Choki Wangmo

During the Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) sector’s 12th Five Year Plan midterm review (MTR) yesterday in Thimphu, the agriculture ministry proposed to reduce the target of rice self-sufficiency to 43 percent from 60 percent and maize self-sufficiency from 92 percent to 87 percent.

However, it was not well received by the MTR team led by the Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering.

The Agriculture Secretary Rinzin Dorji who presented the RNR sector’s update for the current Plan said that achievement of rice and maize self-sufficiency as targeted won’t be possible.

He said that the area under paddy cultivation had decreased from 51,249 acres in 2017 to acres to 30,314 acres in 2019, with a total reduction of 20,935 acres. According to the RNR statistics, Punakha lost the highest wetland (3,628 acres), followed by Wangdue (2,164 acres).

With rampant paddy lost to wild animals 2,968 metric tonnes in 2019, he said that the rice self-sufficiency target of 60 percent couldn’t be achieved.

Agriculture Director Kinlay Tshering said that the challenges in paddy cultivation such as water shortage, human-wildlife conflict and people’s choice for other cash crops made the target achievement uncertain.

The ministry also proposed to reduce the maize self-sufficiency as the maize cultivation areas decreased from 58,043 acres in 2017 to 32,485 acres in 2019. The secretary said that maize cultivation faced competition from other cash crops and vegetables.

Lyonchhen, however, said that the  ministry’s calculation and RNR statistics were inaccurate and also differed by huge numbers with the findings of Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2017 (PHCB). “The way we calculate is wrong.”

“PHCB data should be used as a baseline data and National Statistics Bureau should take control of the RNR data,” the Lyonchhen said.

Gross National Happiness Commission’s (GNHC) Secretary Thinley Namgyel, said that agriculture statistics had lapses.

The Cabinet Secretary Sangay Duba said that rather than examining factors like water shortage, irrigation, and human-wildlife conflict, the ministry should look into other factors such as rural-urban migration and factors leading to decreased acreage in rice and maize production. “Maybe there are issues in strategy. We need a holistic strategy from the ministry and policy to protect important rice-producing areas.”

“Lowering or increasing the target is not going to help unless protection of rice lands is taken into consideration. We need to review some of the targets. Counting statistics at the end is not a solution,” he said.

Dasho Karma Ura said that the RNR statistics reported a drop in rice and maize production but the GDP contribution from the cereal and livestock production was increasing. “Which is the credible evidence? The ministry is losing focus with involvement in other projects beyond the mandates. Ecotourism, for example. The sector needs to be reviewed.”

Lyonchhen said that the reasons given by the ministry for non-achievement of target was feeble and instructed the ministry to conduct studies on why the targets were hard to achieve.

Sangay Duba was instructed to lead the team and start the studies within two months and propose strong recommendations to the government. “We can’t bargain with the targets.”

Out of 46 key performance indicators of the agriculture ministry for the current Plan, 10 are achieved, 32 are on track and four are at risk.

Other indicators at risk that the ministry proposed to be dropped or revised are—to drop the establishment of national heritage forest and upgrade the Rural Development Training Centre to RNR-based TVET.

The MTR team did not approve the proposals.

The ministry also proposed for budget appropriation of Nu 6 billion (B) from the earlier outlay of Nu 3.05B.

Lyonchhen said that the budget outlay had risen by more than 100 percent, which is not acceptable. He instructed the GNHC to study the reasons for manifold increase in the budget allocated.

GNHC Secretary acknowledged the sharp rise in budget outlay due to poor planning.

MTR for the 12th Plan started on April 15. 

Meanwhile, there were no major comments on the Annual Performance Agreement for the ministry. 

The Prime Minister, however, instructed the ministry to reduce the budget on trainings and workshops.