditional “goh” has drawn some enthusiastic responses in Bhutan. To test the possibility of fair-trade in the future, some fabric was also sent to Japan and Korea, and has already resulted in an additional income for the villagers involved. Looking at the expansion of the area under cultivation, this year we are expecting more harvest and higher income. One of the most important aspects of the pilot project is education; the SOCOP is a kind of “schooling” in which the younger generations of villagers learn the whole process of the now endangered cotton culture. In fact, now is the last chance to revive this important aspect of our precious culture.
PLANS The results from the pilot project will be used to expand into commercial production. The basic goals of the commercialization stage are to promote organic farming environment as a viable business and lifestyle alternative, to provide open markets and create jobs for school dropout youths, and increase income for farmers. This will also curb rural urban migration.
The commercial stage will comprise three steps:
  • Promoting Cooperative Farming
  • Establishing Markets
  • Establishing Incentives for Organic Farmers
The priority in commercialization will be the domestic market. However, as the supply increases, the market could be expanded to foreign consumers. We then hope to open retail outlet targeting tourists in Thimphu, etc. We could also explore possibilities in fair-trade market with Japan, and elsewhere. For these possibilities, the SOCOP will continue to work closely with Keibo Oiwa who has been in the environmental activities including fair-trade for a long time.
The cotton field of the SOCOP will be expanded to 20 acres within the next five years. Farmers willing to participate will be provided incentives based on the outcome. These incentives will include, but not limited to, price supports, guaranteed small loans and marketing assistance. The ultimate goal is to promote and expand farming in the village and address future environmental constraints on farming besides employment and higher income.
The SOCOP will promote organic cotton plantation as a way to reduce overall production costs, to generate additional income, to increase the incomes of the farmers in Chimung village, and to create a model of both ecologically and economically sustainable agriculture for other Bhutanese rural communities. If it is successful, it will also be an example of sustainable development in harmony with our proud GNH principles.
CONCLUSION The Sustainable Organic Cotton Project is a bold attempt to revive traditional organic cotton plantation. It will promote sustainable and improved economic and environmental friendly cotton farming while also helping in the preservation of tradition and culture and curbing rural urban migration. The climate in Chimung is just appropriate.
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