World Bank and Bhutan signed a USD 8 million (M) Global Agriculture Food Security Programme grant agreement to increase productivity and improve market access.

The government will add USD 1.33M to the Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project  (FSAPP) funded by the programme. World Bank’s Resident Representative for Bhutan Yoichiro Ishihara, finance minister Namgay Dorji and agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji signed the project agreement yesterday.

The project is expected to benefit 10,400 households and 3,000 students of Chukha, Dagana, Haa, Samtse and Sarpang over the next five years.

The 24 gewogs in these dzongkhags were chosen since they lack irrigation facilities and market access.  The project would also support four major irrigation projects.

The project will contribute to reducing pockets of extreme poverty and build the capacity of smallholder farmers to move from subsistence farming to commercial market-driven agriculture.

The project will help farmers’ groups in business capacities, increase productivity of high-value crops through efficient use of water and improved inputs. The project targets to improve the production of rice, vegetables, pulses, and potatoes, large cardamom, ginger, and citrus.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said that the agriculture sector is seen as one of the five jewels of the country and the lives of so many people depend on it. “The project will support the government’s goal of moving from subsistence farming to the commercialisation of agriculture through value chain development,” the minister said.

The agriculture ministry aims to increase vegetable production to 65,200 metric tonnes (MT) in 2018. The country’s self-sufficiency rate in vegetable production increased to 85 percent in 2015. The agriculture department has been supporting commercial vegetable production in the country since 2012. Rice self-sufficiency is more than 51 percent.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji said that despite the government’s focus on agriculture in the 11th Plan, much remains to be done.

“The growth and expansion of the agriculture sector will play a key role in Bhutan’s economic development and in trade deficit reduction,” Yoichiro Ishihara said.

Agriculture sector employs the majority of Bhutanese and provides livelihoods to about 58 percent of its population and has the potential to ensure greater inclusiveness of growth while reducing the country’s food import bill and combatting malnutrition in children below five years, the World Bank press release stated.

Food and Agriculture Organisation will provide technical assistance for the project.

Tshering Palden