As a mountainous country with difficult terrain, Bhutan faces food, water, and energy challenges unique to itself.

At the SAARC’s panel discussion on water-energy-food (WEF) nexus and policy mainstreaming for sustainable development in Thimphu yesterday, panelists from Bhutan and other member countries made recommendations to improve the prevailing challenges like water and energy shortage, low agriculture productivity, and poor technology to tap water for agriculture.

Chairperson of National Assembly’s good governance committee, Yogesh Tamang, said that due to population growth in the country, streams are being tapped for drinking purposes.

“We should not forget to address the problem of the Himalayan countries; rivers flow through the valleys, but our farmers are on the slopes,” he said.

He added that water shortage has compelled farmers to depend on seasonal rain. This has led to the shortage of food production.

In countries such as Bangladesh and India, farmers draw underground water for agriculture with pump systems. Bhutan has experimented the idea in some areas, but it is an expensive affair for the country.

Agriculture secretary, Rinzin Dorji, said “Complex dimensions such as the WEF nexus will need integrated assessment approach to better comprehend, frame, and strategise to address the challenges.”

Because Bhutan depends on hydropower entirely, it has to import electricity during winter.

International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development’s (ICIMOD) theme leader for water and air, Aditi Mukherji, said, “In all the SAARC countries, complementary energy mix is a good one. It means that this gives us a great opportunity to cooperate and diversify our own energy mix.”

Sun and wind are also good source of energy, she added.

Assistant professor at ICIMOD’s Himalayan University Consortium, Dr Chubamenla Jamir, said, “Organic agriculture could be a form of sustainable agriculture and it may be feasible in a country like Bhutan.”

However, she questioned the yield sufficiency to feed the ever-growing population.

Bhutan aims to go fully organic by 2020. As yet, however, continues to depend on food import. In 2016, Bhutan imported essential food items worth Nu 55.11B.

The panelists highlighted the need for policymakers in the different sectors to work together and that the policy framed must complement each other.

The five-day meeting ended yesterday.

Phurpa Lhamo