YK Poudel

Bhutan, known for its lush agricultural landscape, saw a drop in paddy cultivation in 2022, with the total area falling to 40,106.81 acres from 40,804.95 acres in 2020.

This 1.71 percent decrease can be attributed to a variety of factors, including urbanisation, socio-economic development, labour shortages, and human-wildlife conflict. These findings were revealed in the National Statistics Bureau (NSB) report 2022 Agriculture Spatial Information for Paddy Cultivation (2022 ASI4PC).

According to the study, paddy cultivation decreased by 698 acres between 2020 and 2022. Sarpang experienced the greatest decline, with a 300-acre decrease in cultivated paddy area. Samtse came in second with 175 acres, followed by Wangdue with 150 acres.

The conversion of prime paddy areas for urban development was the primary cause of the decrease in paddy cultivation in Sarpang and Samtse.

Punakha had the largest cultivable paddy area at 6,291.23 acres, followed by Samtse at 5,301.40 acres and Wangdue at 4,772.61 acres. Pemagatshel, on the other hand, had the smallest cultivated paddy area at 19.34 acres, followed by Haa at 99.7 acres, and Gasa at 175.91 acres.

Tobden, NSB’s chief statistical officer of the Agricultural Statistics Division, said that the 2022 ASI4PC study did not assess actual paddy production.

“All harvested production data are collected through an annual survey,” he said.

Paddy growers reported the loss of prime paddy wetlands due to increasing urbanisation and rapid socioeconomic development during the field validation of the 2022 ASI4PC. Furthermore, agricultural landowners are shifting towards more economically viable crops that require less labour and resources than paddy cultivation. The area under paddy cultivation is gradually shrinking, owing in part to a labour shortage.

Tobden said that paddy growers continue to face significant challenges such as wildlife damage, irrigation issues, and low soil fertility.

Although the report does not provide production figures for 2022, data from the previous five years show a decline in paddy production. The output in 2018 was 63,889.82 metric tonnes (MT), which fell to 49,948.05 MT in 2019, 54,088.40 MT in 2020, and 40,507.90 MT in 2021.

The 2022 ASI4PC report makes several recommendations to improve and strengthen future paddy area statistics. It recommends conducting a similar period study to determine the actual change or reduction in paddy cultivation area. A large-scale, in-depth study could also be carried out to estimate and validate the area under paddy cultivation.

The report also suggests that similar studies be conducted on other priority crops to validate production data.

The case of five major paddy-growing dzongkhags was examined during the validation process of the area under paddy cultivation using three different measurement techniques: farmer self-reporting (SR), GPS measures, and Google Earth-derived (GEO) estimates.