The ministry is also planning of growing rice three times a year

Spring paddy cultivation, which the agriculture ministry tried on a commercial scale earlier this year, produced more than 77 metric tonnes (MT) of paddy, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said.

Spring paddy was grown on 533 acres in Gelephu (136 acres) and Chuzergang (185) in Sarpang dzongkhag, Yoeseltse (118) in Samtse and Khamethang (94) in Samdrupjongkhar.

“This being the first commercial scale cultivation there were some lessons learnt,” Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said at the meet the press session on October 13.

In some of the areas, irrigation facilities were lagging because they were under repair.

The ministry transplanted in the beginning of March and the harvesting coincided with monsoon. “We’re going to transplant early next season from mid February to harvest before the monsoon,” the minister said.

He said there was labour shortage and most of the areas were not suitable for mechanisation. “So we have started consolidation of farm machinery in some places,” he said. “These are some of the problems, but we cannot reduce them at once as agriculture is a sensitive business and depends on lots of factors.”

The minister said that since paddy cultivation was organic, the yield was low.

Although spring rice cultivation was initiated more than a decade ago, it was done on a small scale, he said.

The ministry is considering to grow rice three times a year with the 15 months cycle especially in the southern parts of the country.

“With this initiative and incremental reverting of fallow land to cultivation, we’re hopeful of achieving close to rice self-sufficiency or at least 90 percent,” he said.

The crop sector alone contributed Nu 14 billion to the gross domestic product of the economy according to a World Bank report.

In 2012, rice production was 52,252MT. The yield was 1,493kg an acre which has today increased to 1,604kg an acre, he said.

In 2012, the paddy production was 78,000MT, which jumped to 85,090 MT last year. So between 2012 and 2016, production increased by more than 7,000MT, the minister said.

“The rice industry in Bhutan is worth about Nu 4.375 billion,” he said.

Paddy fields area expanded from 52,252 acres under cultivation in 2012 to 53,000 acres last year.

In terms of rice self-sufficiency, it has increased from 53 percent to 58.7 percent as of this year, agriculture statistics show.

He said that the five percent would be equal to more than 30,000MT or 5,000 acres. “So paddy production has been improving,” lyonpo said.

He said more than seven dzongkhags are rice self-sufficient. Top of the list is Punakha with 267 percent, followed by Tsirang with 216 percent, Paro, Dagana, and Samtse, among others.

Lyonpo said that the ministry continues to invest in electric fencing, hybrid seeds, machinery, research and technology, institutional changes, and farm mechanisation.

He said that agriculture is identified as one of the five jewels for economic development and that the media would know better about whether agriculture has developed.

“Look around. In 2013, most of us, including the Cabinet ministers were lean and thin and today we’re well nourished, including me.”

Tshering Palden