Labor shortage leaves Yoeseltse farmers in a fix 

Sumitra Pradhan

In gewog in Samtse, the areca nut transplant season is almost over, but many farmers have not transplanted the cash crop. There are no workers in the locality and those from across the borders are not allowed to come and work unlike in the past.

Farmer N.K Pradhan, farmer from Samtse gewog is regretting not selling the saplings. “I have the samplings, but no hand to help or hire and this is as good as not having a land. Now the season to transplant areca nut has come to an end. I should have sold the saplings,” said N.K Pradhan.

 Shortage of workers is the main problem in the gewog hampering agriculture. 

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers in Yoeseltse paid Nu 250 per day to foreign laborers and between Nu 500 and Nu 1,000 per day to Bhutanese laborers. Today, while hiring foreign workers are not allowed, it is difficult to find laborers even with a wage on Nu 1,000 a day in the gewog.

Shortage of labourers together with human-wildlife conflict and rural-urban migration  could lead to fallowing lands in the dzongkhag where many depend on agriculture.

At the national level, Bhutan needs 15,000 additional labourers if they are to address the 22,300 acres of fallow land, left to fallow mainly because of  labour shortage. 

The Chief Agriculture Officer of the agriculture ministry,  Namgay Thinley, said that rural urban migration is another major contributing factor to labor shortage while daily wage also determines labour availability. 

It is evident that there is labor shortage in the country, he said, “About 20 percent of farming household faces labour shortage across the country. Of the 250,000 acres of total agriculture land in a country, 66,120 acres are left to fallow mainly due to labour shortage, irrigation and human-wildlife conflict.” 

He said that there are various initiatives put in place to address labour shortage. The ministry is in the process of preparing proposal to import foreign labourers, especially in the border area to allow day worker. 

Farm mechanisation, he said, is another way of solving the labour shortage problem. Today,  only 25 to 30 percent of the farming activity is mechanized. “While mechanization will solve some issues, it’s difficult to mechanise all the farming activities in Bhutan given country’s geographical terrain,” he added.

Namgay Thinley said that there are other initiatives like irrigation projects, 50 percent subsidy on equipment hiring, distribution of seeds and seedlings to encourage farmers to continue farming.  

According to Yoesltse Gup, Tashi Jamtsho, the paddy cultivation has declined in the gewog. 

 “It is only elderly people staying behind in the villages because of rural to urban migration,” he said. “Not permitting foreign laborers from across the border after the pandemic has further added up to the labour shortage issue.”

Before the pandemic, foreign laborers from across the border worked on Bhutanese farms at a cheaper daily wage. They also cultivated crops in Samtse after paying a certain share to the land owner.

Farmers, the gup said, are also discouraged nearly 30 to 40  percent of the crops are lost to wildlife. “These contributing factors ultimately led to  a decline in agriculture produce by almost 60 percent. Irrespective of all the challenges, we keep encouraging farmers to cultivate paddy  cultivation and others.”

Rinchen Gyeltshen, Mangmi of Yoeseltse said that 50 to 60 percent of the population in village are old people who practice subsistent farming. “Agriculture production from the gewog is on a Decline every year,” he added.

Contributed by 

Sumitra Pradhan