Yangchen C Rinzin

The government has approved Nu 270 million (M) for the agriculture ministry to kick-start the school and hospital feeding programme (SHFP) that would supply local produce, considered a safe and nutritious food to students and patients.

The move comes after the government decided to transfer the stipend for the revised feeding programme to the agriculture ministry from the education ministry last year. It was also reported in the State of the Nation report that it would ensure the supply of locally grown food to schools while facilitating farming communities with a ready market.

It also aims to strive for food self-sufficiency and food security by encouraging local production by linking with the farmers’ cooperatives, generate youth employment through farming cooperatives/groups, state-owned enterprises, and substitute import.

Department of agriculture marketing and cooperative’s (DAMC) chief marketing officer, Younten Gyamtsho said that following the directives, a task force was formed and asked to submit a white paper for the SHFP.

“We’ve submitted the white paper that includes the action plan, its budget and terms of reference of all implementing stakeholder agencies. The Cabinet approved the white paper last year.”

The task force comprised of representatives from agriculture, education, health ministries, Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited, Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited, and Farm Mechanisation Corporation Limited.

Younten Gyamtsho said that DAMC would play as a nodal agency for the SHFP that would also review the programme annually and generate a report with recommendations apart from implementing the programme.

However, the approved budget of Nu 270M is less than the actual budget of Nu 3.22 billion (B) proposed by the agriculture ministry to the Cabinet. The task force had proposed for Nu 1.86B for recurrent expenditure and Nu 1.36B for capital investment.

“The budget proposed is to ensure that schools can pay for local produce and enhance the production and supply capacity during the off-seasons.”

The chief said that the following instruction to meet the required budget from the 12th Plan allocation before the budget was approved, the ministry had already coordinated inter-ministerial meeting to implement the programme instead of waiting for the budget.

“We had discussed to find the possibility of sparing budget for SHFP from different ministries to implement the programme,” he said. “The meeting found that the department of agriculture and labour ministry had Nu 3.8M and Nu 282M respectively, which was surrendered to GNHC.”

Although the budget was not released, the DAMC has already carried out the linking of schools and producers’ groups within the available budget in the pilot schools. The linking was based on the commodities available in the field and schools’ capacity to purchase with limited students’ stipend.

“We’ve already started creating awareness on the programme in different dzongkhags and created the linkages in all the schools and hospital in Trongsa,” he said. “However, the trial couldn’t take off in each dzongkhag because of budget constraints yet, we’ve managed to link a few schools in some dzongkhags.”

As of today, about 57 schools are linked with 70 produce groups for the supply of local produce including all schools in Trongsa and Chukha Dzongkhags benefitting more than 1,000 farming families.

Younten Gyamtsho said that the linkages were selected on accessibility, agriculture production and market accessibility for farmers. Price was also negotiated with farmers.

Today there are about 78, 953 students in 263 schools to be covered under the school-feeding programme.

The FMCL and the BLDCL are tasked to produce (on their farms) and mobilize the local produce (from Farmer Groups/Cooperatives) to meet the demand of the schools and the hospitals.

The FCBL will be responsible for the procurement and distribution of all supplies for the schools and the hospitals, FCBL will also organise imports for those products, which are not available locally.