This past September I had the honor of lecturing at the 7th International Congress on Traditional Asian Medicine which was held in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Herb Pharm was a corporate sponsor of the event. The congress was attended by 300 people from 30 different countries, including traditional healers, doctors, herbalists and acupuncturists from Tibet, China, India, Thailand, Bhutan, Korea and Japan; academic scholars, including medical anthropologists, medical historians, ethnologists, agronomists, ethnobotanists, many government healthcare policy makers; and one American herbalist, me.
I presented a lecture on “Conservation of Wild Medicinal Plants Through Sustainable Wild-Harvesting and Propagation by Organic Agriculture,” and participated in several round-table discussions on conservation of endangered medicinal plants of the Himalayas. Besides attending this very interesting congress, I was also very happy to finally visit the exotic and very isolated Kingdom of Bhutan and its serene and friendly people. Before 1963 there were no roads going into Bhutan, so one could only enter the country by hiking through very dense, tiger-infested jungles in the south, or by trekking over very high Himalayan mountain passes in the north.
It’s not easy getting a travel visa to Bhutan; they only allow in a small number of tourists per year. Bhutan – which many call “The Last Shangri-la” – is very isolated geographically and is just coming into the modern world. This emerging nation is now modernizing, but not at the expense of overwhelming its traditional culture and pristine environment. Fortunately Bhutan’s king is very wise and is learning from the mistakes made by other devel-oping nations. The Bhutanese government’s guiding philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) gives precedence to its people’s happiness over GNP (Gross National Product). The government allows very few multinational corporations to establish in Bhutan and, instead, favors and promotes its own people and businesses. Television and internet only arrived in 1999. It was so pleasant in the capital city of Thimpu with-out the likes of McDonalds, KFC or 7-11. There are no electric signs; the air is very clean because there are few cars and the sale of tobacco is banned nationwide; also, the national sport is archery, not soccer; and most citizens still wear traditional Bhutanese costume. With a population of 650,000, 80% percent of Bhutanese derive their income from agriculture, of which 95% is free of synthetic chemicals.
The new government has rejected GMOs and only allows the introduction of a few non-native plants. They are very supportive of the development of internationally-certified organic agriculture. Free medical care is provided for all, and the government fully supports the Bhutanese traditional healing system, which is very similar to traditional Tibetan medicine. I visited their National Institute of Traditional Medicine Services which has a traditional-medicine hospital, medical school, and a manufacturing herbal pharmacy for which I’ve been asked to consult in order to bring it up to an international GMP standard. I was extremely proud to represent Herb Pharm at such a prestigious international congress and to see how favorably impressed attendees were by the work we all do.
Originally Published Winter 2010