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We are an agrarian society. A significant portion of our population is still in agriculture. Yet we do not produce enough to feed ourselves, let alone export what we grow.

Need to make agriculture priority sector

We are an agrarian society. A significant portion of our population is still in agriculture. Yet we do not produce enough to feed ourselves, let alone export what we grow.

Recently, when the country faced shortage of chilies, people had to wait in long queues in the Centenary Farmers’ Market in Thimphu. At one point of time the shortage was so bad that it pushed the price of the vegetable up to about Nu 500 a kg. We have had to use aircraft to fly in chilies from India even as we know that vegetable imported from India contain high level of hazardous chemical contents.

Today it is chilies. Tomorrow it could be onions or tomatoes. This compels us to look into how we have prioritised this important sector.

It is not difficult to figure why we are not producing enough. Over the years, agriculture has taken the back seat while other sectors have grown by much. In fact, budget allocation for agriculture sector dwindled to 6.4 percent in the current Plan.

Agriculture has suffered in Bhutan mainly because of lack of access to finance. It has been found out that credit from the financial institutions to the agriculture sector was only Nu 2.65 billion in 2014 – 4.1 percent of the total 63.98 billion issued. It is hard to understand why other credit schemes like vehicle and housing are much cheaper than agriculture. Going by this, agriculture is not a priority sector.

Some of the major problems facing the country today are increasing rural to urban migration, rising youth unemployment. Agriculture is a sector with great potential. If we can make agriculture attractive and viable, it would help the country cut on imports. It would also help the country achieve its important national goal of becoming self-sufficient.

As the National Council recommended on December 5, Royal Monetary Authority could facilitate mandatory lending of certain percentages of a financial institution’s investment to support farmers, groups and cooperatives and youth entrepreneurship and establish more credit schemes for agriculture in collaboration with financial institutions. We could link the entire value chain from agriculture input supply to production, processing, distribution and marketing to encourage our farmers and young entrepreneurs take up large scale farming. If Cooperatives Act and other rules and regulations must be amended to enable farmer groups and cooperatives to gain access to credit facilities and other financial supports, so be it.

It is time we made agriculture our priority sector.

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One comment

  1. If we are willing to change our perspective on agriculture a bit; the land can be considered the producer while the farmers are agents responsible for production. It’s also their responsibility to look after the land that eventually produces the crops. It’s the fertility of the land that gets consumed in creation of the asset…and here, the crops are the asset and it’s an consumable asset through liquidity in the market.

    Same is not always true with a food processing unit even though it can be located adjacent to the farmlands. For that processing unit, the land on which it stands is already an asset created. But that’s how I am trying to look at it from a different perspective. If fertility of the land is lost, better agricultural facilities, practices, aids and methods will not improve productions.

    Soil management is a complicated subject and demands a scientific study of the agricultural process at the fields. Vertical integration of the agricultural production and value chain is a good option, but we need our farmers to be scientifically educated for that. It may soon become very difficult and challenging for an expert in Economics to apply today’s modern economic theories on a farmland and that’s an issue here if it can be identified as such. Should we develop a different study in Economics for the Agricultural sector! That farmland itself is the first employee of the farm and it’s reasonably self-employed. Same is not true for other factories in any industries.

    Only recently, a post mentioned the bumper crop of millet where farmers faced some challenge with two wild elephants destroying farmlands. In many parts of the world, they grow pearl millet on less fertile low pH value soil with hot dry conditions. Farmers grow millet just as a rotational crop or because it’s not possible for them to grow maize or wheat on such non-fertile lands. Some reports on agricultural sector also mention about the tyres and weight of agricultural machinery affecting soil fertility. That’s when we want our farmers to be well educated in their field of work.

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