A farmer from Lobesa had long decided which party he would vote for. Having spent sleepless nights trying to irrigate his fields, he had made up his mind to vote for the political party that promised irrigation water.
Now he is confused. All the parties have promised to uplift agriculture. Some ensured construction of new irrigation channel, maintenance of existing one, subsistence to ensure double cropping, 100 percent functional irrigation facility, and ready market for local farm produce. The list goes on.
Political parties know that there is a substantial vote bank in the villages. Farmers are gullible and the endless promises, as they say, is honey to their ears. How would they fulfil their promises is a big question.
After decades of planned development and emphasis on food security or food self-sufficiency, agriculture is back on the agenda of politicians. It should be and it is a big relief. Not long ago, the emphasis was on cash crop with the belief that income for farmers would mean enabling importing cheaper food grain. It came at a time when the urban drift became more visible. The bright city lights were attracting people and the abandoned fields were attracting wildlife.
The unreliability on imported food shook Bhutan. There is now scope in agriculture. Even as politicians wade through barren fields and broken irrigation facilities, the realization that agriculture is important and mainstay of a huge portion of the Bhutanese population is good.
Food security can be achieved only through investments. From the convincing pledges, we can be assured that the parties aspiring to run the government for the next five years know the priorities. Farm mechanization, subsidies, ready market will encourage farmers to work hard. But without basic facilities like irrigation water, cultivation is impossible. Such promises are not new to farmers and they will expect the new government to deliver and not forget or destroy what they have.
The emphasis on rural development through agriculture is commendable. It seems to be the right solution to farmers’ problem now. But the force of urbanisation should not tip the balance. On any given day, farmers are ready to leave their land and work in towns and cities or sell their land. This will hamper the vision of food self-sufficiency and balanced regional development.
Agriculture looks like the potential sector to create jobs. The ripple effect seems promising. It will help curb import, ensure safe food and reduce rural-urban immigration.
The only doubt the farmers have is will our politicians keep their promises before they cross the next mile.