Agriculture is Bhutan’s mainstay. It contributes to about 14 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
This gives us the real picture of ourselves. It takes courage to look ourselves into the mirror and acknowledge our faults and merits. Have we done that? Earnestly enough?
Agriculture is one of the vastly potential employment-generating sectors in the country. Farming is no longer a rural phenomenon. Our most important national dream – achieving food security and sufficiency – hinges on the success of this primary sector.
The truth, however, is that we have not given this vital sector a chance to grow. In fact, we have very effectively killed it to the last bit. We lost acres and acres of our land to urban development. Landholdings in both urban and rural parts of the country have become by much smaller. Yet we foster the dream of becoming a food self-sufficient country.
What ought we to make of this irony?
Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, is becoming a serious issue in the country. The government may downplay the gravity of the problem, but the growing street crimes speak explicitly and stridently of rising youth frustration. The question is: are we exploiting the resources available to us to benefit both individuals and the country?
We have had enough of lip service. Agriculture needs real development. We need to make it both attractive and lucrative to draw our young people to harness the power of the precious little land we have. We have some 259 farmers’ groups and 39 cooperatives today. But they are all failing to achieve their production targets because of serious lack of financial incentives and tax holidays to purchase agricultural plants, equipment, and machinery, among others.
Stringent and lengthy procedure for leasing GRF land restricts cooperatives and individuals to take up large-scale commercial farming. If we really want agriculture to grow, why do our commercial banks have maximum loan projection of only 2 percent for agriculture? Total budget outlay for agriculture has also decreased to 6.4% percent in the current Plan.
These are the factors that discourage our young people from taking up large-scale farming projects. If we must encourage our young and educated youth to take up agriculture, we must do away with the current rural land mortgage system that is not just expensive, but also grossly unfair.
It is because of all these reasons and more that our young people are leaving their hometowns and becoming jobless citizens. While we are making efforts to create jobs elsewhere, are we focusing on where we really should?
Let agriculture grow and there will be jobs.