Whenever we talk about agriculture, we are inescapably drawn to the subjects of production and the greater national dream of achieving food self-sufficiency. Both are indelibly linked—the more the production, the better placed we are in terms of food self-sufficiency.
The debate has not changed; we are talking about the same problems even after threescore years of the country’s development history. The issues vary but the refrain has remained the same. And so, unsurprisingly, we could be talking about the same problems 30 years from now.
The real problem is not with agriculture production or with our self-sufficiency dream themselves. It is with lack of vision coupled with our repeated lack of programme implementation. Nothing proves this more starkly than the production and market mismatch that we are compelled to confront today.
Last year, Bhutanese farmers could not sell cabbage. The government bought it from the farmers but there was still no demand for the crop. The story is the same today. The farmers are saying that they have nowhere to sell their cabbage. This is likely to continue because both parties seem to find it easy to take a leap in the dark.
Where the government, the agriculture ministry in particular, ought to have given the right directions to the farmers as to what and how much they can produce in a particular growing season, it seems to have fallen too short. As to the farmers, they must also take a fair share of the blame. You don’t grow crops just because someone else is doing it and making some bucks out of it.
Bhutan’s mainstay has been agriculture and it will be for a long time. The nation’s economic development, so, has to be designed around improvement in the agriculture sector—from production, packaging, and sale.
The agriculture sector is not advancing the way it should. That’s the prevalent view—the importance given to it in the scheme of the nation’s development must grow. Thankfully, the sector has recently received some semblance of priority with an increased budget. But that will not be enough. Focus, drive, and budget should meet to bring about a marked transformation.
We are yet to see these changes happening.
It is cabbage today; tomorrow it’s going to be potato. Then we would be talking about lack of market for chilli. When all these dramas unfold again, we wouldn’t be talking about crops really but about our self-sufficiency dream. Unfortunately, we will have missed it again for what it really is and how important it is for the nation’s long-term future.
Covid-19 is a curse; it is also a boon in so many ways. There is a lesson to pick. The agriculture sector has so much to gain by being just a little more aware of what it needs to do in these trying times. Surely, it wouldn’t want a black spot in its long and pretty bright book of records.