Nima Wangdi  

Climate change is the biggest threat to agricultural production, said Sanam Lyonpo (agriculture minister) Yeshey Penjor during the question hour at the National Council on November 1.

Punakha MP Lhaki Dolma said farmers lose huge quantities of crops to severe weather conditions and wildlife every year. In May of this year, the RICBL and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) consulted upon starting an Insurance Tariff Agreement for the crop insurance scheme. But nothing has happened yet.

“What other measures are being taken by the ministry?” she asked.

“There are many climate-induced risks and wildlife threats have always been there,” Lyonpo submitted answering the members who asked questions. Floods and flash floods deteriorate soil fertility and increase temperatures, giving rise to more pests.

Lyonpo said that the agro-meteorology services need to be enhanced to facilitate farmers planning their work. Although the ministry, in collaboration with the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology, broadcasts weather forecasts every night, people are unable to use the service efficiently.

“Some don’t have television and radio facilities, while others don’t get the time to use them even if they have access to them.” Lyonpo said the agriculture officials, including agriculture extension officers, are updating farmers on weather forecasts using social media platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat, and Telegram, which many people use.

According to the minister, Nu 17 billion for the endowment fund and Nu 26 billion for insurance are required, as per their research. “There is only about Nu 1 billion for the endowment fund now and we’re planning to get funds from loss and damages and adaptation funds, other countries, and international agencies with whom we have good relations,” Lyonpo told the House.

Lyonpo said that the ministry and the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan worked out a crop insurance scheme and submitted it to the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon, requesting His Majesty’s guidance.

“To raise funds through an adaptation fund, we have sought support from Canada to start a project. The Least Developed Countries Fund, European Union, Canadian government, and the UNDP have agreed to help if we come up with good projects,” Lyonpo said.

While the entire amount required to start the scheme would be difficult to raise, he said, the ministry is hopeful to soon receive an amount that is enough to start the program for now. “We’re working on producing improved seeds and installing storage facilities.”

The ministry is also looking into the protection and conservation of native species.

The ministry is seeking support to build more roads, irrigation channels, storage facilities, greenhouses, and electric fences to facilitate an increase in production. “The country lacks a clear import and export mechanism, and we are working on it.”

Haa MP Ugyen Namgay asked when the ministry would implement the provisions of the Land Act 2007.

The minister said that as Sokshing and Tsamdro are crucial for agricultural production and livestock, the ministry and National Land Commission are already piloting on the newly framed rules and regulations, as well as lease guidelines in Merak and Sakteng gewogs in Tashigang.

“This was done under the special command of His Majesty The King,” he said.

Eminent Member Kezang Chuki Dorjee asked the minister how the ministry intends to provide affordable nutritious and safe food for all sections of Bhutanese society, and in particular, for the poorer sections of society?

“What role does the MoAF play in ensuring that prices are not controlled by middlemen and that fair prices for the farmers and consumers for locally produced vegetables, fruit, and dairy products are maintained?” she asked.

Lyonpo said, “To ensure nutrition to all, the government has increased the stipend for students from Nu 1,000 per child to 1,500.”

Justifying the high price of the local products, Lyonpo cited eggs, which are currently expensive in the market, as an example. He said that although we are self-sufficient in egg production, we still have to import feed and chicks. “These are the factors that drive the price of eggs periodically.”

“For farm products, we are in the process of replacing the middlemen who pay less at the source and charge higher prices in the market, driven by their business interests. They will be replaced by youth groups who will soon be managing farm shops,” Lyonpo said.

Edited by Tshering  Palden