There is an urgent need for rural revi­talisation to address persistent crises in the world’s rural areas and to improve food security, according to the Global Food Policy Report 2019.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor and the director general for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Dr Sheggen Fan, launched the report yesterday.

“Rural people around the world continue to struggle with food-insecurity, poverty, inequality and environmental degradation,” Dr Sheggen Fan said.

The 8th edition of the report reviews the major food policy issues, developments and decisions of 2018, and considers challenges and opportunities ahead. In 2018, many regions of the world faced increasing rates of hunger with global undernourishment continuing to rise for the third year in a row and stagnation in tackling malnutrition.

It states that a systemwide transformation is needed to revitalise rural areas, not only to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but more broadly, to make rural areas vibrant and healthy places to live and work. One of the most practical ways to achieve the SDGs is focusing on the needs of rural areas and address growing challenges, the report suggests.  

The report stated that climate change, deforestation, soil degradation, and pollution increasingly challenge rural production, sustainability, and well being. “Lack of rural infrastructure, services, and economic opportunities have compounded these challenges.”

Bhutan context

Most poor live in rural areas – global rural poverty rate today is 17 percent while urban poverty is seven percent. The case is same in Bhutan with rural poverty rate of 11.9 percent as of 2017 against 0.8 percent.

Bhutan’s small-holder mountain farmers constitute 57.2 percent of the population practicing system of integrated farming by growing crops, rearing livestock, and use of forest resources mainly leaf litter, fodder, and fuelwood.

An agriculture specialist with agriculture ministry, Ganesh Chhetri, said that the rapid population growth exerted increasing demand on the small scale agriculture which was challenged to meet the urban demand. “This has led to an increasing trend of imports of essential food items over the last two decades,” he said.

Bhutan is 61 percent self-sufficient staple cereals, and 47 in rice. Exports of fruits and seasonal vegetables have increased, food and nutrition security remain as key challenges with a food trade deficit, where it imports six times the value of food exported.

Bhutan’s agriculture development is challenged by terrain, fragmented land holdings, labour shortage, human-wildlife conflict, lack of access to markets and credits and coupled with frequent erratic weather patterns.

Ganesh Chhetri said that these challenges, including threats from climate change, impact Bhutan.

He said that ironically Bhutan’s net sequestration status does not make it immune to the global climate change but directly threatens its fragile mountain ecosystems and river basins.

“Climate induced extreme precipitation causes flash floods damaging Bhutan’s scarce 2.75 percent of cultivate farmland,” Ganesh Chhetri said.

The visible economic trends are high growth with room to improve food security and nutrition, and increased urbanisation with opporutnities to strengthen rural-urban linkages.

“Noting from the Global Food Policy report 2019, some of the areas that need attention are characterising rural-urban linkages, identifying value chains, and addressing the constraints of production and productivity,” Ganesh Chhetri said.

IFPRI representatives said that it would collaborate with Bhutan to reduce poverty, ensure food security and improve the living standards of Bhutanese people.

IFPRI and Bhutan have collaborated to come up with the Agriculture Vision 2045 in addition to collaboration in terms of food policy, agricultural diversification, markets, food safety and capacity development among others. IFPRI further see potential areas of collaboration in Bhutan in terms of nutritional security, sustainable agriculture development, high value commodities and promoting climate smart agriculture.

Tshering Palden