YK Poudel

Lack of representation in decision-making, inadequacy in rural women-centric schemes worsened by low financial literacy and minimal reflection of gender-sensitive interventions in agri-food value chains are among the key challenges faced by women farmers in Bhutan.

Agriculture sector in Bhutan for years has employed about 66,000 women in contrast to about 20,000 men, according to the Labour Force Survey Report of 2022.

A recent agricultural survey observed that the employment in the agriculture sector had reduced to 43.5 percent from 54 percent in 2018 suggesting a shift in employment opportunities.

“Strategies, plans, programmes and guidelines do not adequately reflect gender aspects despite having clear policy directives covered in the relevant policies,” the National Gender Profile of Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods 2023 by UN Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO) Bhutan stated.

In terms of gender disparity, the employment representation of women was recorded at 57.8 percent while that of men employed in the sector was 41.3 percent. 


Generally, climate change and its associated risks impact agricultural workers.Women farmers, in particular, face greater threats with an increased proportion of women among small-scale food producers.

The FAO Bhutan report of 2023 stated that the existing agricultural extension centres are usually established based on the number of gewogs and are located close to the gewog offices. The numbers of villages in gewogs varies with villages in large gewogs remaining underserved.

Farmers located far from the extension centres are usually underserved by the extension centres. For example, the far-flung locations of such extension centres make it difficult and challenging for rural women to access services and take part in local-discussions.

Women’s participation in decision-making is critically low in Bhutan impeding representation of women and their ability to access financial support. Most of the existing financial institutions do not have rural women-centric schemes. Low financial literacy among rural women further aggravates their accessibility.

Policy frameworks

There are policies, on paper, aimed towards transforming the agricultural sector towards a value chain based and market oriented sustainable system. The Agriculture Extension Strategy 2019 to 2028 formulated with the vision of a “dynamic, well-structured, coordinated and effective agricultural extension system for an inclusive economically viable and sustainable agriculture” places importance on gender mainstreaming in achieving its objectives.

Food and Nutrition Security Policy 2014 requires all programmes implemented in achieving food security and nutrition to be gender-sensitive and socially inclusive. The policies are aimed towards transforming the agricultural sector towards a value chain based and market oriented sustainable system. 

The government is in the process of reviewing the 13th Plan, which requires strategising tools and mechanisms to align any interventions from the gender perspective. This would reduce implementation gaps at later stages.

The FAO Bhutan’s report recommends the government to revisit the financial legislation. “Having strategies and interventions such as climate-smart and climate-resilient agriculture assists in planning women-friendly measures,” the report stated.

As per the 13th Plan, promotion of large-scale commercial farming, support for subsistence farming to improve livelihoods and ensure food security, promotion of high-value products for export markets, enhancing ecosystem services for sustainable and resilient biodiversity initiatives and improving governance mechanisms to enhance business ecosystems are the key priorities of the department of agriculture.

For the next five years, a total of Nu 15,897.58 million has been proposed for implementation of such projects in the country.

Bhutan’s primary sector comprises agriculture, livestock and forestry; contributing about 14.67 percent to the country’s GDP—with a contribution of Nu 33,422 million in 2022. This is an annual growth rate of 9.6 percent between 2000 and 2022.