At a time when the country is growing ever so loud with its aim of going fully organic, decreasing agricultural land and increasing rural to urban migration are disturbing stories. Available figures show that fallowing of land has been happening at a rate that is worrying, while we are yet to figure out what factors contribute to such realities. It is difficult to make sense of the year-on-year decrease in the budget allocation to the sector that supports more than 60 percent of the country’s population. From 44 percent of budget that the sector was allotted in the 4th Plan, it has come down to 2.3 in the 11th. This tells us where in the nation’s priority list falls agriculture.
The biggest challenge facing the farmers today, arguably, is human-wildlife conflict. The problem has grown to such proportions in the distant farms that agriculture minister, having run out of all sensible solution ideas, had to urge farmers to shoot and kill feral pigs. As if we haven’t seen it before, we have now to wait to witness the fruits of such rash interventions. Coming from a minister as it did, this astounding naivety left us thunderstruck. Human disturbances in the ecosystem will bring fresh set of challenges at our doorstep. What do we kill then? Wild dogs? Solving problems related to agriculture doesn’t always have to involve killing wild animals. Surely electric fencing could be made widely available. Unaffordability has been the problem with farmers.
Lack of irrigation water is another problem. In many rural communities, water sources are drying. Irrigation channels are in bad state of repair. According to a 2015 study, an average of 18 percent of farming households faced food shortage due to decreased rice production. There are large-scale plans to rebuild and maintain the old and to construct new irrigation channels. It would be sad state of affairs if, like much else with us, the plan remains only in papers. Ways must be found and efforts made to cultivate the land left fallow. Delayed intervention can prove to be vastly expensive.
In the meanwhile, we have success stories of new farming technologies to look at and try. The idea of smart villages is bearing fruits already in places like Barshong in Tsirang. Basically, it is all about making farming viable in the face of changing climate and new challenges. Employing integrated approach to farming could be an answer. Introduction of poly-house has helped farmers grow vegetable all year round. If such interventions are working in Barshong, they can in other parts of this country. Why not?
In the face of decreasing agricultural land, there is an urgent need to take these ideas all the dzongkhags. Otherwise, the challenge of growing enough will remain a distant dream.