A cruel irony

The proposal to dissolve the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives is a big blow to the hundreds of people who are looking at farming or agriculture as future prospects.

The department has an important mandate even if it had not lived up to it.  It was started to transform the renewable natural resources or RNR sectors from subsistence to market-oriented farming, to improve the rural economy while supporting economic and social empowerment through the development of farmers’ groups and cooperatives.

The vision or the mandate is clear. That is what we needed and it is exactly what we need hearafter. Dissolving a department with a clear mandate for non-performance is not the solution. It is not the department’s fault, but those running or advising the department. It is like beating the cow when the calf, not tethered properly, stole the milk.

Agriculture has never received the attention it has during this pandemic even if we are predominantly an agrarian society with the sector employing the maximum active workforce.

There are grand plans beyond engaging the victims of Covid-19 impact to focus on agriculture. Triggered by the pandemic, we are talking about food self-sufficiency, organic farming, exports and product diversification. If there is political will, there is a willingness to toil and return to the villages, to farming.

The idea is not subsistence farming. Many are looking beyond self-consumption or the local market. The biggest problem for those in agriculture is in post-production. There is no market especially for the seasonal farm produce and shortage at other times.

We need market and marketing strategies. We need an organisation that would help the thousands of people living off agriculture. Rename it, revamp it or create a new one, but there has to be a body with the responsibility to plan, strategise, market and many more to sustain agriculture and make it lucrative.

Brand Bhutan, which we were so proud to talk about, has disappeared except for a few foreign companies who took advantage of the brand. An Indian businessman looking for prospects to invest in agriculture said that anything coming out Bhutan would sell. It may be an exaggeration when he said “bottled fart” would sell as “natural Himalayan clean air” on the international market if they told it came from Bhutan. But it does say a lot of things about Brand Bhutan.

The Covid-19 has provided us a new opportunity to relook into our policies. There is time to plan, re-strategise and overhaul an important aspect of marketing. All the chilies the farmers and tour guides grow will hit the market together. There will be no buyers and no price. It could discourage people from continuing. How do we add value? How do we save it for dry days? How do we ensure continuous supply? These are things we need to look into.

DAMC could go out, but we need to sustain the renewed interest in agriculture. It need not be a government department run by bored bureaucrats. Given the interest in agriculture in the Covid-19 times, what we need are experts with interest and willingness to help the nation build on an age-old profession, agriculture.

Farming has the potential to become attractive and lucrative if we can  seize on the advantages. And there are plenty.

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