Agriculture has today become synonymous to poverty.
Although the incidence of poverty has declined in the sector, agriculture still contributes the highest to the country’s national poverty rate.
From 43.9 percent in 2012, agriculture sector’s contribution to poverty has increased to 68.8 percent this year. This means most of the country’s poor live in households whose heads are engaged in agriculture. For an agrarian country where about 60 percent of its population depends on agriculture for livelihood, this situation should worry all the Bhutanese.
In our quest for development, we have forgotten the contribution and potential of the agriculture sector to the country’s development. In neglecting farming, we have neglected our farmers. And efforts made appear to be more of a political stunt.
More than 400 farmers in Tsirang and Dagana appear to be conned by individuals who claim to be dzongkhag coordinators of the ruling party. Farmers signed papers and paid membership fees to form cooperatives so as to avail of loans from Rural Enterprise Development Corporation (REDCL). This spectacle allegedly operated from the PDP office in Damphu. After more than a year and, even after an assurance from the agriculture minister, farmers are still waiting for their loans.
No action appears to have been taken to address this issue for the farmers, who take a chance to raise it every time they have a visitor. The dzongkhag administration was not involved, nor informed about it.
The REDCL conducted an investigation and found that the forms the farmers filled weren’t the company’s and concluded that the alleged cooperative never operated as its branch office. The ACC investigated the case but dropped it for the agriculture ministry to deal with since the money collection was done for the formation of cooperatives.
The REDCL didn’t get offended to the misuse of the company’s name and claimed that the allegation was baseless. The ACC didn’t find an element of corruption. The dzongkhag administration was not involved. Where should these more than 400 farmers go now to share their grievances? Not the recently launched e-Kaasel, because this service is limited to government to citizen services.
Cooperatives and groups for farmers are an important strategy to enhance the efficiency of the agriculture sector by allowing economy of scale. This is to help transition the agriculture sector from subsistence to market oriented farming. But the recent annual report from the department of agriculture and cooperatives states that this objective has not been achieved in entirety. Economic and technical feasibility and sustainability aspects of the groups are often overlooked.
The agriculture ministry must be responsive to the problems our farmers face. If the minister has assured the people that their fees would be refunded, he must keep his word. Our farmers are already burdened. Exploiting them for political gains impoverishes the country, not just the farmers.