We call ourselves an agrarian society. Agriculture is our mainstay still and the sector employs more than half of our population.
The truth is, though, we have not heretofore been able to exploit the goodness and the true power of the sector. Somehow our planners shifted their focus on other sectors with seemingly greater potential to contribute to the nation’s economic development which in hindsight seems to have been compelled by Bhutan’s late entry into modernisation.
As plan budgets for sectors like education and industry among others witnessed continued growth, that of the agriculture sector has been falling since the first Five-year Plan that began in 1961. How much priority we allot to the development of agriculture sector so is manifestly plain. There have been of course some investments and interventions in the sector through the plan periods. Enough could have been done, however.
We are this day grappling with issues like household abandonments in the rural areas triggered by increasing migration of people from the rural parts of the country to the bigger population centres like Thimphu and Phuentsholing. The growth of urban centres which is expected to accelerate in the coming years will only expedite the movement of people from rural Bhutan to urban Bhutan. Rising youth unemployment is another problem that we could address effectively by investing in and developing the agriculture sector.
In a way, we all saw what was lying in wait for us.
Now experts are warning us that investment in hydropower could be risky for Bhutan in the light of climate change, weather inclemencies, and changing geopolitical realities. Some of our hydropower projects that have ground to a halt stand testimony to fragile hope we place on it for our economic development. Implications could be far-reaching because we are a small, landlocked and poor country.
Pushing agriculture sector to the back seat has taken away things that have been sitting well in our hands. It has increased our food import and our dependence on powerful and often volatile markets which could have serious impact on peace, security and sovereignty of our nation. Policy makers and experts caution us that climate change could have serious impact on the sustainability of agriculture.
We may see some rays of hope from some conferences and regional initiatives, but what matters ultimately is how much we can and are willing do ourselves to improve the sector that has long suffered our negligence.