No wetland left behind

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.

1 reply
  1. irfan
    irfan says:

    Even I don’t understand why we have this perception that agriculture is not an employable opportunity. For those into the profession of farming, land is both the asset invested as capital and the eventual employer. But that’s only my own observation about certain assumptions in the agricultural business.

    With this current initiative taking off, one expects to see the production to exceed the demand comfortably. Or otherwise, the business losses the control over pricing in the market. Volume is important to manipulate the self balancing forces in a highly competitive market.

    What’s good about this model is that we are beginning with a promised return to these land owners. Moreover, the lands have anyway been left fallow or near fallow for various reasons. 20 percent of the crops produced is almost like 20 percent of minimum return on net revenue depending on the prices. And one usually sees layers of price equilibrium in a market depending on the intermediate supply rather than the final demands.

    Only concern here is the quality of the product to compete with the imported rice for a price. Moreover, the 20 percent is both a prefixed outflow for the farming partner as well as a fixed cost for the land owners at the end.

    The challenge with agriculture as employable opportunity is that we are no more in an era where food security is considered everything one looks for in life. For today’s generation, exclusive food security is probably the least important of all securities they want in life.

    Only exception is if one is truly into the profession of power lifting or body building. And that’s purely a very light hearted expression for a rather serious scenario to deal with. I don’t have any intention to make anyone feel any offended. The reality is that we are mostly not considered any food addicts and that’s the concern.

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