Rice self-sufficiency is critically important for Bhutan. And so, the agriculture minister’s proposal in Parliament to reduce rice self-sufficiency target from 60 to 43 percent is very unsettling.
We know that the government is forced to reprioritise many important plans. These are extraordinary times. Covid-19 is not going to go away easily or sooner. When the neighbouring countries are shutting the borders, we need to think about feeding ourselves.
According to scientific studies, we are in for more lockdowns. Mutation of the virus will only multiply. As a landlocked country that has been depending on imports, the reality can be serious, as if it isn’t already.
How we got our rice self-sufficiency status wrong is up to the organisation responsible to prove it. The answer has to come from the government and civil servants who are at the heart of churning out data.
Looking positively, though, this may be our last chance to not just reiterate the importance of rice self-sufficiency but also food self-sufficiency. The theme of our national development since the planned development began in the 1960s has been achieving self-sufficiency, not just in the department of food.
The truth is that we have not come an inch further than that dream.
Lyonpo said that achieving 100 percent food self-sufficiency was difficult, given the country’s rugged terrain, high cost of production, and small landholding. But the answer is right there. Rugged terrain may be our challenge but we could invest in and harness the benefits of technologies. Copping out is not an option.
We have dignified a ministry and given it a mandate to chart out a long-term planning so that the nation doesn’t have to depend on food import. Food is our biggest strength; our biggest weakness too.
If numbers can be played in the manner we saw yesterday in Parliament, we are in for a new danger. We don’t need numbers to guide our plans. We need plans to produce enough to feed ourselves. Bringing down production targets so is deeply disturbing.
Agriculture ministry’s aim, if vision is lacking, has to be that Bhutan must be a self-sustaining market. This is not happening because we do not seem to have one priority to shape all our other dreams. Our production targets must always be high. Coming down is giving up. It is an expensive affair.