Food self-sufficiency is becoming the more distant a national dream. We are increasingly losing agricultural land to development activities and projects.
Food import has been growing. Between 2012 and 2017, a total of 893,436.70MT of food commodities was imported – rice constituted the biggest, about 50 percent (467,192.930MT) of the total import.
Looking in, we have this picture: agriculture sector’s contribution to the national economy has been decreasing from 44 percent in the Fourth Plan to 2.3 percent in the 11th. Today, Bhutan is only 45 percent self-sufficient in rice.
We have set a target for ourselves. That is to bringing about 80,000 acres under improved irrigation systems to ensure food security. But we have faltered. We have not moved ahead. Lack of resources remains the biggest challenge as the sector continues to witness reduced budget allocation Plan after Plan.
Rice is our staple diet. Bringing even an acre of land under rice cultivation will make a huge difference in an economy like ours. What is manifestly clear is that we are getting our priorities wrong even as more than half our population is employed in agriculture.
There are challenges that we need to address that are cross-sectoral in nature. With rapid urbanisation, fallowing has increased. Rural to urban migration is on the rise. Our development policies are short-sighted. In other words, we are busy building walls around our own backyard without thinking about the common good.
Why should rising youth unemployment be a problem of labour ministry, for example? Why do they not see agriculture as the most sustainable employer?
As small as our economy is, depending on food import can have far-reaching implications in the long run. Self-sufficiency weakened, we can be much more vulnerable to the changing political tides. Our sovereignty rests on our being fully self-sufficient. We cannot settle for anything less.
As a landlocked country, agriculture is our strength. We can do without heavy slogans like organic Bhutan. What we need is a real focus to provide for ourselves. And given our smaller population, food self-sufficiency is very much possible.
Why is this our most important sector still beleaguered?