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The future of our farms

The regional climate change conference that concluded yesterday was a stark reminder of our priorities.

In the midst of all the talk and discussions of relaxing foreign direct investment, slackening GDP growth and increasing unemployment, even for the trained and the educated, we are reminded of an important sector, the agriculture sector, which still is the mainstay of our economy.

It is a good time to pause and look at our priorities.  If there are stern warnings from climate change experts, our agriculture experts have worrying news – that climate change can threaten the country’s food security.  Living in a fragile and mountainous ecosystem, we are vulnerable to climate change.  This is not the first time that we have been warned.  We are in the know.

What we don’t know is how prepared are we, or if we are even preparing at all.  Listening to agriculturists, it seems that there is a long to-do list.  Climate change is a complex issue.  The tricky thing is that it is not in our hands.  We live in a region, where scientists predict the worse repercussions in an event of a mass destruction from climate change.

If climate change affected those who are chiefly responsible, ours would be a safe place to live. But that’s not how it is.  We will pay the price for actions caused thousands of miles away.  And we have experienced it.  Glacial outburst floods, odd rainfall pattern and diseases are not new to Bhutan.

We can obviously look into the non-climatic issues that are in our hands.  We are not self sufficient, ironically, unlike in the past.  We have more farm roads, but less access to market, more irrigation channels but increasing fallowing agricultural land.  We have more technology but less productivity.

Going by statistics, 69 percent of the population still depends on agriculture, making it a crucial sector.  In our race for material development, this crucial sector cannot be neglected.  There is recognition from the highest authority.  People who return to farming and contribute towards food self sufficiency are rewarded and recognised.  This is encouraging.

On the other hand, farmers are feeling that importing food is cheaper than producing at home.  This shows that there are gaps in our policy and planning.  With dedicated focus and attention, steps towards food self-sufficiency can be taken, even if not wholly achieved.

Somewhere we are going wrong.  And this is evident from the budget allocation.  Budget outlay for agriculture has been declining with every five-year plan.  This is not because we have developed the agriculture sector, but because we believe in other priorities.

Given our advantages, like having clean air, water and unpolluted land, we have a fair advantage in producing food.  But this is not being explored.  The private sector that is expected to provide technical backstopping, market linkage and innovation is not interested in agriculture.   They would rather import strange varieties of food products that are way out of reach for many.

The older generation marvels at the pace of development, but sometimes they say they miss the past, when life was less stressful and less was more.

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One comment

  1. Farming is probably not a new thing that we are trying to learn as a smaller part of a much bigger human civilization and its history and neither is possibly the last thing our farmers are trying to forget looking for a living. May be that the farmers, driving agricultural growth in the past, has lost the art of cultivating currencies in modern day economics. Probably they are not getting to buy enough of what they need with their vegetables or agricultural products, but even the non producers of it are getting to buy the vegetables no cheaper. The occasion is about talking to save the environment and our mountains, but the mounting pressure on global currency valuations is not something that can be saved like the trees or lakes located high above the mountains. Technology is not increasing productivity, but technology itself is a product to begin with where productivity is no issue at all, at least not something that is threatening our mountains. If something is wrong, we either don’t know it or have ignored it for rather long. If the traditional farmers are drifting away from the tradition of farming, maybe it’s time to farm out farming to those who are not traditionally farmers to protect the culture of non-traditional farming.

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