The sector must grow if it is the biggest employer

The latest labour force survey report shows Bhutan’s employment rate at 97.3 percent. In other words, the overall unemployment rate has come down to 2.7 percent.  Youth unemployment rate has dropped to 11.9 percent. Going by the numbers, this is a remarkable development. But we need to consider other conjunctive realities to truly understand where we are and where we ought to be.

The report also highlights that a majority of Bhutanese employed are in the agriculture sector. But there is nothing to be surprised about it. What comes off uncomfortably from all these, in fact, is that even as a large number of Bhutanese are employed in the sector, we are not producing enough.

Our development journey has been unique. We had to jump-start, so to speak, to catch up with modernisation. And that meant prioritisation of development activities. Agriculture, alas, had to somehow take a backseat. Over the years we saw the national budget share for the sector shrink. But we never stopped talking about the need for Bhutan to be self-sufficient, at least in the department of food. The sooner we can get out of this dichotomy, the better.

We are facing a new reality today. Border lockdown has taught us that food self-sufficiency is not a distant dream. Given there is right intervention and enough investment, Bhutan’s agriculture can truly grow. It can become the sector that employs not only the poor but also, more important, young and enterprising Bhutanese. That is what the Bhutanese economy needs today. What we really need today is innovation in the economy.

When agriculture is showing some promise today at long last, we can ill afford to not create conditions to make it more attractive. Losing this opportunity will be our greatest mistake. Because agriculture is our biggest employer, pulling it up with right and sensible policies now is critically important.

All these will require subsidy and investment. Our people, especially the young, are not getting them. Banks have the mandate more than to make money for themselves. Bhutanese billionaires and millionaires—where are they today?—can invest in large-scale agriculture rather than throwing their money on pageant shows and archery tournaments.

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