Whenever we talk about agriculture issues in the country, we try to bring the bigger perspective. We are still largely an agrarian country but we haven’t enough to eat.
Many governments have come and gone but agriculture will remain the most important sector. What have we, really, beyond the many protected parks and increasing corridors for wild animals?
Our farmers can do well if the government can show them the right strategies to produce what the nation needs.
Agriculture is not the only problem facing the country today but something very debilitating has taken hold of the Bhutanese planning.
For example, why must loads of cabbage and carrot that our farmers grow go to waste?
What we must remember is that we know the government is forced to reprioritise the country’s many important plans. These are extraordinary times. Covid-19 is not going to go away easily. Simply put, when the neighbouring countries are shutting the borders, we need to think about feeding ourselves.
According to scientific studies, we are in for more lockdowns. Mutation of the virus will only multiply. As a landlocked country that has been depending on imports, the reality can be serious.
The basic question though is why can’t our farmers sell what they grow when food import figures are rising. The sector-based civil servants do not welcome such questions. But like it or not, the people will continue to ask such questions that have direct connections to their livelihoods.
We are told that achieving 100 percent food self-sufficiency is difficult given the country’s rugged terrain, high cost of production, and small landholding. But the real question is why can’t these trivial dynamics be changed?
Rugged terrain may be our challenge but we could invest in and harness the benefits of new technologies. Copping out is not an option.
We have dignified a ministry and given it a mandate to chart out a long-term planning so that the nation doesn’t have to depend on food import.
The farmers are feeling short-changed because there are no clear directives as to what they must grow and how much in a year. Seasonal cropping is not a difficult idea.
The ministry can intervene to advise farmers as to how much of a particular crop they must grow in a year. It takes just a simple market study.
Food self-sufficiency has been the most important development theme since the first plan. However, we have not made significant headway since 1961.
Who do we blame, farmers, market, or civil servants upon whom realistic planning and executions of plans rest?
Our cabbage and carrot must find markets not rivers to address inherent problems in the many sectors of the agriculture ministry.
Food self-sufficiency has to be Bhutan’s foremost objective because so much lies on it. For a proud and independent Bhutan, it matters all the more.