A power tiller a chiwog, was one of the popular pledges, especially among the farmers, that supposedly lifted the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to power in 2013.

The party identified agriculture as one of the five jewels in the 11th Plan mainly to improve food and nutrition security through a three-pronged strategy to increase production, access and marketing.

One of the four keys objectives of the Plan was to enhance food and nutrition security by making various kinds of foods available through improved production, access and enabling effective utilisation of food.

Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay in his State of the Nation report 2018 said there has been major increases in agricultural productivity in crops, horticulture, vegetables, livestock, dairy production and in all segments of farm production.

He reported that paddy production has increased from 75,000 metric tonnes (MT) in 2013 to 85,000MT in 2017; maize from 76,000 MT to 90,000MT; potatoes from 50,000MT to 57,000MT and vegetables from 58,820MT to 72,000MT which is 113 percent of national requirement.  

Similarly, livestock production has also increased significantly with milk production increasing from 31,000MT in 2013 to 50,000MT in 2017. Egg production rose to 116 million (M) from 66M and fish from 55MT to 222MT. Overall, income from agriculture increased from Nu 17 billion (B) in 2012 to Nu 26B in 2017.

Bhutan imported 62,069MT of rice in 2017, a drop of three percent compared to the same period in 2016. In the same year, import of fresh vegetables decreased by about nine percent, dried vegetable by seven percent, fresh fruits by about a percent, dried fruits by 27 percent, meat by four percent, dairy product by 18 percent, and fish products by 28 percent and potatoes by three percent.

The main catalyst for these achievements were farm mechanisation, free inputs, electric fencing, construction and repair of irrigation canals, and subsidised loans for agriculture, among others, agriculture officials said.

The party had obtained more power tillers than 1,044, the number of chiwogs in the country. However, operational problems that sprung after distributing the first lot of power tillers forced the agriculture ministry to change its delivery mode. The ministry created the Farm Machinisation Corporation Ltd to hire out farm machinery including power tillers in every gewog. Today, there are reports of power tillers remaining underused, as they were found unsuitable.

FMCL was also mandated to carry out contract farming, spring paddy cultivation, and commercial farming. Spring paddy cultivation in the first season yielded about 77MT of paddy.

Each dzongkhag was given two excavators for construction and maintenance of farm roads.

The government installed 2,800kms of electric fencing, 2,600kms of irrigation canals and distributed 10,100 cattle. The artificial insemination programme produced 13,000 calves and 1.1 million day-old chicks were distributed leading to huge increases in egg production that kept the country sufficient in eggs.

Besides these, numerous projects with international and regional agencies have begun, all targeted at improving food security.

However, today the country is only 47 percent self-sufficient in rice, which is the staple diet, and only 10 percent sufficient in oil. Despite the large number of farm machines, Bhutan cultivates rice on 53,055 acres and produces 85,090MT a year with an average yield of 1.68MT per acre.

Poverty has marked a significant drop from 12 percent in 2013 to 8.2 percent in 2017. However, the population and housing census of 2017 found that at least 6.2 percent of the 163,001 households (10,048) in the country have experienced food insufficiency in the 12 months before the census.

Despite more than 60 percent of Bhutanese population living in the rural areas depending on agriculture, food insufficiency was worse in these areas with 8.1 percent of the households not having enough to eat, the census showed.

There are marketing issues then. From potato growers to vegetable growers in Zhemgang marketing remains a huge hurdle.

Agriculture and farmers could be at the forefront yet again as political parties try to grab a share from the major vote bank and promise to address these issues.

Tshering Palden