Bumthang Swiss Cheese: A Model of Mutual-Benefit Cooperation

In the serene valleys of Bhutan’s Bumthang district, a remarkable partnership has flourished for over three decades, embodying the essence of mutual-benefit cooperation between farmers and a cheese manufacturing unit. Nestled amidst the picturesque landscape, Bumthang Swiss Cheese has been a beacon of sustainable collaboration, bridging the needs of local dairy farmers with the demand for premium cheese varieties.

Established in the 1980s under a partnership between Helvetas and the government, Bumthang Swiss Cheese evolved into a family-run enterprise after its privatization in 1991. Spearheaded by Yoezer Lhamo and her family, the cheese factory stands as a testament to the enduring bonds forged between rural communities and entrepreneurial ventures.

At the heart of this symbiotic relationship lies a simple yet powerful exchange: the factory’s need for milk and the farmers’ quest for a reliable market. Each morning, Yoezer Lhamo’s son traverses the verdant countryside, collecting milk from local farmers who have been steadfast suppliers for over three decades. For families like Lamden’s, who have entrusted their livelihoods to this partnership for 32 years, the assurance of a consistent market has been a cornerstone of stability, especially during challenging times like the Covid-19 pandemic.

“What more could farmers ask for?” echoes Ap Sangayla, reflecting on the ease with which they contribute to the cheese-making process. With a streamlined system in place, farmers focus on tending to their cows while the factory ensures a seamless collection and purchase of milk.

Yet, this collaboration extends beyond mere transactions. Recognizing the interdependence between dairy farmers and the cheese factory, Bumthang Swiss Cheese invests in the prosperity of its suppliers. From extending financial support for livestock investment to incentivizing quality milk production, the factory cultivates a culture of mutual growth and success.

However, amidst the backdrop of this harmonious partnership lies a sobering reality—the gradual decline of Bhutan’s cattle population. Despite Bumthang’s rich agricultural heritage, the number of livestock farmers has dwindled over the years, posing a significant challenge to the sustainability of dairy farming.

In response, Yoezer Lhamo emphasizes the need for collective action to revitalize the dairy sector. Securing partnerships with entities like the Brown Swiss Cattle Farm underscores the factory’s commitment to ensuring a steady supply of high-quality milk, vital for producing premium cheese varieties.

As the sun sets over the tranquil valleys of Bumthang, the legacy of mutual-benefit cooperation shines brightly, illuminating a path towards sustainable rural development. In the timeless dance between tradition and innovation, Bumthang Swiss Cheese and its dedicated network of farmers exemplify the profound impact that collaborative ventures can wield in nurturing thriving communities.

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