At a time when the country’s is striving hard to achieve food self-sufficiency, trade statistics show a serious food trade deficit.
Bhutan imported food commodities twice the value of export, according to provisional trade statistics for three quarters of this year.
Bhutan experienced a food trade deficit of Nu 5.2B in 2013 as she imported essential food items worth Nu 6.3B in 2013, including Nu 1.5B worth of rice.
A rough calculation shows that the country imported food items worth about Nu 8B in nine months this year and exported food worth a little over Nu 3B.
This was derived from the value of imports under Sections I, II, III and IV of the Bhutan trade classification (BTS), which mainly consists of food commodities.
The BTC section on live animals and animal products, which is further classified into commodities like meat, fish and dairy produce show an import value of more than Nu 2B against the export value of around Nu 30M under the same BTS code.
Import of pork, in fresh, chilled and frozen form alone comes to about Nu 123M until September this year. Fish accounts for import bill of Nu 136M.
In a span of nine months, this year, more than Nu 667M worth of meat and meat offal were imported, while dairy produce including honey recorded an import of about Nu 1.22B. Import of butter and cheese alone was worth Nu 441.8M.
As for export, the country exported dairy produce worth Nu 30M, which constitutes almost all the export value of BTC section on animal products.
Of the total cereal import of Nu 2.7B, rice import formed Nu 1.267B. Commodity wise, rice is the only food featured in the top-ten import commodity among petroleum products.
Under the section of vegetable and vegetable products, Nu 2.69B worth of imports were recorded. The export value of the commodities under the same BTS section show Nu 1.57B.
The country also imported prepared and manufactured foodstuff worth Nu 2.25B, of which beverages and spirits formed Nu 297M.
Beverages and spirits are among the few commodities that Bhutan exported more than it imported. The country exported Nu 519M worth of beverages and spirits.
Between January and September this year, the country imported Nu 732,765 worth of tobacco and tobacco products. Statistics do not include tobacco products that are imported legally by paying taxes.
While the country’s overall food self-sufficiency is around 80 percent, rice self-sufficiency rate is barely 50 percent because rice is the staple diet for Bhutanese and its production is labour intensive.
At one time, when the country was grappling with the rupee crises, import bill for rice shot to Nu 1.5B in 2013 from, around Nu 600M a year on an average. While this was due to the fake import invoice to avail rupee, the import figure showed no sign of falling. In 2014, rice import was worth Nu 1.45B and, this year, in a span of nine months, the country has already imported Nu 1.27B worth of rice.
With the SAARC Development Fund (SDF) grant through its social window, the country expects to increase rice yield by 15 percent, bringing 50 percent of fallow paddy fields under cultivation, and 10 percent of paddy fields under spring rice cultivation.
Cardamom, which used to be one of the cash crops with higher return, is mired in the GST formalities and export has come to a complete halt.
With various interventions in form of priority sector lending scheme, rural enterprise development corporation and micro-finance institutes all aimed at promoting enterprise farming, the country is yet to see the results.
Analysis of the planned budget also reveals that budget share towards agriculture sector which employs more than 65 percent of the workforce is also declining.
The decreasing share of budget towards agriculture sector is also attributed to low investment in the sector and slower growth.
The agriculture sector contributes 17 percent to the country’s economy.