Thinley Namgay

Out of 5,988 goongtongs (empty houses) in the country as of April this year, Trashigang records 1,469 goongtongs, the highest.

This data comes from Department of Local Governance and Disaster Management.

Trashigang is followed by Pemagatshel and Trashiyangtse with 852 and 804 goongtongs, respectively.

The six eastern dzongkhags accounted for 75.28 percent of overall goongtongs. Mongar has 672 and Samdrupjongkhar has 388 empty houses. Thimphu recorded no goongtong, followed by Gasa with one, and Paro with three.

The National Council’s Good Governance Committee’s (GGC) chairperson, Phuntsho Rapten, presented these data yesterday at the ongoing 33rd NC session.

GGC found that Tongmijangsa Gewog in Trashiyangtse experienced 149 goongtongs out of 367 households, which is 41 percent, followed by Nichula Gewog in Dagana with 35 out of 130 households.

Internal migration is one of the primary causes of goongtong, as per the GGC report. “It is projected that by 2037, half of the country’s total population will be residing in urban areas.”

However, GGC has no recent data for the status of satong (fallow land) in the country. Their review report on satong was based on the RNR census 2019.

Phuntsho Rapten clarified to the house that the RNR census 2019 was the only available data in the country.

According to the RNR census 2019, 66,120.28 acres of land out of 664,114.45 acres were found to be satong, comprising 82.5 percent dryland and 13.55 percent wetland. Pemagatshel has 15.37 percent of fallow land, followed by Trashigang with 15.17 percent.

The GGC report points out that in 2022, both the harvest area under paddy cultivation and its production reduced by over 50 percent. “On the other hand, import of rice has increased significantly from Nu 1.7 billion (B) in 2017 to Nu 2.6B in 2022 and to Nu 3B in 2023.”

“This has greatly impacted achieving rice self-sufficiency as it decreased to 25 percent in 2022 from 40.8 percent in 2018,” the report stated, adding that the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock plans to enhance rice self-sufficiency from the existing 25 percent (48,200 MT) to 35 percent (54,567 MT) in the 13th plan.

Moreover, the report says the agriculture’s share of overall employment declined from almost 60 percent in 2010 to 44 percent in 2022, and the sector’s contribution to GDP declined only by a small margin from 17 percent in 2010 to 15 percent in 2022.

Issues such as lack of irrigation facilities, human-wildlife conflict, market inaccessibility, workforce shortage, physical, social, and economic factors are regarded as some of the causes of fallow land.

Currently, only around 28 percent of the agricultural land has assured irrigation in the country.

Other causes include environmental and demographic factors, fragmented land holdings, and scattered land in far-flung locations.

Goongtong also causes satong.

What NC members said?

Bumthang’s NC member, Kencho Tshering, said that satong and goongtong issues lacked substantive measures to address the issue.

According to Lhuentse’s NC member Kelzang Lhendup, disparity in the health and education facilities was one of the main  factors for satong and goongtong.

Had there been proper budget allocations among all dzongkhags in the past, the trend of satong and goongtongs would have been much lesser, Samdrupjongkhar NC member, Tshewang Rinchen, said.

NC’s deputy chairperson, Dago Tsheringla mentioned that some villages in the country were relocated near international borders and people were not allowed to practise much agriculture activities, which also led fallowing the land.

Wangdue’s NC member Phub Dorji recommended granting permission for the construction ring farms.

GGC’s recommendations

GGC recommends balanced regional development to address the issue of satong and goongtong. The socio-economic improvement can change satong and goongtong issue, it argued.

The committee also called for a fallow land conversion policy, considering the 66,120 acres of arable land that is left uncultivated.  GGC also mentioned the need for flexible use of wetland.

The Committee mentions the proactive implementation of crop and livestock insurance schemes. The previous government reinstated the Endowment Fund for Crop and Livestock Conservation in 2019 to compensate crop and livestock damages by wild animals, but it could not be materialised due to inadequate financial resources, the pandemic, and sustainability issues.

GGC suggested providing subsidy to farmers to acquire farm machinery and programme  support in the form of upscaling electric fencing technologies, supplying fertilizers and pesticides, and access to improved farm machinery.

GGC recommended the urgent need to review the overall credit flows to the agriculture sector and the interest rates to improve enabling conditions for growth in the agriculture sector.

The overall share of the credit portfolio to the agriculture sector has been declining continuously over the years. For instance, it decreased from 6 percent in FY 2017-2018 to 4.6 percent in 2019-2020 and plummeted to 2.3 percent in FY 2022-2023.

The interest rates charged on agricultural loans by different financial institutions are high, ranging from 8.32 percent to 10.85 percent in BOB, 10 percent in Druk PNB Bank, 11 percent in RICBL, 8 percent in BNB, and between 10.25 percent to 10.5 percent in BDBL.