South Asian experts spelling out grim picture of food shortage in the region in the coming years if measures are not put in place to boost agriculture products is a serious warning to Bhutan’s agriculture, food security and self-sufficiency dream.
The region is already facing challenges to meet the rising demand of the staple food. The region grows 31 percent of the world’s rice and 18 percent of wheat, but if we are to ensure global food security and keep pace with the growing demand for rice, there is a need to increase production by 26 percent by 2035. The region’s population growth is expected to hit about 19 million annually. Time may be running out.
Although decreasing agriculture productivity is the result of more or less similar challenges like lack of land, and water, shortage of farmhands, degradation of land, emerging environmental threats and climate change, Bhutan has a problem unique to itself. Even as the nation long recognised the importance of achieving food self-sufficiency and security, land used for agriculture has been decreasing over the years. The country is just 47 percent self-sufficient in rice, which constitutes 53 percent of daily dietary energy requirement for Bhutanese.
Projects like Food Security and Agricultural Productivity that aims at reducing the country’s reliance on food imports, help combat malnutrition in children and improving agricultural productivity are yet to take off in a big way. Bhutanese society is fast changing with rapid economic development; rural to urban migration is growing. Youth unemployment keeps on rising. The small arable land of less than 2.5 percent is becoming smaller due to increasing fallowing of land.
It is against this backdrop that Bhutan needs to plan the growth of agriculture productivity, seriously. If we are to increase production base of agriculture, the sector must be made attractive so that our young people are encouraged to take up agriculture as a viable option, which will ultimately help the nation deal with increasing youth unemployment and decreasing agriculture productivity.
Doing this will require multisectorial approach. But it must be done; we have no luxury of choice. There is only a thin line between food self-sufficiency and national sovereignty.