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When farmers are forgotten

Our cardamom farmers are unhappy.

Reports from various parts of the country show that the price the government is offering to buy back the spice is not upto the expectations of the farmers. The Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FBCL) argues that the produce the farmers are selling do not meet the quality mark.

In the process, sacks of cardamom are rejected or bought at a price lower than what was initially promised to the farmers. While quality and price matters, we must accept that this issue with cardamom was constructed. Our inability to keep up with the formalities required in the export of cardamom to India and the certification process had at one time halted its export.

The government intervened and offered to buy the cardamoms while works were underway to resolve the certification issue. It was addressed and export resumed but no announcement was made on the status of the government’s buy back scheme. Although farmers had the option to sell their harvest to exporters, reports show that they had not. Many had stored their bags of cardamom and FCBL started buying them only recently.

Lack of communication and then denying the price offered earlier has now left our farmers helpless. As one of the largest export crops in Bhutan, cardamom farming is one of the main means of livelihood for most farmers in the south. Many have also taken up cardamom farming in other parts of the country even though the business is already rife with problems.  Middlemen distorting prices and influx of inferior quality into the market have already hit cardamom business hard. The buyback scheme, which is underway, was to come as a boon. It has become a bane.

Such instances reflect the way we treat our farmers and the agriculture sector. Implementation of measures touted to address problems confronting the farmers – from irrigation to production to marketing remains weak. It is thus not surprising that farmers are the least happy among the population today.

The agriculture sector is the biggest employer in the country but gets the least amount of attention in terms of budget allocation. The ministry for agriculture and forests receives more funds for conservation than for food production. However, when the two areas are clubbed, there is a perception of agriculture sector receiving enough budgetary support.

It is time we separate the two so that one sector does not come at the cost of the other. We have begun executing a plan that will make Bhutan graduate from its least developed status but have continued to neglect agriculture and the problems of farmers, the biggest sector.

Governments have changed but our culture of negligence towards agriculture has not.

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