Thinking beyond subsistence agriculture

One of the significant lessons that we learnt after the Covid-19 pandemic is that we have not given the focus the sector truly deserves. 

As increasing positive cases in the border areas resulted in lockdown, we woke up to the painful fact that food items will become dearer by the day. We are now compelled to make hard choices every day, as the prices of almost every commodity have ratcheted up. The most affected are the people who live on modest income.

Often what we say and what we do are in contradiction. Because we learnt the hard way that food self-sufficiency is critically important, long-term planning for the development of agriculture sector must begin in earnest. Suddenly we are thinking about urban and peri-urban agriculture initiative—shortage of land does not seem to be a problem, even in urban areas. The demand for local products such as vegetables and fruits will only grow. It would be a sad story if what we are planning today becomes a one-off initiative.

A vast majority of our people are employed in the agriculture sector—surveys tell us so repeatedly. It is ironic, however, that even though more than half the country’s population is engaged in the sector we do not produce enough to feed ourselves. The fact is that even after so many decades of development we have not been able to move beyond subsistence agriculture. 

This calls for a radical change and urgent reprioritisation. Increasing food production in the country will require development of large-scale and commercial farming.

Budget and planning will be important. Why is it that the sector that has the potential to solve many of the problems facing the country such as increasing rural-urban migration and youth employment continue to receive meagre share of national development budget? Put another way, we are getting our priorities wrong. 

Talking hasn’t done us any good and it will not. If we are to be food self-sufficient we must seize the opportunity now and make it happen.

Given there is right intervention and enough investment, Bhutan’s agriculture can truly grow. If subsidies are required it is the duty of government and the state to make them available. Our people, especially the young, are not getting them and that is why agriculture is not an attractive employer.

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