Transforming our villages

I am delighted that the agriculture minister is traveling to our dzongkhags to discuss the 10th Plan and to identify viable products that our villagers can make (read Taking the 10th plan to the people). If villagers and local leaders are fully involved in the process and genuinely accept his idea, our agriculture minister could bring about a true and sustained transformation of our villages. Well done.

The following article, reproduced from the PDP manifesto, talks about how the One Village One Product movement could transform villages in Bhutan:

Ohita is a small village in Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu, which is just about the size of Bhutan. Twenty years ago, Ohita was a sleepy backwater of Japan. Its young people were leaving for cities in droves, its economy was fast declining, and farmers increasingly depended on government subsidies that harmed Ohitaps’ spirit of self-reliance and self-respect.

Today, Ohita is a vibrant agro-based economy. It is a choice destination for Japanese looking for business and employment opportunities, and for foreign tourists looking for modern Japan steeped in tradition and pristine nature. “Made in Ohita” is recognized as the sign of unique farm produce of outstanding quality, and equally unique agro-industry products born of old heritage and new technology.

The One Village One Product Movement, started in 1979, is the power behind this transformation. The Movement was the brainchild of Ohita’s then-Governor Hiramatsu, who envisioned a dynamic and vibrant Ohita. But, he wanted to do it in ways that nurtured what he thought was the root of all sustained change: leaders who can inspire and move the community.

The Movement simply enables people and their community leaders to take up a product or an industry that is distinctive to their region, and transform it into a nationally or internationally accepted one. The government never used subsidies as a means to do so, for fear of hindering self-reliance and lasting success. Measures provided, instead, were leadership training, technical assistance, filling information gaps in marketing and distribution. (See the OVOP website for details.)

Around sixty communities of Ohita now produce more than 300 products of distinction bringing gainful employment and prosperity to the region. Among them are: “Shiitake” mushrooms regarded as the world’s best, commanding a lion’s share of Japan’s market; a flavorful “Kabosu” lime of ancient variety that is thought to have survived only in Ohita; a large number of processed products made from these unusual limes; “Bungo” meat that topped Japan’s Grand Championship; and various distilled barley spirits coveted for their smooth taste – like the best of our own ara.

The Movement’s success generated excitement elsewhere. It is spreading all over Japan and to many communities abroad – in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Thailand, and even USA and beyond.

Our people in villages are steeped in our cultural and natural heritage, in what they produce and how they live. One Product One Village Movement has a perfectly fertile soil, right here in Bhutan.

Possibilities are endless – limited only by our own imagination!


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  1. This would be a very welcome change if the movement indeed pulls through.
    But in a country like ours, I am in doubt if it’s not another of those exogeneous shocks. I am not pointing at our potential, but our susceptible policies.
    If I am not mistaken, last year (or the year before)One of our Banking institutions declared Liquidation.It did not lift even a single eyelash in the country. Nobody thought that Liquidation in other terms means Bankruptcy.
    Now the World Bank tagged Bhutan a Debt Distressed Country. Bhutan times reports as “A False Alarm”
    backed by our country’s explanation that ‘We have Hydro-Electric Projects” to pay it off and that it’s nothing to panic about. Come on! Somebody needs to wake up! 80% of GDP debt outstanding is not a false alarm.
    This is a clear indication that we are in serious trouble, if we are already not in a debt trap. What does this tag mean?
    Our growth/developement is too slow, or we have very weak policies/institutions. This is a symptom of a much bigger problem within our policy.
    Whom can we trust? I have no idea. The Country’s two houses are in a limbo over the interpretation of Bill and Budget. An Indian Advocate has been invited to do the favor.
    The two political parties are managing huge government funds (our money)when they are already in trouble managing their own money. They spent what they did not have.The ECB has warned them and given them some dateline. What are your opinions?

    I am not a financial expert.

    Thank you.

  2. What would be necessary as an effort from the Government should also come from the people…. i say this becuase it is true that our government is making efforts… and trying. What is also need is an equally motivated people who want to see the country where they want.and action is a pre- requisit. not just on the parts on the government but everyone.
    people complain about a lot of things but most of the time they just complain. Ask people to come and work for a weekend … they literally one hundrend and one excuses.
    I am not saying that government shouldn’t do things for the people and the country. its thier job… what i am also saying is that… we should perhpas go beyond our own needs.
    Consider this: business poeple are only worried about how to do business, civil servants are worried about thier own stuff, and like wise…. MPs are i don’t know may be worried about thier position…. taking risk can be challenging….. but taking risk can be the answer too.
    there are not many people taking risk in Bhutan!!!

  3. I was under the impression that our Ministry of Agriculture had adopted the notion of ‘one village one product’ some years back. (Also the Department of Trade for exportable products) The notion appeared more advanced in the Livestock sub-sector, I thought. But, of course, I’m only referring to the products for the domestic market. E.g. dairy products and eggs.

    A thought that occurred to me during my field visits was the huge potential in the east to grow tonnes of maize (rather than paddy) and its potential to be converted (processed) into markettable products. ‘Tengma’ and ‘kharang’ we all know as traditional home made products. A newer machine made product from maize is ‘cornflake’ (not bad). But, what the eastern people seem most specialized in is making local wine (ara/eu chhang) from maize and other crops (e.g. millet). Almost all Bhutanese families/households need it for rituals and as an offering in temples, so we do have a market (domestic). We can look for international market as well, if we must. I had even heard that the RNR Research team in Wengkhar (Mongar) was trialling making of ara with improved technology. Don’t know what happened after that. During geog level planning meetings in the east, ara was raised as a potential product for marketting. But, it was discouraged by ‘policy’. It is understandable with ‘alcoholism’ as a major problem in our country, but there must be a way of educating the communities on the ‘use’ (income generation) rather than ‘abuse’ of the product. Once the ‘value’ is visible with improvement in people’s standard of living, I’m sure communities will gradually choose ‘use’ over ‘abuse’. Currently, villages in the east are known for wasting their crops in wine production for self consumption. (No value addition) It’s a fact that we cannot deny but that we cannot neglect either.

    I came across an individual in Drametse making wine (pink) out of fermented plums. It wasn’t bad at all. I found that Trashiyangtse is popular with their millet wine. So, wine alone can be a specialization in several eastern villages. While one village might specialize in wine from maize, another could specialize in wine from plums and another from millet, etc.

    A potential market for ‘kharang’ is schools that provide midday meals for dayscholars and all day meals for boarders. I was told that ‘kharang’ used to be in demand but the price offer dropped and it had to be lifted. Soon the WFP will be withdrawn, as we already know, but we would still have poor community children in schools in need of a midday meal. (Of course, some might argue that FCB rice would be cheaper than home made kharang.)

    Dairy and poultry farms are also emerging as potential market for maize (feed) for the cattle and poultry. I had heard of an enormous Japanese imported maize crusher bought for mass production of maize feed in the east, but now lying somewhere unutilized. What a waste!

    CCTV once showed how a couple in a village in China had transformed their fish tanks into a fishing resort for tourists. Surrounding the fish tanks was a simple locally made structure (roof but no walls) with tables and chairs for tourists to relax and relish a variety of fresh fish dishes. They surely were an enterprising village couple. Of course, when it comes to livestock products in Bhutan, religion plays its rightful part in discouraging village people to undertake poultry farming and piggery.

    The greatest strength in our villages, I feel, is the tradition of ‘community mobilization’ and ‘formation of groups’. This is something villages can be proud of and also use to their best advantage. For mass production and, therefore, better scope for marketing, community mobilization and groups/cooperatives are essential. If you talk to the geog RNR officials, they will tell you that the ‘group’ idea does not work because people find it hard to stay united. Kinda sad, isn’t it? Our country’s past stories tell us of strong communal sense. What happened? But, do we really know why it doesn’t work today? One of the factors as per my observation is the way the groups are formed nowadays – on ‘compulsion’ rather than ‘interest’, in many cases. Decisions are made for the people rather than allowing them to make their own decisions (with the well fed information on policy, advantages, limitations, benefits, risks, etc, through the use of effective participatory tools).

    But, of course, ‘one village one product’ (‘niche’ product, in other words) does not apply to agriculture alone. It can be applied to ‘cultural based creative industry’ (textile, pottery, paper, wood products, etc) and we have a great opportunity in the Tenth Plan. What I think would add impetus is public-private partnership.

  4. “One Village One Product” is a good idea but such specialization of labor will destroy the social fabric that had closely held the community together to make the community a small but a self sufficient economy.

    For example, a village will have a variety of trades: someone who is a carpenter; someone who can paint; someone who can weave bamboo mats; someone who can make good arrows; someone who can brew good “aras” and so on. In the olden days, our villages were more or less very self sufficient and independent. They had all they needed in the village. You want to make a house, u can call the Ap Zow. You want to paint your “choesham”, the Ap Lhadrip is there. You need good “aras”, you will know where to find it.

    But if we try to specialize villages in producing just one particular product, in the long run as we have seen in some countries where this development idea was implemented, just within a few years the villages became heavily dependent on other villages for almost everything they needed in their lives and that made living life for the villagers very difficult. People focussed on only one trade and the other trades becames extinct from that village. In doing so, your village may produce bamboo products only and if you want some “patang, tari and toktsi”, you must get it from some other village. If that village is nearby, you are lucky but if you are in a village in Paro and the village where you can get the things you want is in Trashigang, you have a big problem. Villages are not self sufficient any more.

    One main reason why the people protested and ousted the business-minded Prime Minister Thaksin in Thailand is because his idea of “One Tambon One Product(OTOP)” was proving detrimental to the country’s social structure at the grassroots undermining the time-tested age old development principle of “Self Sufficiency Economy” of the King. I think perhaps our leaders and politicians must study in detail about the pros and cons of this idea before trying to implement it in our country. Or, shall we let them spend huge resources, both money and in kinds, and then if it does not work, we will just leave it there? Not a good idea. I think our leaders and politicians must do an in-depth study of the unpopularity (let me not call it a failure entirely) of the OTOP in Thailand because our two countries have a lot in common- both are democratic kingdoms and both have wise kings with wise development principles based on Buddhist philosophy.

    just a thought.

  5. The whole point here, I think, is to move above and beyond ‘self sufficiency,’ mena? Why is it that our villages must remain the way they are, in the name of self sufficiency? They’ve got to also improve their living standard by earning a better living with the sale of their skills (not exploitation). They must be given better and wider economic opportunities through better connectivity with towns.

    Perhaps the Thai OTOP was not implemented properly or fairly. I don’t think the idea itself was bad. Unless we do a careful analysis of the problem – i.e. why it didn’t work – we would be making wrong conclusions on the basis of face value. Sometimes, people can react passionately (in the Thai case because the OTOP was contradicting the King’s principle of ‘self sufficiency economy’). A section of our people also reacted passionately when the fourth King initiated ‘democracy’. They didn’t want democracy, not because they had understood what ‘democracy’ was all about and they thought it would bring disaster to the country. They displayed their genuine love for the King and everlasting trust in the King to run the country. They have faith that the King is the best for them. Whereas, the fourth King had already prepared our people (through decentralization) to govern the country.

  6. i thought GNH meant self sufficiency……self sufficient villages…self sufficient dzongkhags….self sufficient country…don’t get wrong…self sufficiency does not mean living in poverty….u r missing the point here.

  7. If GNH is ‘a guiding philosophy to create enabling conditions for development’, then ‘one village one product’ may be viewed as an enabling rural condition for self sustaining individual growth (meaning ‘value addition’). At the end, what should matter (irrespective of whether we are a democracy) is that individuals have been given equal opportunities to build their capability to make a decent living and be happy. How the individual chooses to make the living and what makes them happy is for the individual to decide.

    We focus too much on ‘the whole’ for self sufficiency, therefore ‘uniformity’ and ‘mainstreaming’ and consequently ‘exclusion’ of disadvantaged groups. I think we’ve got to move away from this and be more focused and targetted.

    I do not know about missing the point. I am actually trying to make a point here.

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