Choki Wangmo

The non-functional multi-sectoral committee (MSC) of the agriculture ministry has impeded the effective implementation of renewable natural resources (RNR) marketing policy according to the National Council’s natural resources and environment committee.

A committee member, Pema Dakpa, while presenting the review report yesterday said that MSC, chaired by the agriculture secretary, met only once since 2018 to create terms of reference (ToR) although they were mandated to meet four times every year.

The 10-member committee have officials from the livestock, forest, and agriculture department, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority, trade department, finance ministry, Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Bhutan Exporters Association, Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited, and Royal Monetary Authority.

“Lack of responsibility from the committee that reasoned logistic difficulties for meetings led to delays in addressing pertinent issues in RNR marketing like reducing trade deficit from import of fruits and vegetables, and exploring market for RNR commodities,” Pema Dakpa said.

He said that since 2010, apple and mandarin production has reduced drastically. “In 2010, a mandarin tree produced 33kg while in 2019, it reduced to 29kg and an apple tree that produced 30kg of apples in 2010 reduced to only 23kg last year.”

“MSC could have discussed such challenges in the RNR sector,” Pema Dakpa said, adding that the ministry didn’t make full use of the technical expertise.

Although there are export markets, the import trend was rising while the fruits grown within the country like mango, papaya, watermelon, and pineapple have no export records.

He said the committee could have addressed import substitution measures but MSC had failed in their roles. “The agriculture ministry has the place to discuss but they were distracted from their mandates.”

Section 6 of the policy stated that RNR marketing is multi-dimensional and issues related to RNR marketing should be based on a coordinated and harmonized approach involving all the sectors concerned.

Other NC members also questioned the failure of the MSC.

Haa’s NC member, Ugyen Namgyel, said MSC should have met when there was pressing issues like the RNR marketing. “If there are inconveniences, members should have made arrangement among themselves.”

Dagana’s NC member, Surjaman Thapa, said due to Covid-19, farmers have increased their production and it is time to render them required support.

The review report also found that to improve the distribution of fresh and quality products within the country and export, there was a need to establish smaller capacity cold stores at strategic locations facilitated by refrigerated vans and establish other low-cost farm level stores.

There is also a need to establish mechanisms among the stakeholders for discussing the findings of market studies and adoption of technically feasible processed products by enhancing stronger collaboration between National Post Harvest Centre and Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives, the report recommended.

A committee member, Dorji Khandu, said that to have better information, it would be beneficial to incorporate the estimated quantity of products required per market in the agriculture market information system and also display it on television screens in the market.

NC chairperson Tashi Dorji directed the committee to review the recommendations taking into consideration the issues proposed by the members and consult relevant members.

The RNR Marketing Policy of Bhutan was adopted in 2018 to facilitate the transformation of current subsistence farming into commercial farming.

Meanwhile, committee chairpersons of NC also presented follow-up reports on the resolution of the 24th session and NC directed the committees seek further clarification from the concerned authorities with written questions.

The House will deliberate on the Mines and Minerals Bill on Monday.