Yearender/Agriculture: The Horse Year saw plenty of work on the farms and the markets.

It was also a rewarding year for some farmers in the eastern parts of the country.  For the first time, large number of farmers received national merit silver awards on a national day for their work in agriculture and livestock cooperatives, and community forest management groups.

The country produces more vegetables than it ever used to.  Self-sufficiency in vegetable is not a far-fetched dream any more, with investments and initiatives producing promising results.  In 2013, the country was short by two percent of its 100 percent self-sufficiency target.  Winter vegetable production is one of the main forces behind reducing imports in vegetable.  Pest infestation was at a minimum.

To reduce the dependence on imports and a Nu 4.2B deficit in the balance of food trade, the agriculture ministry charted an elaborate strategy; establishing mega farms, slaughterhouses, dairy farms, piggery, fishery and turkey farming, among others.  Areas have been identified and the processes have already begun.

The country, however, has much to do before it could cut major imports in agriculture produce, mainly rice, oil seeds and meat.

Bogged by labour shortage, irrigation problems, and increasing human wildlife conflicts, more fields were falling fallow each year. Thus, the ministry to boost food security had to cultivate about 2,000 acres of fallow paddy fields last year after constructing 13 irrigation canals.

A major breakthrough in the agriculture sector is the Bhutan Electricity Authority’s approval of the electric fencing.  This has led to a mass adoption, about 200km covered, of the locally improvised technology effective against wild boars, monkeys and elephants.  Talung chiwog in Haa installed more than nine kilometres of electric fencing, covering 212 acres of registered land, and about 900 acres altogether.

However, human-wildlife conflict still remains the issue with farmers across the country, with some resorting to using stuffed toy tigers to scare monkeys.  This idea was picked up by other farmers, and the international media was quick to pick up on the ingenuity of our rural folks.

The People’s Democratic Party’s pledge of giving a power tiller each to every 1,040 chiwogs in the country started with the eastern districts.  A power tiller in each gewog of Mongar and Lhuentse – dzongkhags the NA speaker and agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji represent – were provided.

But their representation had little to do with it, as the ministry decided to give it to the east first, because it required them and only a few had been given to them in the past. The machines from Japan, no doubt, will help address farm labour shortage, feminisation of agriculture and optimise land utilisation.

Work is also ongoing to implement the food security and nutrition policy.  But the only way forward for rice sufficiency is to look at rice as a cash crop and let farmers earn more profit.  Government subsidy should come in to realise this goal.

Tshering Palden