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The identification Journey Has Concluded for Now.

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

After we had to cancel our identification journey in Bumthang during November 2022 we were able to continue our Identification Journey through eastern Bhutan in January 2023, starting from the Lhuentse district. During this Journey we have continued to seek out additional locations that would come to more fully cover the rich variation in food systems and localities across Bhutan. Besides considering the scientific interest, we have also investigated the practical feasibility of working in these sites, and, last but not least, have sought acceptance from the different layers of the administrative apparatus—including Dasho Dzongdag and Dzongkhag administration ( the district head and administration), the Gup and Gewog administration (at village level sometimes including several villages or hamlets), and the Tshogpa’s at the Chiwog (bloc) level—and of potential host families.


Formal meetings:


First, we continued our journey to Lhuentse where our colleague Paljor Galay unexpectedly alone had to present the research to the Dzongkhag administration as Wim had a food poisoning. Thereafter, we visited three very different locations in terms of being clustered or spread, remote or close to the district’s center, cultivation, empty houses or Gungtong (witnessing the rural-urban migration).


Lhuentse:



View into Lhuentse valley


We were left with a difficult selection since all three sites were interesting and unique, clearly illustrating the difficulty of generalization, which is often a point of discussion when we present this research. How do we select and generalize from the sites when local contexts shape the food system quite drastically (e.g., access to roads and markets). It is one of the aims of this project to integrate such questions of scale; How do we integrate the large- and small-scale influences into a singular yet pluralistic model?

After Lhuentse, our journey took us to Trashi Yangtse where we had our meetings and our site visits. This time, we also visited sites which required a good condition for walking on steep hillsides as some of the locations were only reachable by foot. Here, the food environment was quite different compared to Lhuentse: less maize, but more millet and rice, and with additional specific food items of the area.


Thrashi Yangtse:



Thrashi Yangtse scattered habitation

In Thrashi Yangtse, Wim was also able to join the annual rituals at a temple high upon the hill, observing the different stages marked by specific food offerings, as well as the sometimes frantic activities of the hosts followed by calm interludes.


Annual ritual:


In Thrashigang, we were unfortunately less lucky and were unable to proceed with our meeting with the Dzongkhag administration, so there we had no possibility to visit potential sites, and therefore we will not conduct research in this district. We did however observe some rituals there and some of the offerings.


Offerings:


We thus left earlier to Pema Gatshel, but as we were leaving, Wim was bitten by a dog and we had to visit the Basic Health Unit (BHU) to get the injections against rabies. Happily, these units are well spread across Bhutan and we could proceed to Pema Gatshel the same day. This seems to be the least accessible district we have visited throughout our entire journey as the roads are small and bumpy, and the area is clearly prone to landslides. We were able to visit several remote locations where the rural-urban migration is impinging drastically on village life. We concluded that this district epitomizes clearly several of the key challenges rural communities face such as the migration of young people to educational and urban centers in Bhutan and abroad.


Pema Gatshel:



Driving further down to Samdrup Jongkhar, we encountered again very different socio-ecological foodscapes. We visited three rural and semi-urban sites as well as the bordertown Samdrup Jongkhar, where we had our meeting with the district officials and where we could observe the border trade where food items enter from India. Again, hard to choose, but we got particularly interested in the Sarchop communities engaged in slash-and-burn cultivation, which we had not observed in that way elsewhere.


Samdrup Jongkhar:


Village

After the entire identification journey, the Principal Investigator, Wim Van Daele, has been able to gain an overview of the sheer variation across the different sites across Bhutan, and we are very grateful for this opportunity. We have a good sense of the overall context and the local variation which will contribute to our final selection of sites and their comparison in variation. We have also been able to speak with many officials of the country, which has furnished us with rich data and novel insights, and we have been able to create awareness about the EATWELL project and the importance of thorough qualitative research to solve health challenges.

As rewarding as this journey has been, we are also happy that it is finished for now. Travelling day in and out across many bumpy and small roads, sometimes dangerous, and that for 6 to 9 hours a day besides all the meetings for weeks in one go, is exhausting. On top of that, it is sometimes a challenge to find safe food and clean lodging as one travels some of the remotes places and stops at small roadside food stalls and hotels.




Food on the go

Yet, the general sense prevails that we have been so privileged to travel through these different areas and to speak with so many people of all walks of life. Now, we are contacting the officials of the selected sites and hope we get a positive answer in line with the positive responses we have received during our meetings, yet nothing is sure until the time we can start the actual fieldwork where we follow the food into the numerous directions it takes us…

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