Like those involved in it, agriculture is a busy sector. There are lots of initiatives, plans and programmes.
Winter crops, high yielding seed, highland rice varieties and new fruits are rapidly being studied and introduced in the country. We can cultivate rice in Bumthang or watermelon in Mongar. Farmers who were lost with new diseases killing their crops are finding new and better alternatives.
Others are finding new means of livelihood as their limited land holdings are better utilized. Some can cultivate rice twice a year. New and simple technologies are introduced to cultivate farm, manage water and save crops pre and post harvest. New markets are being explored.
Agriculture is a vital sector. It had been our means of livelihood and contributes about 14 percent to the country’s gross domestic product. Yet for every initiative there seem to be a challenge arising. Pest, diseases, drying of water sources or degrading soil quality are natural challenges to agriculture. From our experience, our biggest challenge to the sector is from development.
The paddy fields are left fallow because the potential workers are in schools or in the towns driving taxis or washing dishes if not dancing in bars. The water sources are drying because there is development at the catchment area. The wildlife is predating because we’re encroaching into the forest.
Look down in Gelephu. The vast stretches of paddy fields turning to grazing land in Gelephu. There is sufficient water and land is flat and fertile. Yet the fields are fallowing because there is no hand to till the land. The cheap labour from across the border is now not available for security reasons.
The agriculture sector has become more important now. It has to create jobs for the thousands of unemployed youth, it has to substitute import that is draining the economy off Indian Rupees and it has to ensure food security that was long identified as a national priority.
It has to work together with other sectors. There has to be a joint effort if we are to fulfil the objectives, not only of the sector, but also of the nation as a whole. Land, water, forest all come under the concerned ministry, but finding solutions to the hurdles are beyond the ministry alone. The security issue can only be addressed working together with the home ministry. Farm mechanisation can be possible if farmers have access to cheap loans and are not taxed for import of farm machineries.
Farmers would be encouraged to stay and work on their farms if the wild animals are not harvesting the crops before them. Farming would be attractive if it is relieved of drudgery and those tilling the land are looked up as entrepreneurs and not mere farmers.
The potential is vast as the paddy fields in Gelephu. All the initiatives, research and programmes will go in vain if it is not benefiting the farmers or our objectives.