Student - May 31, 2018

Dairy cows boost happiness in Bhutan

Albert Sikkema

Has the introduction of improved cattle breeds contributed to the Gross National Happiness of Bhutan? A bit, says PhD researcher Tashi Samdup. Farmers in intensive agriculture areas with a good market have benefitted especially.

PhD candidate Tashi Samdup had more than 180 farming households interviewed in four zones in Bhutan. © Shutterstock

Since 1972, the kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalaya has made Gross National Happiness its goal, as an alternative to striving solely for economic growth. PhD candidate Tashi Samdup wanted to look at what this happiness means for farmers. Bhutan’s largely small-scale farmers grow crops and keep livestock – mainly cows. In recent years, Bhutan has introduced cross-breeds of local cattle breeds and the European Brown Swiss and Jersey breeds, in order to boost milk yields. Samdup wanted to know if this had boosted happiness as well. He translated happiness into factors including: more milk, more income, greater literacy and clean drinking water.

Samdup studied four zones in the mountain state, ranging from a remote region with only extensive agriculture and local cattle breeds grazed on communal pastureland, to two intensive farming regions with a lot of improved cattle, better quality livestock feed and easier market access. In 2000 and 2004, he arranged for more than 180 farming households in these regions to be interviewed. In 2015, he repeated this for 123 of the households; the other 60 had moved or stopped farming.

Improved cattle
The improved cattle clearly produced more milk (two to four times as much) and generated more income than the local breeds, Samdup found. But one reason for that was that the improved cattle were mainly in the intensive farming areas where more feed is available. In the extensive farming areas, where predominantly local cattle roam on communal pastures, there was a shortage of feed.

All in all, the farmers in the intensive farming regions did better socially and economically than those in the remote region. This was partly because these farmers had better access to extension workers, the sperm of good European bulls, and the market for dairy products. That combination of market conditions increased the farmers’ Gross Happiness.

Yet Bhutan cannot be said to be undergoing sustainable stable rural development, says Samdup. Labour shortages and urban migration hold back that development. Samdup can formulate policy on the basis of his research, since he is director-general of the ministry of Livestock in Bhutan.

Tashi Samdup received his PhD on 16 May from Imke de Boer, professor of Animal Production Systems.