YK Poudel

With only three days to primary round poll, political parties reiterated their strategies to improving the agricultural sector at the vice presidential debate on November 24.

Agriculture, a major sector employing a significant portion of Bhutan’s population, features prominently across the manifestoes of all parties. The parties pledge agricultural sector development aligned with self-sufficiency and improving the economy.

BTP has listed 25 promises as the top priority of the party. DNT has promised to fulfil 18 agricultural development targets. The DPT has 14 pledges with other targets included. The DTT has five major pledges in the agricultural sector. PDP has four targets in agricultural development which also includes other goals.

Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP)

Vice President Pema Tenzin said that the export of oranges and apples, for example, has decreased drastically in contrast to the past, which could be affected by the policy. “There is no market for farmers to sell agricultural products.”

BTP would facilitate the farmers to sell their products by making transportation easier for them. The party will also build cold storage and warehouses so that there is no need to import vegetables during the winter season.

Besides changing trade regulations periodically to boost agricultural trade, BTP pledges to upscale food analysis laboratory, increase cold storage facilities and warehouses that can reach grass-root level through mini-cold storages.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT)

DNT’s vice president and candidate from Bartsham-Shongphu, Sonam Kinga, said that agriculture has been a priority of the party—to increase food security, “DNT Government provided irrigation water through a water flagship programme and chain-linked fencing to address wildlife encroachment into agricultural fields.”

According to him, the country’s rice self-sufficiency needs to increase from 25.2 percent last year to 75 percent in the coming years—the food security level of 68.3 percent is achieved.

“Cold storage in Khaling, Hesothangkha, and Jigmeling are operational—and plans are under process to construct in Tsirang and Tingtibi,” he said. DNT’s pledges to encourage private sector enterprises to establish machinery and equipment rental services.

Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT)

DTT’s vice president and candidate from Thrimshing, Trashigang, Chenga Tshering, said that the party will address marketing challenges and establish processing factories in every region for value addition.

“It seems that the past governments did not prioritise the agriculture sector, with less allocation of budget,” he said.

While crops like maize and potatoes are produced in large quantities, they have been exported without any value-addition.  “We can solve that problem by setting up necessary infrastructure in places like Trashigang where we produce plenty of maise and Phobjikha known for large scale potato production, or wherever necessary to value add on our produce to earn more income,” Chenga Tshering said.

People’s Democratic Party (PDP)

PDP pledges to work towards transforming the agriculture sector through improved road connectivity.

According to the vice president, Dorji Choden, the candidate from Thrimshing constituency, Trashigang, about 56 percent of the Bhutanese population live in rural areas, and the transformation is a much-needed strategy to encourage the agricultural sector.

“PDP will continue to provide additional power tillers, improved water supply, and fertilizer to help farmers boost their yield—this is to achieve self-sufficiency and increase yearly exports,” she said.

The party has a “one gewog, one product” programme in their manifesto to stimulate production and establish manufacturing firms in gewogs.

The party pledges to introduce the “Buy Bhutanese Product” initiative, mandating all government agencies to procure Bhutanese products while encouraging others.

Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT)

DPT’s vice president and candidate from Dramedtse-Ngatshang, Ugyen Wangdi promised to ensure a market for farm produces and form an export committee to formulate a proper export strategy. “So far, investment in agriculture is less compared to health and education. We have to increase it.”

Ugyen Wangdi said that the DPT will make sure that farmers get loans on time for agriculture and support farmers in southern Bhutan in agar and teakwood business. “Our pledges are long-term and for sustained economic prosperity.”

The party has listed the promotion of organic products, adequate irrigation water, timely provision of improved and high-yielding crop seeds, and setting up cold storage facilities as major promises.

According to the Department of Agriculture, Bhutan’s rice production saw an average annual decline of 11 percent—26,680 metric tonnes (MT) of rice in 2022 compared to 41,520MT in 2018. In the past five years, the rice self-sufficiency rate (SSR) dropped from 40.8 percent to 25.2 percent in 2022-2023. The country had 23,327 paddy growers, compared to 25,336 in 2021.

According to National Accounts Statistics 2023, crop production registered a negative growth rate of 4 percent in 2022, as opposed to a growth rate of 1.46 percent in 2021. This decline of 5.46 percentage points from the previous year signifies a substantial decrease in its growth momentum.

The Integrated Agriculture and Livestock Census of Bhutan 2022 revealed that the production of primary cereals in 2022 was 70,168 metric tonnes, which was 6,319 metric tonnes less than in 2021, marking an eight percent decline.