The agriculture sector has witnessed a significant transformation from subsistence to commercial farming prompted by the government’s focus on food self-sufficiency.
This, according to the Prime Minister, Lyonchhen Dasho Tshering Tobgay, is apparent from the vegetables and cereals for sale at the centenary farmer’s market in Thimphu and along the highways.
The availability of power tillers, electric fencing, green houses and irrigation has immensely helped in the transformation according to farmers who interacted with the PM during his village tours.
By figures the production of cereals such as paddy, maize, buckwheat, millet and barley, which was 163,820 metric tonnes (MT) in 2013, hit 175,232 MT last year.
In 2016, 24,460 MT of potato were exported from which farmers earned about Nu 542.4 million up from 21,871 MT in 2013 where farmers earned Nu 360.13 million.
In poultry, Bhutan is now self sufficient in eggs and last year 800 trays of eggs priced at Nu 8 per egg were exported to India for the first time. The PM said that the country has 575,242 layers, which is above the 11th Plan target of 350,000 layers. Total production was 105 million eggs worth Nu 787.5 million.
The government has started distributing native birds to the farmers under the ‘three birds per household’ initiative to encourage rearing of native birds. More than 6,109 birds have been distributed to 1,458 households and currently there are 123,146 native poultry in the country according to the PM’s state of the nation address to parliament.
The government has also come up with various interventions like generation and promotion of improved vegetable production technologies, supply of protected vegetable production facilities, establishment of post-production facilities, and capacity building and skills enhancement program to boost the agriculture sector.
About 8.205 MT of assorted and hybrid vegetable seeds were supplied and production was 55,200 MT equivalent to Nu 8280 million excluding potato.
The PM stated that potato has witnessed a radical increase from 50,390 MT in 2013 to 56,419 MT last year. “This year production will increase both in agriculture and livestock as the budget is Nu 795,5439.823 for the ministry of agriculture alone,” the PM said.
To make farming more attractive and livable the PM said the government over the past few years has put in much effort to provide power tillers in every chiwog. Till date 783 power tillers have been distributed and 343 power tillers will be distributed this year.
Electric fencing has also proved to be very effective in protecting crops from wild predators. This year, 500 kms of electric fencing will be built in addition to the 1,987 kilometers already built benefiting 10,841 households the PM said.
Further 130 kilometers of irrigation channels will be built or maintained for which Nu 339 million has been allotted. “Once the water commission is established, we expect all irrigation problems to be resolved,” PM said.
About 75.86 kilometers of new irrigation channels were constructed and 109.9 kilometers of irrigation channels renovated benefiting 5,824 households and covering 9,262 acres. In the 11th Plan alone, the government constructed and renovated 680.33 kilometers of irrigation channels.
Meanwhile, greenhouses were supplied to potential vegetables growers in 20 dzongkhags to intensify off–season vegetable production. A total of 1885 green houses have been supplied covering 416 chiwogs and the plan is to provide one greenhouse in every chiwog by the end of 11th Plan.
The PM said that Gasa and Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhags have decided to go organic and accordingly special support is being provided. Last year garlic and potato from Gasa were certified organic. Carrot will soon be certified as an organic product and organic asparagus is being promoted.
The past government’s plan to go fully organic by 2020 was a failure due to lack of thrust, proper policy and financial support the PM said.
To come up with proper organic agriculture policy the state of the nation report stated that an in-depth country assessment has been undertaken and the findings will help develop policy to boost organic farming. As an immediate measure to promote organic farming, BAFRA will be strengthened to provide organic certification.
“The 11th FYP target of bringing 5560 acres of land under organic farming has been already achieved,” the state of the nation report stated.
Crops like buckwheat and asparagus are being promoted under the organic brand. Bhutan now has about 39,921 acres under organic farming of which 38,558 acres are certified.
The prime minister said that human wildlife conflict has been identified as the biggest challenge faced by farmers and the government now has started a new endowment for crops and livestock compensation. “Guidelines are being developed and it will be announced this year,” the prime minster said.
To further help farmers, the PM said the farm machinery corporation and livestock corporation has been established. The farm machinery corporation is expected to create 723 jobs by the end of 11th FYP of which 427 have been already recruited.
The corporation has also developed 300 acres of land and about 971 acres of fallow land was reverted to cultivation in 11 dzongkhags.
Given the limited arable land in the country and burgeoning cases of land being left fallow the government has revived cultivation in 3538.237 acres of fallow land. A land development guideline has also been developed.
Once the livestock corporation, mandated to produce and supply inputs required for the livestock and agriculture sector, is operational it is expected to create 400 jobs. “90% of the construction is completed,” the PM said.
He also sais that dairy self-sufficiency has been the biggest success with 98,986 milking cattle as of 2016 against the 11th FYP target of 80,410.
Milk production was about 47,270 MT worth Nu 2599.85 million while 1.009 MT of milk was exported generating Nu 55.5 million.
This, as per the report, has happened with the distribution of 21,335 dairy cattle along with eight Mithun bulls and 52 Jersey bulls in the 11th plan. In addition a total of 432 breeding bulls were also supplied.
The Prime minister said this year livestock and agricultural productivity will increase as Nu 1.9 bn has been budgeted for the two sectors.