Since the first day of our planned development self-sufficiency has been the overriding theme of progress. Yet, after more than half a century on, we are nowhere near achieving this national dream. The problem really doesn’t seem to be geographical hindrance but lack of true initiative. Seen in the right perspective and pressing economic pressure, producing food grains, oils, dairy and meat products ought not to be an insurmountable challenge for a country with small—although growing—population.
For Bhutan to realise what it can do to move closer to achieving food self-sufficiency, which is at the centre of all other forms of independence, radical initiatives are critically necessary. That must come, of course, with prior warning and education; there must be a gradual but carefully calibrated effort—top-down. Making food items scarcer, one at a time, gradually, could encourage local production. Setting a goal and holding ourselves accountable is perhaps the only viable option we have. We have not been able to do this.
All these, we must know, is easier said than done. Without openings, little can be achieved all in all. Building a solid groundwork so is very important. We have just about 2 percent land that is being cultivated and urbanisation is fast eating up agricultural land. At the heart of the problem is urbanisation without long-term vision. It is exactly at such meeting of challenges that we need to do more by making the most out of the little we have.
Simply put, why should onion shortage in India affect us? It is onion today; tomorrow it could be rice, oil, flour, chilli, and potato. We are talking about our basic needs but we are already too dependent on neighbouring countries for almost everything. This does not augur well for the country’s long-term economic future. We had a vision for the nation—vision 2020—which was all in all good and grand both. Coming down to figuring out where the nation stands today, we have a lot more miles to tread and questions to ask.
Some small initiatives are already showing the way. For example, local government leaders in Trashigang have decided that support from the dzongkhag administration is necessary to promote local products. Schools in the dzongkhags from now on will be supplied only local products—fruits, vegetables and dairy products, among others. This, in other words, is incentivising the most important sector in Bhutan. There are those who argue that taking RNR centres to the villages were aimed at increasing agricultural productivity in the country. There has not been relatable link so far. Investment in agriculture is still wanting.
Not alone is the example from Trashigang. There have been many others from across the country, but why are they not making an impact that can influence jobs creation in the country and securing our independence, small as we are? For a dream to succeed, an opening has to be made. We haven’t yet. For Bhutan to achieve self-sufficiency [in food at least] there has to be a fundamental change in the way we look at development. And that means spending where we must before the time runs out.