Covid-19 has caused many disruptions in the country. Some sectors have come to comatose almost. Schools and colleges are closed. Many have lost jobs. But then, the pandemic has also shown us where we can and must succeed. These are difficulties times, yes, but it is often hard times that teach us to rise. There are opportunities we can tap.
Tele and online education, with all their imperfections, now could reshape our education system altogether. That’s 21st century education have been talking about for so long. This succeeding, we can cut down on unnecessary spending massively. And, likewise, many have begun working from home. We are now entering an age when having to go to office, unless absolutely necessary, is fast becoming redundant.
But then, the biggest opportunity we see is in agriculture. Covid-19 is giving renewed energy to Bhutan’s dream of self-sufficiency. The joke doing the round among many Bhutanese today is that Covid-19 must last forever so that we become less dependent on food import. Some might find this humour unpalatable but there is a serious message in this little gag.
Self-sufficiency has been Bhutan’s aspiration since the first hour of the first five-year plan. The truth, however, is that we have become more dependent over the years on our neighbouring countries for food items. Covid-19 can also reshape our long-term development plans. That means reassessing our environment and other laws that do not allow us to be more forward-looking.
Now, tour guides who have become jobless have begun taking up agriculture activities. Farmers are running short of farmhands. The demand for fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables are growing. Youth groups have become most active after the pandemic scare. In such a situation, the only sector that promises to grow is agriculture.
With small structural changes and better financial support, Bhutan’s self-sufficiency dream now seems closer than ever. Agriculture stimulus plan must be, therefore, geared towards the long-term future of the country, not just an urgent adjustment that can be undone after Covid-19.
We are beginning to see the opportunity. We cannot afford to lay it to waste. If we can give agriculture one earnest push today, we will see that many of our biggest problems have gone away. We will wake up to see that suddenly unemployment is no longer a national issue. And we have enough to feed ourselves.