When UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) received the Nobel Peace Prize 2020, it was a very special occasion for Bhutan. WFP is the largest humanitarian organisation that continues to save lives in emergencies through food assistance to build a pathway to peace and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change. For Bhutan WFP has been a very important development partner and we remain grateful for the programme.
Bhutan and WFP share a vital link. WFP was born when Bhutan was beginning to launch its first five-year plan. For the former it was a vision calling, for the latter an urgent need to empower a vast segment of its population as it was taking maiden steps on the path of modernisation. The relation has been most fruitful, based on mutual trust and respect. At this critical juncture of the country’s development journey, we look at WFP as a model to build our own.
So, it is important to put reality into perspective. Food self-sufficiency has been one of the most important national goals since the first day of Bhutan’s five-year plan. However, it has continued to remain a dream. What with the growing population and losing development focus, it risks becoming a very distant dream.
Covid-19 is the new lesson but we are also coming out of the list of the least developed countries. That means Bhutan must be self-sufficient in all areas of national life, especially in food. Are we even halfway there?
Arguments will differ, but that’s not important. Bringing ourselves to realise the reality is—how prepared is Bhutan to feed its people without having to go abegging?
Because health and education are free in Bhutan, feeding programmes become all the more important. A majority of our people are still very poor. But there is now the new challenge—climate change, for example—which has the potential to wipe out crop production and destroy crucial market infrastructure.
For Bhutan, going by the current development rate, the problem is not only about logistics arrangements. Agriculture production must grow beyond toothless policies and half-hearted efforts from the various sectors. And that must be supported by strong demand-supply linkages in the country.
WFP’s support to Bhutan must be viewed in the light of Bhutan’s the last few miles before graduating from the list of LDC. We have the so-called White Paper, according to which more than 78,000 students are under the national feeding programme. School Agriculture Programme is a long-term vision. What is sorely needed today is short-term adjustment.
WFP’s feeds millions in the world with pragmatic approaches. That’s all Bhutan needs to learn—produce and gather enough and we will have enough. But management and investment are critically important. These have not been happening, which must change.
As we celebrate WFP’s Nobel, it is a serious reminder that Bhutan must brace up.