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.