As a potential employment-generating sector, agriculture needs to be given priority 

Unemployment: National Council members yesterday while deliberating the employment report, urged the government to make investments in the agriculture sector to create employment opportunities and enhance the sector’s contribution to Gross Domestic Product.

The social and cultural affairs committee of the Council that reviewed the national employment policies, programmes and strategies, recommended to review and ease government reserve forestland leasing procedures to enable youth to take commercial farming through cooperatives.

The committee also recommended the need to enhance access to credit facilities by increasing agricultural loan portfolio of financial institutions for both subsistence farmers and cash crop exporters.

Most members agreed there are youth willing to take up farming but pointed out that lack of support from the government was an issue.

Zhemgang’s councillor Pema Dakpa said, “the Direct Employment Scheme doesn’t cover youth who return to their villages to work in the farms,” he said.

He said it may not be wise to lease all government land for commercial farming, but said it was important for people to come together instead of leasing land.

The social and cultural affairs committee’s report stated that with about 56 percent of the total population dependent on agriculture, the sector contributes about 14 percent to the overall GDP while only about 4.3 percent of the agricultural products are exported.

There are 259 farmers group and 39 cooperatives registered with the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives. The committee highlighted that given the lack of adequate support in monitoring and marketing from the concerned agency, most registered cooperatives are failing in achieving their target especially at production and marketing. “Consequently, the youth are not encouraged to take up agriculture as means for their employment,” the report stated.

While the committee observed that farming cooperatives have immense potential to create employment opportunities, the efficiency and sustainability of such groups depended on factors such as providing financial incentives and tax holidays for purchase of agricultural plants, equipment, machineries and tax exemptions on export of products.

The committee also observed that as establishing cooperatives requires a considerable size of landholding, other than leasing government land; people do not own such sizeable land. The report highlighted the stringent and lengthy procedure for leasing government forest reserve land has restricted cooperatives and individuals from taking up large scale commercial agricultural farming.

Credit facilities for agriculture were also pointed out as a major issue. The committee reported that only two percent of commercial banks’ loan portfolio was projected for agriculture. Similarly, the committee reported that the Bhutan Development Bank Ltd. loans for agriculture constitutes only 16 percent of the total loan portfolio out of which 85 percent are less than Nu 100,000.

Chukha’s councillor Pema Tenzin said that although villagers don’t hesitate to toil the fields, increasing production is an issue given the manpower shortage.

“Improvement of irrigation channels, farm roads and marketing strategies are also some of the issues that villagers are crippled with,” he said.

The committee also recognized the construction and hydropower sectors as potential sectors in creating employment.

The report states that currently there are about 3,892 registered contractors, of which 120 are large, 380 medium and 3,392 small contractors. The ongoing hydropower projects, according to the committee, employs 127 Bhutanese contractors, in various categories.

There are 7,611 employees in the private construction sector of which 472 are non-Bhutanese (452 professionals and 20 non-professionals). The report states that with a total budget outlay of Nu 105 billion in 11th Plan for the construction sector, there is potential for local contractors to boost their businesses, thereby generating employment.

The committee observed that low level of mechanization, lack of social safety nets and improper working conditions discourage job seekers from joining the sector. Besides having to work manually under tough conditions, their remunerations are not based on the nature of the jobs.

Council members appreciated the Construction Development Corporation Limited (CDCL) for employing only Bhutanese. The committee recommended that the government explore possibilities of considering Bhutanese construction companies including CDCL in hydropower constructions through government’s nomination.

The committee will make changes to the proposed recommendations on employment creation and promotion and submit it for endorsement on December 7.

Kinga Dema