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An important initiative that will help Bhutan realise the goal of food self-sufficiency kicked off this week.

More than 200 volunteers planted paddy on around 13 acres of more than 200 acres of wetland that had either been left fallow or partially fallow. The land has been leased by the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd and landowners will get 20 percent of the harvest.

The plan will be replicated nationwide and the government plans to leave no wetland fallow. It’s an ambitious goal but one that can and must be achieved.

Besides rice, for which only around 50 percent of demand is met locally, the government will also focus on other crops including cereals and vegetables, among others.

The recent ban on the import of chillies because of high levels of pesticide residue being detected, and subsequent import of chillies by air, was a revelation and another reminder of how dependent we are on food imports.

According to the latest figures, Bhutan imported Nu 3.84 billion worth of vegetable products and Nu 1.53 billion of rice in the last year.

Our food security status has to improve and the goal of leaving no wetland fallow will enable this goal.

According to agriculture ministry statistics, more than 6,300 acres of wetland in Bhutan is fallow. But it is estimated that the amount of land left fallow is much higher.

Having the government intervene and lease the land, provide the seeds, the labour, mechanisation services, marketing assistance, and then provide 20 percent of the harvest back to the landowners is a generous solution, and one best suited for the current context. But how long can the government intervene?

The top three causes of land being left fallow are labour shortage, wild animals destroying crops, and inadequate irrigation. However, of the three, if the labour shortage is solved, perhaps then, we will have a longterm strategy.

Rural-urban migration is occurring as a result of many factors. A life and a job in the city or town is easier and more glamourous. Agriculture is expensive and living a rural life is demanding.

The government is attempting to reverse this trend by bringing more services to rural communities and by increasing marketability of agricultural products. If agriculture can provide good money, then many would see it as a viable employment option.

What must now be cultivated is changing the perception that agriculture is not an employment option. The youth must see that there can be money in farming and that there is pride in farming. Our farmers must prosper and set examples.

If more of us return to the land, our food security situation would be much improved.

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