Even as agriculture is one of the most important sectors in the country, it is groaning under myriad challenges.
The sector’s growth has remained insufficient to adequately address poverty, which is largely a rural phenomenon, to attain food security and for sustained GDP growth. There have been interventions and innovations to speed the sector’s growth but it has remained relatively slow since 2000.
At the heart of this quandary seem to be subsistence agriculture that is still being practiced and not enough diversification. At the start of this decade when overall employment grew only by 0.9 percent, employment in agriculture increased by 2.2 percent. While the sector is still the largest employer, production from the sector and the sub-sectors is able to meet only half the domestic demand.
One of the serious challenges facing the sector today is the demographic shit. While the urban population is growing, majority of our people in the rural areas are the ageing, giving rise to the issue of labour shortage in the sector. Decreasing public investment, lack of credit opportunities, loss of agriculture land due to out-of-the-sector development, rural-urban migration and rising human-wildlife conflicts are some of the relatable factors that can potentially affect the sector’s performance. We must also consider other physical factors like climate change, natural calamities and disasters that will have impact on the sector.
Implications could be serious if we do not succeed in streamlining climate change and disaster risk reduction concerns with the sector’s overall development programme. Given the rugged terrain, only about 94,903 hectares of land is under agriculture. This is only 2.9 percent of the country’s total area – 0.8 percent under Chhuzhing, 1.8 percent under Kamzhing and 0.3 percent under orchards.
Agriculture must become our priority sector. There has been gradual investment decline in the sector since the 8th Plan. In the current Plan, development budget allocated to sector is just 6.4 percent. Investment in agriculture will have to grow if the sector is to grow. There is the need to maximise economic returns from their land.
The development of the sector is critical looking from the perspective of food security and self-reliance. This will, of course, need significant structural changes. Access to finance ought to be made easy. So far, agriculture has been benefitting only from a very small share of credit provided by financial institutions. This must change. It is time we made agriculture our priority sector.