Food and vegetable production must grow

Bhutan imported 10,455MT of vegetables last year, 7,400MT less compared with import figure of the previous year. But Bhutan’s vegetable export has been growing steadily. However, much remains to be done to meet the national food and vegetable production target.

We are a small nation with the potential to achieve so much more in every respect. There is the vision. The vital question is: What’s pulling us from behind?

What’s manifestly clear is that our planners and implementors know where and how we are falling short. Only they would rather publish annual reports that are often painfully repetitive. But then, even publishing a meaningless annual report involves heavy cost for the nation. It is about time we made some earnest efforts to wean ourselves off this blood-sucking habit that seems to grow dangerous tentacles by the day.

What we need is a serious implementation of plans driven by the national vision. Where ought we to point our fingers? Perhaps the better question is: Will impugning any one organisation or individual make a difference? It will. RCSC’s organisational development exercise can be a little more meaningful so.

We know that Bhutan’s agriculture production is low because of poor land use. We have just about 8 percent of surface area that can be considered arable land. The hard truth is that we have been able to cultivate only 3 percent of the total so-called arable land. Urbanisation is inevitable but depending on increasing import is already becoming very expensive for the country.

Therefore, there is a need to look further than small loans and subsidies. The National Land Commission’s land user right certificate has a great potential to boost agriculture production but it will need much more to support the growth in the sector. That means streamlining the many conflicting laws. For example, urban development is inevitable but why can’t we protect our most fertile, cultivated land? We can apportion a vast area of land as conservation parks but why should our farmers pay for it in the form of increasing human-wildlife conflicts?

There is a serious lack of innovation in development plans and implementation, which can come only with encouragement and incentives. That’s probably why we continue to talk about crop integration and rotation, animal husbandry and soil improvement, and such like things. Not to forget the growing problem of human-wildlife problems and goongtong.

Some things look good on the policy and plan documents. Leaving it all there could mean inviting complacency. The need of the hour is pragmatism and courage to turn policy and plans into reality.

Winter vegetable production is a lesson. We have been able to bring down import but we are still way far short of the national target. According to some studies, we still need 1,124MT chili, 552MT tomato, 892 onion, 78MT aubergine, 16MT okra and 36MT bitter gourd, among others.

If we can bring down overall vegetable import, local production can be increased. Why and how not? Food sovereignty equals national sovereignty. This has always been and should remain the heart of Bhutan’s development planning.

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