Yearender | Agriculture: The agriculture sector, that 58 percent of the population depends on for their livelihood, experienced some major milestones in the year of the Monkey.

Bhutan exported eggs to Kolkata, India for the first time.

The Farm Mechanisation Corporation was established and will provide farmers with machinery and mechanisation services at low and subsidised rates.

The Kuchi Diana Irrigation scheme, one of the largest in the country, in Yoeseltse gewog in Samtse was inaugurated. The 7.2km irrigation canal benefits more than 300 households of Yoeseltse and Sangacholing gewogs and covers more than 950 acres.

The ministry launched the much awaited National Forest Inventory Report. The three and a half years survey found that 71 percent of the country is under forest cover with an estimated tree count of 816.5 million trees.

The year also saw several important event and launches, the notable ones being the Highland Festival in Laya, the native poultry or breeding and conservation centre in Lhuentse, the National Mastiff Breeding Centre at Gasa, and National Yak Breeding Farm in Haa.

The new Regional Tiger and Cat Research Centre at Tingtibi, Zhemgang, and the Southern Wildlife Rescue Centre in Sarpang could bring much needed relief to the welfare of wildlife.

A newly discovered dragonfly was named the Gyalsey Emerald Spreadwing.

Electric fencing continues to protect crops from wildlife depredation. The ministry installed more than 651km of electric fencing in the 20 dzongkhags using locally fabricated materials. The fences benefit nearly 4,000 households and covers 6,000 acres of dry and wet lands.

India’s demonitisation campaign affected the cash crop export business. Farmers from Wangdue waited for more than a month to get paid for their potatoes.

Then there were the bans. The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) in May declared a ban on the import of beans and cauliflowers as test results showed toxic pesticide residues beyond the permissible limits. The country imported these vegetables from Falakata, India.

The authority then on July 24 banned the import of chillies from India for same reason after tests in regional testing centres in India and Thailand.

Immediately after the ban, local chilli producers and vendors hiked prices to more than Nu 400 a kilogramme.

The agriculture ministry scanned neighbouring states for safe chillies to import. The ministry’s winter chilli production plan misfired as the Food Corporation of Bhutan had to continue supplying about 20 metric tonnes of chillies across the country.

Some people were even arrested for illegally importing chillies from across the border.

The authority then banned the use of Potassium Bromate in bread or baked food products in July.

Citing toxic levels of heavy metals in seaweed products, BAFRA banned the import and sale of all forms of seaweed through a public notification on November 14.

The ministry continued to construct farm roads, distribute power tillers and green houses, and set up farm shops in every gewog.

The 100th of 200 planned farm shops was inaugurated in Sakteng, Trashigang. These farm shops market local farm produce and cater to the basic needs of farmers.

The government increased the loan ceiling of the Rural Enterprise Development Corporation Ltd (REDCL) from Nu 100,000 to Nu 500,000. As of today, 2,200 projects have been approved amounting to Nu 617 million.

Human-wildlife conflict and lack of irrigation facilities remain the two most challenging issues for the agriculture sector.

The continued existence of Human-Wildlife Conflict committees, also known as gewog environment conservation committees that have been formed to compensate in some form the loss of livestock or crops to wild animals, is currently under review.

There are 46 such committees formed in 15 dzongkhags across the country since the inception of the Human-Wildlife Conflict endowment fund in 2010. The forestry department had a target of establishing 126 such committees by the end of the 11th Plan from 11 in 2012.

Tshering Palden