Reports show that about 58% of Bhutanese are involved in agriculture, but the sector contributes only about 14% to our Gross Domestic Product. According to Bhutan Trade Statistics, 2017, Bhutan imports vegetables worth Nu. 3,823,879,525 (US$ 58,828,916) and rice worth Nu. 1,979,747,923 (US$ 30,457,660). Isn't that a lot to chew? We are not even talking of other food items here.
That means people who are into agricultural activities are unable to feed the rest of us. That also goes to show how less we are growing on our farms and talks a lot about our fallow fields in rural areas. Now, if the remaining 42% of Bhutanese, who grow nothing on our own, can consume food items worth that much, we certainly have big market here for our agricultural produces. Don't you think? How do we do that?
I think it's possible, at least to reduce our food imports. The key is to make farming sexier. Let's not leave it out to the rural farmers. In the recent years, we have seen young people take up farming. We need to encourage more people to start commercial farming. We need to provide more tools and equipment that would reduce human efforts and increase the productivity. We must try providing highly subsidized machinery and high yielding seeds, and introduce efficient farming methods. I also see the need to provide more harvest and post-harvest support to our farmers. But the crop depredation by wild animals remains an unresolved issue still now.
Marketing is the key element. Today, our farmers grow only what they can consume because they see no market beyond their villages. Transporting these produces to the market gets expensive although road connectivity is no more a challenge in most villages now. Transporting perishable crops, such as vegetables and fruits, over a long distance is a big challenge. Cold storage or portable containers can come in handy. This way our farmers would be encouraged to grow more and ultimately we would be in a position to feed ourselves.
The best option we have at the moment is to link our farmers and farmer-groups to local schools. This can be best done by having more farmer groups. Because we have a huge market in the local schools. The schools on the other hand would more than obliged to procure rice and other food items directly from the farmers than transporting them over long distance in town. It's win-win for farmers, schools and children. Farmers have ready and steady market while the schools can cut down the cost of transportation. And our children get to feed on 'organic' and healthy food.
This is one way possibility to promote semi-commercial farming in rural Bhutan and reducing our import, especially food items. And that I think is a big deal - being able to grow and feed ourselves.
Thriving farms and increased farm productivity are important characteristics of a vibrant village!