Chhimi Dema 

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests’ (MoAF) target to achieve 60 percent rice self-sufficiency in the 12th Five Year Plan (FYP) remains questionable, considering the declining rice self-sufficiency ratio and the constraints facing paddy cultivation.

Food self-sufficiency is defined as a country’s capacity to meet its food requirement from domestic production.

The rice self-sufficiency in 2006 was 58.49 percent which dropped to 34.71 percent in 2019.

The status report, Self-sufficiency and Dietary Energy Supply of Food Crops in Bhutan, states that there was a “corresponding rise” in the rice import dependency ratio (IDR) with the decline of rice self-sufficiency ratio over the past 14 years.

The rice self-sufficiency ratio from 2006 to 2019 declined by an average of 47.08 percent whereas IDR increased from 41.51 percent in 2006 to 65.32 in 2019.

Records with the Department of Revenue and Customs show that Nu 2.63 billion worth of rice was imported in 2020. Rice was the third-highest commodity imported in the country.

An official from the Department of Agriculture (DoA) said that the rice cultivable area shrank in 2019, bringing rice self-sufficiency to 34.71 percent.  

According to the National Statistics Bureau’s Statistical Yearbook 2021, the country’s total paddy harvested area reduced from 37,268 acres in 2018 to 31,328 acres in 2020.

“This makes the rice self-sufficiency target unachievable in the 12th FYP,” a DoA official said.

Crop depredation by wild animals, labour shortages, and lack of irrigation water are among the major constraints that affect rice production.

The official said that farmers realised the high economic value of growing fruit relative to rice.

The ministry has carried out wetland consolidation under the agriculture land development programme to increase rice production.

A total of 15,361 acres of land has been developed through the programme in the 12th FYP.

The ministry also promotes cereals such as quinoa, wheat, maize, and buckwheat as rice substitutes to reduce imports. It also initiates projects to solve irrigation issues, construct electric fencing, and promote farm mechanisation to address the labour shortage.

According to the National Statistics Bureau’s Statistical Yearbook 2021, 2.8 percent of the land is arable, which includes chhuzhing (wetland), kamzhing (dryland), apple and citrus orchards, and areca nut and cardamom plantations. Chhuzhing accounts for 31,891 acres.

National Commission of Land’s record shows that there are 74,750 acres of registered chhuzhing in the country, which is 15.94 percent of the total land.

The official said: “Even if we cultivate rice in the available chhuzhing, it will not be enough to meet rice self-sufficiency. Only 90 percent self-sufficiency would be met.”

In 2018, statistics showed that Bhutan was 47 percent rice self-sufficient. The target was increased to 60 percent, which was expected to be achieved in the 12th FYP.

The ministry proposed to reduce the rice self-sufficiency target from 60 to 43 percent during the mid-term review in June. The proposal, according to the 12 FYP Mid-Term Review Report, was “not endorsed”, and the ministry was directed to carry out a detailed study.