Male Iron Rat Year

Choki Wangmo

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns have tested Bhutan’s food security goals envisioned decades ago.

It has also forced people to dig their backyards to grow vegetables and even triggered policy changes in the agriculture ministry to accelerate food security goal’s achievements.

With many people laid off from the tourism and entertainment sector taking up agriculture, 1000s of fallow lands across the country were cultivated. An agriculture stimulus plan with a total budget of Nu 944 million (M) was initiated to strengthen food security through domestic production, creating employment and income opportunities.

Youth groups and cooperatives that were failing earlier picked up. Demand for fruits and vegetables, particularly in the urban areas increased by manifold amidst movement restrictions and border closures.

As the country prepared for the worst case scenario in the light of global Covid- 19 outbreak, the southern dzongkhags like Tsirang became an important producer of vegetables and dairy products. The farmers in solidarity contributed vegetables to the government, which was mostly used in the quarantine facilities.

Despite such drive in the sector, Bhutan heavily depended on imported foods and the pandemic escalated the situation. There was an acute shortage of onions, tomatoes, potatoes, and chillies in the market. While the prices of the commodities and farm produce increased drastically in town areas, the farmers in rural areas struggled to find markets and transport goods.

Due to movement restrictions, vegetable export was on hold and the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited struggled to export cabbage, and potato. Tonnes of gingers also rot in the fields. The ginger price slumped to record low in 2020. Apple production also dwindled compared to previous years.

The National Cottage and Small Industries bank approved loans worth Nu 25.8M for agriculture and livestock projects.

The country’s goal of becoming the world’s first 100 percent organic nation by 2020 was pushed to 2035. The country today has achieved only about 10 percent in organic agriculture production with just about 545 hectares of crop land (less than 1 percent of total arable land) certified organic.

The ministry introduced improved seeds and new hybrids of crops and fruits to boost production, however, most of the produce was damaged due to poor storage methods.

There was continued supply of essential goods but the Covid-19 scare led to vegetable price escalation across the country.

Farmers lost crops like maize to extreme weather. The price of cash crops like ginger, matsutake, hazelnut, and cardamom plummeted. Since auctions were cancelled, cordyceps collectors ran into losses.