YK Poudel   

Agricultural production in Bhutan has been declining over the years, with the nation producing 70,168 metric tonnes of primary cereals in 2022. To address this concerning trend, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MoAL) is implementing strategic measures focusing on farm mechanissation, irrigation, and the cultivation of high-value crops.

During the first Meet-the-Press on February 29, Agriculture Minister Younten Phuntsho identified several contributing factors to this decline. These include challenges related to landholding, limited access to finance for agricultural activities, climate-induced adversities, water supply for irrigation, and post-harvest management issues.

“There’s a shift towards economically viable, less labour-intensive crops over paddy cultivation in wetlands,” he said.

In the upcoming 13th Five-Year Plan, the ministry, minister said, would prioritise the enhancement of high-value crop production and the strengthening of farm co-operatives.

He further highlighted the importance of the Gyalsung National Service in promoting food security through advancements in agriculture technology, protected agriculture, and drip irrigation.

Efforts will be made, he said, to improve farm mechanisation, enhance irrigation water supply, and facilitate easier access to finance for farmers.

The ministry has plans to address trade challenges related to pricing, accessibility, and transportation based on reports from the Department of Agriculture.

The plans also include the introduction of new crop varieties.

The 13th Five-Year Plan emphasises the commercial production of high-value organic agricultural commodities such as asparagus, broccoli, quinoa, strawberry, cauliflower, buckwheat, and adzuki beans.

Additionally, the Plan proposes the production of new high-value livestock commodities including rainbow trout, sturgeon caviar, yak cheese and fiber, putka and comba honey, yagyu cheese, and royal jelly.

Investments in climate-smart and disaster-resilient irrigation facilities for farmers will receive special focus.

The Integrated Agriculture and Livestock Census of Bhutan 2022 reveals a decline in the production of primary cereals compared to 2021, with paddy, maize, wheat, buckwheat, barley, and millet being the primary cereals cultivated.

The census data also indicates that a significant portion of farmers are above the age of 65, with females being overrepresented in age categories up to 54 years. This suggests a need for initiatives to attract and support younger farmers, particularly females, to sustain agricultural activities.

Despite witnessing growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Income (GNI) in 2022, there was a contraction in the contribution of the primary sector. Crop production registered a negative growth rate in 2022, highlighting the urgency of implementing strategies to revitalise the agricultural sector for sustainable economic growth.