Agriculture and environment issues continue to grow

Despite contributing about 17 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product, agriculture sector in 2018 was plagued by the same constraints: shortage of money.

Farming communities have been battling the same challenges for decades, which have only worsened in the recent years: increasing incidents of human-wildlife conflicts, drying irrigation sources, farmhand shortage, and marketing difficulties.

Elephants wreaked havoc in the paddy fields in Gelephu, even claim a human life near Pelrithang. The Regional Farm Machinery Corporation in Gelephu lost more than 90 percent of harvest to elephants.

Windstorms flattened crops and blew away parts of homes in Paro, Chukha, Sarpang, Mongar, and Samdrupjongkhar. Wind and hailstorm in March in two gewogs of Shompangkha and Gakidling of Sarpang blew away roofs of six houses and twelve poultry sheds and damaged 8,907 fruit bearing areca nut trees, 9,939 flowering orange trees, 3,757 banana trees, about 174 litchi trees, 64 mango trees, 31 guava trees, and 132 papaya trees.

More than 62 percent of Bhutan’s population is in rural parts of the country. In the past three years, rural population dropped from 530,679 to 452,178. Urban population, on the other hand, rose to 274,967 from 233,988. This has increased the burden on the decreasing farming population to produce more.

About 6.2 percent of the 163,001 households reported experiencing food insufficiency.

With 28 percent of cultivable land used for rice cultivation, Bhutan is only 47 percent self-sufficient in rice. Rice constitutes 53 percent of daily dietary energy requirement for Bhutanese. Bhutan cultivates rice on 53,055 acres and produces 85,090MT of rice annually. Loss of land to urbanisation and development activities remain the biggest challenge facing the agriculture sector.

In a span of nine months until September, more than Nu 667 million worth of meat and meat offal were imported. Import of butter and cheese alone was worth Nu 441.8M. The country exported dairy products worth Nu 30M.

Of the total cereal import worth Nu 2.7B, rice import amounted Nu 1.267B. Rice is the only food featured in the top-ten import commodity among petroleum products. The country imported Nu 2.69B worth of vegetables. 

Many farmers took up winter chili production but Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) still seized some 11 metric tonnes of imported chilies from India. BAFRA officials also seized 33kgs of fertilisers.

With SAARC Development Fund (SDF) grant, the country expects to increase rice yield by 15 percent, bringing 50 percent paddy fields left fallow under cultivation again and 10 percent of paddy fields under spring rice cultivation.

Cardamom, which used to be one of the cash crops with high return, was mired in the GST formalities. Export at one time came to a complete halt.

The prospect of food self-sufficiency looks bleak given the budget allocated to the sector in the Plan after Plan.

 

Environment

The year of the Dog saw many species of wild animals prowl into human settlements.

Royal Manas National Park spotted the one-horned rhinoceros in May 2018 for the first time after more than  two decades.

Elephants got bad press and foresters spent sleepless nights as a herd of pachyderm killed a man in Gelephu.

A tiger was spotted in Kabesa, Thimphu. The ailing cat was rescued and treated at the rehabilitation centre in Taba.

Water remains a major climate change issue in the country. A recent study showed that of the 6,624 water sources surveyed, 154 sources have dried and 2,231 were drying.

Waste problem continues to grow. National Environment Commission has said it would reinforce plastic ban from April 1.

Tshering Palden

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