The central bank’s recent report is concerning if not disturbing for Bhutan, still largely an agrarian society. Contribution from the agriculture sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the least although it employs half of the country’s workforce. It contributed only 19.2 percent or Nu 36.04 billion despite employing 158,511 people. That is 20 percent of the total population.

We might take refuge in the belief that GDP for us is not the best way to measure growth, but if economic growth should result in job creation, the biggest employer should receive more attention, if not priority in our planning.

Even in the agriculture sector, the decline in employment share is steeper than its contribution to the GDP. While contribution increased by about 5 percent, the decline in employment is nearly nine percent in the past five years. Going by current trends and priorities, it will decline farther.

The economy has to transit from agriculture to industry and service sectors. We cannot be an agrarian society when the focus is on the technology driving development. But agriculture will still remain an important sector for import-dependent Bhutan. We have seen the risk of depending on import and leaving our farms fallow. A slight price hike in wheat or disturbance in logistics results in a shortage or make essential food dearer. While food self-sufficiency has been a vision for the country, we are seeing more and more arable fields left fallow.

Those staying behind are finding it difficult to grow food. The reasons are many. We couldn’t mechanise farming as much as we want to or could, crop-predation is another problem across the country forcing farmers to become roadside workers and there are no hands to till our limited land. Everybody is migrating to the urban areas either because of the drudgery of farm work or because agriculture is not profitable or attractive.

There had been focus on farm mechanisation, yet most farmers, even in the flatlands of Punakha and Wangdue valley cultivate the same way their ancestors did. If we are to make the sector grow, contribute more to the GDP and create jobs, it has to be as attractive as other sectors. We knew the value of growing our own food during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has lost the attention it received after the pandemic.

Agriculture will bear the brunt of changes in the country. As more and more people come to the towns to replace those leaving the country for better opportunities, there will be a dearth of workers. We need to skill farmers and those wanting to return to farming.

One idea could be relooking into land ownership in rural Bhutan. Many staying on the farm do not own land. They are sharecroppers. On the other hand, there are landowners who cannot go back to work and leave their land fallow. Farmers attribute the growing human-wildlife conflict to letting fields turn into jungles and bringing the wild closer. Redistributing land could be one way of not only encouraging agriculture but also helping lift many from poverty.