A growing number of urban residents seem to be embracing agriculture initiatives in dzongkhags such as Thimphu, Punakha, Bumthang, and Sarpang.
According to the Department of Agriculture’s Urban Agriculture Initiative, more than 351 beneficiaries are working on a total of 97 acres of land this year, up from 277 in 2021. In Thimphu alone, there are 241 beneficiaries.
The Initiative reportedly produced 95.8 metric tonnes (MT) of vegetables last year and engaged about 300 individuals. This year’s production target is 100MT.
In the face of repeated vegetable shortages, especially in the capital, such programmes can go a long way in filling the supply gaps. For many, the programme helps them be self-sufficient and independent. Likewise, for a large number of people, it is finding employment at a time when unemployment is shooting over the roof.
The Initiative is an example of what the government can do to boost agriculture development by giving it a new and innovative turn. Otherwise, we would be talking about the same problems year after year.
There are a couple of things that we need to first understand to bring significant development in the sector. Land is an issue. Our farmers do not have enough land for large-scale production. The bigger problem is that their landholding is decreasing by the year.
Second, farming is difficult in many places because of the terrain. Power tillers and subsidies work only in certain places and farms. Electric fencing is faced with challenges that have led to a large-scale abandonment of farm fields in some places. And the issue of human-wildlife conflict and rural-urban migration keeps increasing.
The Initiative, started in 2020 with the support of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation as part of Covid-19 contingency plan, carried on, has the potential to address the growing unemployment challenges in the country and also, in the long run, achieve food security.
It would be unfortunate for the country to let such opportunities go to waste. Avenues and funds must be sought to continue and augment such programmes. Investment in the sector may be heavy for the government but it worth making.
We may do well to remind ourselves that food self-sufficiency has been Bhutan’s dream since the first plan period in 1961. But how far have we come today?