Going by the pattern of development we have been and are, pursuing, there is an urgent need for a change. Without significant development in the agriculture sector, there cannot be true development.
Agriculture is still the biggest employer in the country—more than half the country’s population is engaged, or employed, in the sector. Yet we continue to import food items. Numbers are growing by the year—there are records to go to and establish the facts.
The question is: why, even as we are an agrarian society, are we struggling to take agriculture forward? Going by the plan documents, there has been a steady fall in budget allocation to the agriculture sector over the years.
All these developments, however, must be seen and understood from the perspective of rising unemployment, in particular, youth unemployment. Long-term implications can be serious.
When the issue of water shortage is increasing in the villages, rural to urban migration happening at an unprecedented rate, and farmhand shortage increasing by the year, portraying a picture that agriculture is the country’s mainstay is ridiculous.
In fact, some of the major plans to take Bhutan’s economy forward say literally nothing about agriculture. The idea of economic development of the nation should rest on the development of agriculture. It is not as if all other sectors are less important. Agriculture, tourism, hydropower development must go hand-in-hand, always together. This is not happening.
That’s why the many skilling and activation programmes are going to waste.
Bhutan’s agriculture may be limited by many factors. We have, for example, less than 3 percent arable land, but what can we not do in the small cultivable space for a population of less than a million? We are yet to reap the full benefits of organic and commercial agriculture.
Linking the farms to the market is another problem, but done right, everybody stands to gain—connectivity, once the major hurdle, is no longer a problem.
What the planners do not seem to understand is that not having self-sufficiency, particularly in food, means that we can be forced to depend on others. Put plainly, food self-sufficiency is about nationalism; it’s about being able to stand on own feet.
The many projects—irrigation and electric fencing—may have failed, but what we need today is the courage to look beyond.
If agriculture development does not feature in the overall economic development of the nation, whatever plan we make, is destined to fail. If the lack of space is the main challenge, innovations must come in.
More than anything, there has to be long-term and sensible planning.