Agriculture is coming back on the focus of our national life. And this is good news. Although agriculture does not feature prominently in the report, the national budget for the financial year 2017-18, has allocated 9 percent to the sector, a slight increase from the last fiscal year. But we need to put things in the right perspective. More needs to be done. Agriculture is the answer to the many problems we are facing today.
Goongtong in the remote corners of the country and rising urban youth unemployment are the challenges that can be solved by viable and improved agriculture. Rural to urban migration is a problem because of our development approach. When job opportunities are concentrated in just a few towns, our young people will flock there, of course. Agriculture has become expensive, what with rising human-wildlife conflicts in the rural pockets of the country and broken irrigation systems. A survey conducted by local experts in 2016 for Asian Development Bank found that about 29 percent of the existing irrigation canals have shortage or inadequate water supply.
Findings of the GNH survey 2015 should worry our policymakers and politicians. Our farmers are the ‘most unhappy’ group in the country today. When farming becomes less viable, our dependence will only grow, which could have influence on the security and sovereignty of our nation. As it is, our total arable land is too small. We do not produce enough to feed ourselves. The sector that provides livelihood to 56.7 percent of the population is writhing in pain. There is an urgent need for right and timely intervention.
We have introduced Agriculture for Food Security as an optional subject for classes XI and XII. But we need to look at the real challenges facing our society today. Agriculture has suffered in Bhutan mainly because of lack of access to finance. It has been found that credit from the financial institutions to the agriculture sector was only Nu 2.65 billion in 2014 – 4.1 percent of the total Nu 63.98 billion issued. It is hard to understand why other credit schemes like vehicle and housing are much cheaper than agriculture. Going by this, agriculture is not considered a priority sector. This much change.
Agriculture is a sector with great potential. If we can make agriculture attractive and viable, it will help the country cut on imports. It could also help the country achieve its all-important national goal of achieving self-sufficiency. This means securing the life of the nation.
Agriculture is our mainstay. We need to look at the sector’s development beyond the allocation of budget.