Some encouraging developments are happening in the agriculture sector. This is good and reassuring because one of our most important national dreams rests on the development of agriculture where more than half our population are. We have long recognised that as a small and independent nation, it is critically important for us to achieve food self-sufficiency and security.

As a late starter on the path of modern development, we were compelled to focus more on the sectors other than agriculture for immediate returns. We have so not been able to harness the sector’s full potential. But the time has now come when we must earnestly invest in the sector.

The challenges that our farmers confront today like lack of irrigation water, increasing crop attack by wild animals have made agriculture less and less viable over the years. The subsistence farming that we practised is becoming smaller by the year, hampering the overall agricultural production. Goongtong or emptying households in the rural pockets of the country has been one of the major upshots of agriculture becoming less sustainable. Even as we speak, there are thousands of young people looking for employment in town and cities. This too is the result of agriculture failing in communities.

Investment in agriculture could be one of the most profitable businesses. It could also provide employment to thousands of Bhutanese. Ultimately agriculture could be the sector with the potential to stop large-scale movement of people from rural to urban areas. There is today a need to pursue systematic intervention in the areas of irrigation, human-wildlife conflicts, and access to finance. Large scale or commercial farming could be difficult for the people otherwise. And there is, perhaps more importantly, a need to identify and create market for the farmers.

Some of the experiments that we have launched are already showing signs of promise. Spring paddy cultivation, which the agriculture ministry tried on a commercial scale earlier in Sarpang this year, produced more than 77 metric tonnes of paddy. The ministry has plans to grow rice three times a year with the 15 months cycle, especially in the southern parts of the country. If we are successful, it will add significantly to Bhutan becoming food self-sufficient. We could be able save by cutting down on imports by much.

In Pemagatshel, four gewogs of Norbugang, Decheling, Dungmaed, and Chimoong have started growing winter chilli on a commercial scale. The ministry should render any manner of support that the farmers may need. If we can encourage our farmers with easy access to market, we will not have to fly in chilis from across the border.

If we make agriculture viable, our youth will return to the farms.