Water is a problem of abundance in Bhutan. However, lack of water is a major issue.
So, what really is our problem?
We are an agrarian society. However, the contribution of the agriculture sector to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the least although it employs half of the country’s workforce.
Bhutan’s agriculture development stands on sound footing going by the prime minister’s latest State of the Nation Report.
First, there is the need to recognise that Bhutan’s agriculture sector has arrived at a crossroads. Going by the focus, however, do we produce enough to feed ourselves?
We are still a nation that imports huge quantities of vegetables and fruits.
Bhutan’s agriculture development has several problems. The problems, however, are not of a nature that cannot be fixed.
The lack of right policy interventions at the right time has aggravated the challenges over the years.
As an agrarian country with a large percentage of the population in the sector, it is about time we really gave a leg up to the sector.
Of the total arable land in the country of just 7 percent—664,000 acres—only 2.93 percent is under cultivation. On the other hand, the fallowing of land is increasing. On the last count, in 2019, total fallow land constituted 66,120.32 acres.
While every five-year plan since the early 1960s has emphasised the development of the agriculture sector, the reality has been quite the contrary. Our food import figures have been almost doubling year after year.
To bring real change in the sector, understanding the core issues the sector is grappling with is important.
More important, prompt and earnest actions must follow. This has not been happening.
Labour shortage in farms is among the biggest challenge facing farmers today. And, then, there is the issue of human-wildlife conflict, which is increasing partly due to our strict conservation laws. When the livelihoods of the farmers do not count so much as the importance of the conservation of nature and wildlife, farming becomes difficult.
Our main problem today, in the sector, is the lack of innovation. That is why farming and agriculture remain unpopular among the younger generation even as it has the potential to impact the economy significantly.
Mechanisation of farming is one, but more important is the availability of water.
Lack of water for irrigation or dysfunctional irrigation system has been one of the biggest problems in many parts of the country. Labour shortage will continue to be a problem if we cannot attract young and educated Bhutanese to farms.
The de-suung’s many water projects are, so, becomes a very critical factor to improve agriculture and farming in the country.
Bhutan has two important brands—peace and organic. We are not investing enough in the latter, which could be the backbone of our economy. Everything begins and ends with water. The more we have, systematically, the better.