Chhimi Dema 

To assess the fallow land status and distribution, and explore innovative ideas to use them for agricultural use, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and National Land Commission Secretariat carried out a pilot survey last year.

Bhutan’s arable land is only seven percent of the total land. From the 664,000 acres of arable land, 66,102.28 acres (9.96 percent from the total arable land) are left as fallow land.

The pilot study found that some of the major causes for leaving the land fallow are labour shortage, lack of water or irrigation facilities, human-wildlife conflict, and distance of the land plots from human settlement.

“Considering the response in the survey, it was recorded that more than 50 percent of the fallow land is located at a distance more than three kms from the settlement areas,” according to the report.

Other reasons for leaving land fallow were inaccessible roads, far from human settlement, difficult land topography with steep slopes, and land degradation or landslide.

The survey found that growing remittance from family members living outside, and better income generation from farm works as compared to agriculture farming were also contributing to fallow land record in the country.

The report stated that about 80 percent of the land irrespective of categories was left fallow for more than five years, and 9.89 percent of land was left fallow for less than three years.

A total of 3,027 plots were completely fallow, and 98 plots were partially fallow.

The survey was carried out in three dzongkhags covering six gewogs – Barshong, Tsholingkhar, Gasetsho Gom, Phangyul, Nubi and Langthel.

The study recommended the government come up with appropriate enabling policy measures and innovative ideas to motivate farmers and youths to continue agricultural farming.

The survey recommended that for land owners interested to put fallow land into agricultural use again, the government “should ensure reliable irrigation facilities, farm mechanisation, and address human-wildlife conflicts.

A total of 2,558 farmers were willing to lease out fallow land, and 567 were not willing to lease out fallow land.

“The size of fallow land is small, scattered and located far away from the human settlements, and bringing those land under commercial agricultural farming seems impossible unless appropriate policy interventions were instituted to consolidate it,” the report stated.

It stated that with the growing population and increasing demand for food, a priority government policy intervention and investment would be necessary to revert the fallow land into productive agriculture use to contribute to the national food and nutrition security.”

Fallow Land Bank initiative 

The study was carried out to understand field status and farmers’ views on why land was left fallow and interventions made to address the fallow land issue.

It was carried out before the agencies can implement the fallow land bank (FLB) initiative.

The initiative is aimed to revert privately owned fallow land to productive agricultural use. It would create a platform to lease fallow land for agricultural purpose, facilitate and encourage fallow land reversion to enhance national food security and protect arable state reserve forest land for perpetuity.

According to the agriculture ministry, FLB would create a platform for people to deposit and lease fallow land for agricultural purpose with certain fees and rents.

Landowners can deposit their arable land in FLB, and interested individuals can lease those land to use for agriculture.

The land bank initiative is explored in countries like Spain, Nepal, and India and depending on how land is left fallow, various schemes are developed to make it productive.

The agriculture ministry and the National Land Commission Secretariat are still in discussion about how FLB can be implemented in the country.