Agriculture development has one last opportunity and we must seize it

Every time we take a look at the state of our agriculture, we are looking at the same opportunities and challenges.

Covid-19 gave us a little boost. Reportedly, there are many Bhutanese, especially young, who have found employment in the sector.

Hopefully, this trend does not turn the other way after the pandemic is out and gone. Our efforts to improve or develop agriculture should be more than just a wobbly attempt.

On the papers, agriculture has been on the top of the priority list since the first planned development programme. The fact, however, is that the sector has continued to suffer a steady decline from about the same time.

We are today a country that is more dependent—on everything starting from food items to construction materials—than we ever were.

We are poised to become a middle-income country but we are still not producing enough to feed ourselves. Along the many years of development journey, we have had to get a move on. That is understandable; we had to make a dash to catch up with the rest.

That we, somehow deliberately, forgot our national priority along the way still does not make any sense. As a landlocked country in the Himalayas, agriculture still is our best bet.

Our farmers may not see future in the sector what with shortage of farmhands and increasing human-wildlife conflict but why are we still grappling with these same small problems—at this age?

The simple answer is that we lack vision. And this is going to be very costly. When elected leaders and civil servants can’t find a common ground to work, national dreams suffer.

When the long-term development opportunities are missed, or, are omitted, the consequences are often very serious.

Here is a bunch of questions. Hopefully, our elected leaders and policymakers are listening.

Why is rural to urban migration rising when youth unemployment is already a serious problem in the country?

In a way, the farming population has got a point.  Why must they lose almost everything to wild animals every year and continue to sweat in the fields?

Why are our irrigation systems riddled with problems—even the big ones that were built with huge external funds? Farming dies when water does not come to the fields.

But this is the question: why are all these the persistent problems still?

Now is the time to turn it all around. This will require a major shift, of course—from policies on. Otherwise, we lose this one opportunity to make ourselves food self-sufficient.

Put another way, food self-sufficiency is critically important for our survival. This fact can also be read as an urgent national statement.

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