Urban agriculture initiative under the Department of Agriculture (DoA), which was initiated with the support of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation as part of Covid-19 contingency plan doesn’t seem to be going well.
In May of last year, DoA identified 13.54 acres of private land that were left fallow in Begana, Changtagang, and Kabesa in Thimphu and involved 139 Bhutanese who had lost jobs due to the pandemic, especially from the tourism sector. Of nearly 80 individuals who were given land to start agriculture work, less than half are still hanging on.
Nature has already reclaimed vast acres of farmlands. Because many who signed up for urban agriculture had little or no farming experience, it appears calling it quits was a better option for most. Many seem to have signed up for the project thinking that farming can be done by anybody. If right interventions are not sought, more could leave.
Urban agriculture is not a spur-of-the-moment project although it helplessly looks like one now. The idea behind the project is to address the growing unemployment challenges in the country and also, in the long run, to achieve food security. The government has come up with many support systems but surely more can be done so that more and more young unemployed Bhutanese take up agriculture and farming.
Transportation cost and lack of market seem to be among the many challenges facing those under the initiative. If such problems persist, those who are holding on with the hope of a better market situation might end up discouraged. Taking back underutilised land and giving them to a new group of people is unlikely to turn things over.
However, going by what little occasioned from the project gives us more than mere hope of achieving both the dreams—of giving employment to a large number of unemployed youth and firming up the nation’s food security and sufficiency status.
Thimphu’s urban agriculture produced 33 metric tonnes of vegetables. But the market and market linkages are still the major problems facing the farmers. The government could look into improving these hurdles. At the same time, it must work out and provide subsidies such as machines. With technology and new methods of growing food now, such as vertical farming, there is an opportunity for a real change in the sector.
One-time investment can be heavy but it is worth making.