Bhutan will aim to achieve 60 percent rice self-sufficiency by increasing productivity of the rice-based cropping systems in the next three years. Today the country is only 47 percent self-sufficient in rice.

The country expects to increase rice yield by 15 percent, bring 50 percent of the fallow paddy fields under cultivation, and 10 percent paddy fields under spring rice cultivation. Bhutan cultivates rice on 53,055 acres and produces 85,090 MT a year and has an average yield of 1.68 MT per acre.

However, this ambitious plan hinges on the approval of a joint project by Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal on sustainable intensification of rice-based cropping systems by the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) grant through its social window.

The project that will benefit about 12,000 Bhutanese households is expected to begin January next year. “The project like any other from the region has to compete for funding,” an agriculture ministry official said.

The chief executive officer of SDF, Sunil Motiwal, speaking at the inauguration of three-day workshop to finalise the project proposal in Thimphu, indicated some hope.

He said, “The project meets the basic two conditions for funding three-country partnership and co-financing of the project.”

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said that SDF had assured budget support for project to enhance rice productivity.

Of the total proposed budget of USD 11.754 million (M), SDF is asked to provide USD 10.254M. The three countries will together contribute USD 1.5M.

Bhutan has proposed for a budget of USD 3.970M.

The project will focus on productivity improvement of the rice-based cropping system through sustainable intensification.

The project aims to increase productivity of rice-based cropping systems of smallholder agriculture by improving resource use efficiency through adoption of innovative, economically viable, environmentally sustainable and climate-change resilient technologies and practices.

The rationale for focusing on productivity improvement is because productivity increase will catalyse enhancement of food and nutrition security and reduction of poverty at household, community, national and regional levels.

“This underpins the achievement of some important UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030,” Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said.

Agriculture in South Asia is characterised by small–holder resource poor farm families operating less then 0.6 hectares. Although agriculture remains an important sector as a source of employment for millions and food and nutrition security, its share to the national Gross Domestic Product has been decreasing.

Lyonpo said, “With increasing population and slow growth in agriculture pressure on agriculture for food is tremendous.”

The project interventions will include rice grown together with wheat, maize, grain legumes and a range of other cropping system components, such as livestock and fisheries production, as an integral component of rice-based systems.

The project will develop a benchmark database about characterisation of national rice-ecosystems, their technology use, and their productivity for technology targeting; develop and facilitate adoption of productive, resilient and sustainable rice-based technologies and practices for smallholder farmers; facilitate sharing of knowledge, information, and materials on rice-based technologies and practices among three countries.

Rice is the most important crop in the region.

All three countries place highest priority to increasing rice productivity, self-sufficiency in rice, and attainment of SDG goals 1 and 2.

In Nepal, the government has set the target to increase rice production from 4.29 million tonnes to 5.56 million tonnes.

Bangladesh government has given all thrusts and priorities on achieving food security in all its dimensions, including food supply and availability, physical, social and economic access to food, as well as nutrition or utilisation of food.

The project activities are grouped under seven components to address the issue of sustainable intensification of rice-based cropping systems.

The components are integrated crop and resource management (ICRM) technologies and practices, development of sustainable agribusiness, sustainable mechanisation of production and postharvest operations, promotion of climate smart agriculture, use of ICT in agriculture, establish platform to share knowledge, materials and innovation, and support capacity development and policy advocacy in agriculture.

Experts from international rice research institute, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal said that there were numerous challenges like raising and sustaining agricultural growth, ensuring food and nutritional security, facing impact of climate change, making sustainable use of natural resources and protecting biodiversity.

Further, the new opportunities lie in trade, marketing, biotechnology, shifting demand preferences in domestic and overseas markets, technology sharing, resource sharing and investments in research, extension and infrastructural development.

During the workshop, experts and officials reviewed their activities under the various components of the project and budget.

The project will be submitted to SDF after finalisation.

Tshering Palden