MoAF laying out numerous strategies to ensure market for farm produces 

Yangchen C Rinzin 

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught the country to take food self-sufficiency seriously. Even after decades of having nutrition and food security policy, the country has not progressed beyond subsistence agriculture.

The implementation of the policy suffered miserably because the emphasis has always been on increasing food production out of the limited land resources, according to the agriculture minister Yeshey Penjor.

“The development of large-scale and commercial farming received less intervention and investment,” he said.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, many are now taking up farming, and the farmers have increased area of cultivation.

A food security project, centred around boosting commercial agriculture, is one of the significant components of the government’s economic contingency plans in response to the Covid-19 situation.

With such developments, the agriculture minister said the ministry has realised that it must focus and seize the opportunity to provide marketing facilities and implement the strategy first if it is to realise the goal of self-sufficiency.

“Now I think we need to go beyond and increase the land size, cultivate more and start looking into commercial farming,” Lyonpo said. “The government must mechanise to provide an assured market for the production, as subsistence farming today struggles from lack of market.”

Lyonpo said that currently, local production is a supply-driven market instead of demand-driven, meaning Bhutanese sell products right after the harvest at auction yard where there is syndication among buyers.

“This is why our farmers fetch less price based on rates fixed by buyers. We must change this. It is happening because the ministry has failed to create value addition or cold storage system to help farmers store their products and sell when there is demand.”   

Lyonpo added this is why the ministry will exploring alternatives like storing products for a longer duration, do proper packaging and take advantage of the lean season in the border towns, which is the biggest market to supply the products on demand.

“The current situation has made us realise that food sufficiency means having a proper market to sell products anytime instead of only importing.”


How to  institutionalise?

To institutionalise market facilities, it would involve a substantial investment.

Lyonpo said that Covid-19 pandemic had brought opportunities for the ministry because to institutionalise the facilities, the ministry has been getting the required funding.

“Although Plan activities were reprioritised and there was frontloading, no agriculture activities were foregone because of Covid-19,” Lyonpo said. “Instead, additional budgets are approved.”

Lyonpo said it was because with the border sealed, it has shown how vital food security is.

“Earlier, it was not easy to carry out plans because we didn’t receive enough budget. This has allowed the ministry to present how important agriculture is and its priority through a detailed analysis of the situation.”

The government will provide support to market products, and if the farmers cannot market, one of the facilities would be to pay farmers upfront money, buy the products, and market through youth cooperatives, store them and sell when demand soars.

Development of good information networking is also one of the strategies.

Lyonpo said that the ministry will also start three integrated warehouses, as it is now the government’s responsibility to assure the market when more people are into agriculture.

“Many do not produce in large quantities because they’re worried about the market,” Lyonpo said, adding there is also a plan to develop existing underused cold storage through PPP model.”

The ministry has also submitted the policy to the Cabinet for review.

“We talk about food security, but nowhere it is clear how much are we supposed to produce our own or depend on import. There’s no clear implementation strategy. So, we must review and qualify the policy to chart out the implementation.”


Fiscal year 2020-2021 budget 

To strengthen the agriculture sector, the agriculture ministry has been allocated a budget of Nu 7.170 billion for the financial year, which is an addition of about 10 percent of the total budget appropriation.

Some of the major activities are land development, construction of cold storages, installation of input supply infrastructure facilities, enterprise development programme, and development of the livestock sector.

Many youth groups and displaced employees from the tourism sector are also actively engaged in the agriculture sector through an economic contingency plan. A total of Nu 200 million would be disbursed to the local government to boost agriculture products and self-sufficiency.

“The budget is huge, and this only means we have to perform bigger tasks to achieve food sufficiency this time.”