A  food security and agricultural productivity project launched yesterday is expected to benefit 10,000 households in five dzongkhags.

Should the project prove successful, rice, vegetables, potatoes, cardamom, ginger and citrus production in these five dzongkhags would increase by 20 percent by 2022.

The five-year project worth USD 9.35M aims to reduce rural poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition in 24 gewogs of Haa, Chukha, Sarpang, Dagana and Samtse.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said the project areas were chosen considering the potential for commercialisation of certain high value crops as well as incidences of poverty, malnutrition and poor access to markets.

Project director, Jigme Dorji added that under the previous World Bank projects, infrastructure investments have already been made in these dzongkhags. Except for Haa, five gewogs each from the rest of the dzongkhags were chosen as project areas.

While the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) trust fund is providing a grant of USD 8M (85.5 percent of the project cost), the government will bear USD 1.12M for salaries of the staff under the project. The remaining USD 0.23 is to be collected from the beneficiaries in the form of labour contribution and cost sharing arrangement for machinery and equipment.

World Bank was nominated as the supervising entity for the execution of the grant. The World Bank mission finalised annual work plan and budget on September 19.

The project director said that four irrigation facilities would be developed on 1346.33 acres of land. This includes, irrigation scheme in Ratey Khola in Dekiling and Laring Khola in Gakiling, both in Sarpang, benefitting about 648 acres of land. The Tarey Khola and Birkulo-Somlachen irrigation schemes in Samtse are expected to benefit about 698 acres of land in Dophuchen and Norbugang gewogs. An additional 250 acres of land will be provided with high efficiency micro-irrigation facilities like sprinkler and drip. This is where the beneficiaries have to share the cost.

The project also aims to either strengthen or form about 300 farmers’ group and 30 producers’ group and disseminate awareness on nutrition via a network of communities.

A budget of USD 5.21M is earmarked for gender friendly farm machinery, electric fencing, green houses, climate smart technologies, irrigation and providing key infrastructures and training, among others.

Another USD 1M is allocated for post-harvest and market infrastructure support to establish linkages to domestic and export market. The department of agriculture and marketing cooperatives will lead this activity.

World Bank’s country director, Qimiao Fan said that agriculture sector has played a significant role in reducing poverty in Bhutan and contributed to the rapid socio-economic development of the country. “It will continue to play a very significant role and World Bank will continue to support Bhutan.”

Yet, he said there is tremendous opportunity in the sector that needs to be explored. “The project outcome is such that 30 percent of the beneficiaries are supposed to be women. I hope that we will exceed the target.”

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said that agriculture is one of the areas where economic diversification is being explored. “Contribution from the agriculture sector should be more than hydropower,” he said. “The only thing is that we were not able to convert all agricultural activities into monetary terms.”

Tshering Dorji