Two ministries and a commission stress on going local

Choki Wangmo

Imagine red rice or the famous Ngyapja rice with local pork, chicken, trout and patsha damru instead of dal, at an official dinner.

This could be the possibility with a momentum towards promoting local produce, substituting imports and improving markets for local produce gaining support.

What is hailed as a good decision, the National Environment Commission (NEC) and two ministries have found a new way of promoting locally produced goods.

The NEC and the agriculture and economic affairs ministries will hereafter entertain only local produce at official functions, such as dinners, meetings and entertainments.

The decision, conveyed through circulars, is to promote local products and empower young entrepreneurs in the country. The move is expected to promote local market and entrepreneurship in renewable natural resources (RNR), while curbing waste production. 

 “No imported food, tea and snacks shall be entertained,” the circular stated.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said that to achieve food self-sufficiency there was a need to focus on increasing production, which was currently subsistence in nature due to small landholding.

The government is at the forefront to diversify market and provide opportunities to upcoming local entrepreneurs by internalising market. Food Corporation of Bhutan was instructed to target on procuring local produce, according to Lyonpo.

“Schools, hospitals and monastic centres are required to buy local agricultural products and we are exploring opportunities in tertiary institutions and parallel markets,” Lyonpo said.

The government will issue executive order to schools and hospitals to buy local produce, which is expected to supersede the existing procurement rules and regulations.

But an increased local production requires ensured market.

In the initial phase, the government is promoting commercial farming and plans to use private fallow and government lands to cultivate crops and vegetables, while interested farmers can lease government lands.

Rice continues to be the highest imported item in the country. Lyonpo said the government plans to promote diversification in dietary habits to reduce import by growing different types of food crops. “We will revive cereals like millet, buckwheat, and maize.”

Records show that Bhutan imported 42,554 MT of rice in the first half of 2019, an increase of 12 percent compared with the same period last year. The import of rice amounted to Nu 1,063M, showing an increase of Nu 97M in the first half of the year.

The economic affairs ministry followed suit with a notification requesting public to use local products from cottage and small industries.

 “We are creating entrepreneurs and helping young people to grow organic and healthy products that will contribute to improving healthy life and achieving economic self-reliance,” the notification stated.

However, Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said the local products required proper branding.

“We know Bhutanese products are unadulterated compared to imported items but we need to work on value addition,” adding that the CSI and startup flagship covered certification, branding and packaging.

Lyonpo said the ministry could collaborate and work with the agriculture ministry to access international markets.

Currently, RNR and CSI entrepreneurs are mostly small-scale producers and is found to lack consistency and professional skills.

If CSI products were properly developed, the minister said that the products have potential to slowly reduce import in the market and upscale export. It is because of abundant domestic resources to ensure a sustainable production.

In an effort to reduce plastic waste, metal and glass jars, cups and glasses or biodegradable containers will be used for drinking water within the agriculture ministry.

The initiative, however, has been picking up in international organisations within the country. 

 Meanwhile, the netizens welcomed the move and recommended the ministry to increase the reach of bio-plates during other occasions such as tshechus and dzongkhag tshogdus so that farmers will earn income from the sale.

One suggested hoteliers buying local instead of importing every ingredient. “We produce high quality baby corns used in high-end hotels but they import from outside,” he wrote

“The ministry can implement the initiative and encourage hoteliers to procure from local farmers and empower them,” he said.

However, others were skeptical about the implementation of the initiative. “It might remain in papers just like some of the bans in the country,” one wrote.