YK Poudel

A total of 34 members of parliament (MPs) showed support for the establishment and implementation of a compensation trust fund (CTF) on agriculture and livestock issues at the National Assembly (NA) yesterday.

Eight MPs voted “No” and one abstained from voting.

The motion, moved by MP for Kilkhorthang-Mendrelgang, Kamal Bahadur Gurung, has been endorsed and shall be presented in the next meeting.

Kamal Bahadur Gurung argued that with over 60 percent of the population living in rural areas, the agriculture sector is the backbone of the Bhutanese economy. “Challenges such as wildlife depredation, varying rainfall and precipitation patterns, wind and hail storms, and droughts have resulted in loss of crops and livestock.”

The absence of compensation schemes such as crop and livestock insurance policy or compensation trust fund for the affected communities, he said, forced the farmers to migrate in search of alternatives. “It is of utmost importance to safeguard and keep the sector alive and attractive by providing incentives to the farmers.”

The increasing human-wildlife conflicts and the impact of climate change over the years, he added, has put the farmers on the back foot. “Mostly, middle and large scale farmers have been affected, to an extent that they could pay back their loans.”

Kamal Bahadur Gurung proposed an immediate creation and allocation of a separate CTF to compensate the farmers for loss dues to natural disasters and damage by wild animals as promised by the government.

Agriculture Minister Younten Phuntsho acknowledged the need for a healthy discussion. “The ministry has been working on compensating farmers for the losses.”

Previously, no compensation at national scale was implemented; only small-scale compensation projects were carried out, the minister said. “For example, back in 2002-2003, a pilot project was initiated with external support for depredation by tigers, which came to an end due to lack of funds for continuity.”

He said that after the proposal is discussed, farmers would be compensated for loss of rice, maize, potato, oranges, cattle, poultry, and pig.

As for the annual premium calculations for the compensation, the minister presented that if the government and public agree to bear a shared responsibility of 50 percent each, it would require Nu 83 million for crops and Nu 1.03 billion for livestock from the government.

“The calculations were made based on the annual income of the farmers growing crops, their market access and price,” the minister said.

It would be difficult for the government to commit 100 percent contribution towards the CTF, he said. “A shared responsibility among the government, relevant agencies, and public would be instrumental.”

However, Lyonpo said that it would be difficult to implement the scheme immediately. “Until then, existing measures such as electric and chain-link fencing have to be strengthened. A considerable amount of money has been allocated in the 13th Plan for it.”

Several MPs suggested that the government commit 70 percent of the contribution to CTF with inclusion of other crops and animals.

Mongar MP Naiten Wangchuk said that the government should venture into carbon trading to gain money for such initiatives. “There are various agencies in the country that can support the initiative as their corporate social responsibility.”

Gangzur Minjey MP Loday Tsheten said that the annual premium on CTF should be included in the government’s annual budget to ensure the scheme’s  sustainability.

Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Gem Tshering, and Minister of Finance, Lekey Dorji, also participated in the discussion.

The agriculture sector employs 43.56 percent of the country’s labour force. The sector’s contribution in 2022 was 14.5 percent.