We have come to a point in our development journey when the challenges we face demand extraordinary resolve to act, not just with level-headed planning, but also with a sense of greater urgency. While the urban centres are facing rapid population growth and housing shortage, houses in the villages are being increasingly abandoned. Decreasing rural population has led to large-scale fallowing of the precious little agricultural land. Going by some records, close to 7,000 acres of paddy fields in the country are left fallow. In the mean time, the country’s dependence on food imports has seen year-on-year increase. This is, by all accounts, a complicated narrative of a nation where more than 60 percent of its population depends on agriculture.
Our leaders, planners and policy-makers, have long recognised that emptying villages, rural to urban migration in other words, has serious economic and social implications for the nation. However, foresight is of little use if we cannot prepare ourselves for the challenges that lay ahead. Looking back, that’s exactly what seems to have happened with Bhutan. It may be time we invoked the courage to draw practical plans and the strength to implement them in earnest. In the face of decreasing agricultural land and ever-shrinking farmhands, the plan to go fully organic is bogus extraordinaire. The need of the hour is to take development to the villages so that people don’t feel compelled to leave their homes and come to the towns.
Merak, a highland village in Trashigang is a case in point. Merak may be the only village that has no record of empty household. Instead, the village is thriving. People of Merak say that they have no reason whatsoever to abandon their village when they have everything at their doorstep. The village has a road, electricity and telecommunication facilities. If these developments had no come, they say, maybe they would have been urged to lock their houses and move to towns.
Many of our villages today are connected with roads. Modern services have reached most of the rural communities. The challenge is to keep them all functioning. Roads we may have, but if our people remain cut off for good part of the year due to damage every time there is a little rain, it is waste of resources. Shortage of irrigation water is another challenge. In a country known for rich water resource, lack of irrigation water is a laughable matter. The problem is one of inefficient tapping of the resource. These are the challenges that we ought to address before the trend of people leaving their homes and fields becomes irreversible. If agriculture is made viable with good and reliable access to market, people will not leave their homes and flock to towns.