Agriculture development seems to be picking pace only on paper. There are various plans and programmes but the overall production rate seems to be decreasing.

In this context, MP for Sarpang, Anand Rai’s question about decreasing cereal production in the National Council session on November 16 is significant.

Human-wildlife conflict is the biggest pall facing the farmers. Electric fencing hasn’t really worked. So, chain-linked fencing, an option being adopted is expected to reduce the issue of human-wildlife conflict. This is expected to be effective, particularly in the dzongkhags where agricultural production is high.

When talking about agriculture and production, we might do well to do away with useless demagoguery.  If there is a rise in productivity but a fall in production, Bhutan’s agriculture is in muddy waters.

If agriculture is affected by factors such as human-wildlife conflict, water shortage, rural-urban migration, labour shortage, land fragmentation and climate change, among others, there is a need for a cross-sectoral approach to solving the problem. If the government so far focused only on increasing agricultural production and omitted marketing accessibility and strategy for the farmers, a change and workable solution have been long time coming.

The good news, as the agriculture minister stated at the National Council, is that the ministry has been working on land development and management making it “technologically friendly”. According to the minister, the ministry developed about 400 acres of land, made terraces on 270 acres of land, and revived 522 acres of fallow land. It also allocated Nu 500 million for chain-linked fencing and an additional fund will be secured from donor agencies.

Identifying priority crops, providing timely weather advisory services, and strategising market-led production, among other measures that are being planned for implementation, cannot wait.

Bhutan’s agriculture development is beset by several problems, but the problems are not of a nature that cannot be fixed. The lack of right policy interventions at the right time has aggravated the challenges over the years.

As an agrarian country with a large percentage of the population in the sector, it is about time we really gave a leg up to the sector.

Of the total arable land in the country of just 7 percent—664,000 acres—only 2.93 percent is under cultivation. On the other hand, the fallowing of land is increasing. On the last count, in 2019, total fallow land constituted 66,120.32 acres.

Having stopped the real challenges, prompt and earnest actions must now follow. One of the biggest challenges facing the sector today is the shortage of farmhands. Mechanisation of agriculture has the potential to attract a large number of jobless youth.

Attempts are being made to address these issues, including compensation to the farmers for crop loss to wild animals. Even conservation laws are being studied and changes proposed.

Agriculture development needs a new turn; it is not only about being able to feed ourselves. In the long run, it is about securing our national sovereignty. Dependence on food imports, starting from salt and oil and cereal will land us in a very difficult situation.