Kuensel recently reported that “about 7.6 metric tonnes (MT) of ginger belonging to Samtse farmers are stored in Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) auction yard for months and as high as 1,000MT of ginger stocks in the villages.”

Such reports are worthy of taking note and deserve immediate state intervention, possibly through a strong food security law.  A Kuensel editorial stated the issue of farmers not being able to market their produce and the “national dream of achieving food self-sufficiency” remains a problem for the last 30 years or more.

This indicates that three consecutive governments made numerous promises to narrow the gaps between the rich and poor but remains a political lie and did not translate into real solutions. 

Our State policy under Article 9 of our Constitution imposes a duty on the State to “achieve economic self-reliance, promote open and progressive economy; foster private sector development through fair market competition” and promote and protect the livelihoods of the citizens to pursue the Gross National Happiness. However, this constitutional duty remained a paper tiger thus far without any comprehensive solution from the successive government in the absence of enabling legislation.

The recent reports revealed that our economy, particularly the status of food self-sufficiency is worrisome. The “commodity prices in Bhutan rose significantly last year” by 5.63 percent compared to 2019 hitting the consumers hard, where a family spent Nu 5,550 compared to Nu 5,000 per month in the previous year.  

For example, the chilli price increased to Nu 650 per kg and purchasing power of Ngultrum decreased by 7.16 percent in 2020.  But on the other hand, farmers across the country complained of poor demand and low prices leading to huge losses among the producers. The allegations of middlemen benefitting hugely at the cost of consumers and producers remain without a solution. We must be mindful that “experts warn that recent price spikes for food will hit the most vulnerable populations.”  While the national wage rate remains as low as Nu 150 per day, the food expenses alone exceed the income of daily wage earners.

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that “food and nutrition security and the right to adequate food are multidimensional and cross-sectoral in nature. The “economic, social, cultural, environmental such as the right to water, the right to property, access to land and other productive resources, the right to health, the right to decent work and fair pay among others” are part and parcel of food security.  

Since our government promises to narrow the gap between rich and poor and our “parliamentarians are critical partners in the fight to eradicate poverty and malnutrition, given their legislative, budgetary and policy oversight roles”, our legislature must take cognizance of this problem beyond the political lens and legislate a strong food security law. Being a party to global sustainable development goals (SDS) to “end hunger everywhere by 2030”, we must expedite national actions to address the current problem.

Using FAO’s Framework Law as a guide to draft a Food Security Bill may be a good option.  This “framework law” provides a legislative structure under one governing law, different sectoral disciplines, as well as the legal grounds for organising the multiple State actors responsible for securing the right to food.

 It is time the government solved the problem holistically and not in a piecemeal manner based on political priorities.  

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.