The people of Kheng had an opportunity to meet with the Agriculture Minister to discuss the pressing agricultural issues during the minister’s tour of Lower Kheng region.
The Agriculture Minister has promised to address some significant issues in the agriculture sector and to enhance the livelihood of the people through agriculture.
This comes in line with the ministry’s new policy objective establishing effective structures to promote the domestic markets, contribution to agricultural and rural development and the national food security.
Starting this year, the agriculture ministry will be focusing on three significant problems that the farmers in the country face. The ministry is also targeting to solve the human-wildlife conflict, labour shortage and enable market access for all the agricultural products.
Similarly, the ministry will identify yet another three major problem faced by the farmers across the country next year and provide assistance accordingly.
Farm Labour Shortage
The farm labour shortage is identified as one of the major impact in farming operations and agricultural development. The shortage has led to the decrease in the area of land being left under cultivated and affecting food production.
According to the Agriculture Minister, Yeshey Dorji, in order to attain food security and produce beyond self consumption, the farm labour shortage needs to be looked into immediately.
Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said the agricultural work is never completed on time and the cost of farming has increased and resulted into insufficient food due to farm labour scarcity. Lyonpo said that attaining food self-sufficiency would be a distant dream if the problem of labour shortage is ignored.
Lyonpo also said that declining number of farm labour is significant in the Kheng region due to various reasons, and in order to alleviate the problem, the ministry would provide a power tiller in each gewogs within the next few months to ease the labour shortage.
Lyonpo added that a total of 70 power tillers have been distributed to the six eastern dzongkhags to resolve issues related to farm labour shortage.
“Power tillers are not just for tilling land, but it would also help farmers for transportation purpose,” Lyonpo said.
Access to Market
The lack of access to market has also been observed as one of the major problems in the Kheng region. Lyonpo said the ministry will
work to improving access to market by making investments in mechanization as well as in improving the road networks to connect to the market by supplying equipment to building new farms roads.
The government’s new strategy in marketing also promises to place more incentives in producing food which would be done by upgrading and expanding the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) to buy farmers’ produce. Further, the government has directed FCB to look at guaranteed buy back for certain food items.
Based on seasonal and agro-climatic comparative advantages, there is a substantial potential for local farmers and market agents to meet the increasing and changing domestic demand.
Lyonpo further said that to ease the lack of access to market the ministry will setup farm shops in the gewog centers and the opening of 5.5 kilometer long farm roads in Ngangla should help address the problem to an extent.
“The opening of farm shops in the gewog centers would enable the farmers to market their products and earn cash income,” Lyonpo said. Further Lyonpo also said that through such initiative, farmers would be encouraged to produce more and take interest in farming.
Human-wildlife conflict is also a serious issue in Kheng, discouraging the farmers from cultivating crops as most of their crops are either damaged or devoured by the wild animals.
The use of electric and solar fencing in most part of the country for shielding crops from wild animals has proved successful. The impact assessment conducted last year by the Research Development Centre (RDC) in Wengkhar showed that the use of electric fence in the sites has reduced the human-wildlife conflict, from as elevated as 100 percentage before fencing to as low as 10 percentage after fencing.
Lyonpo said that the similar electric fencing would be provided to the farmers in Kheng and the feasibility study would be carried out within this year.
Lyonpo added that once the electric fencing is completed apart from the reduction in crop damages, there would be an increase in cultivation of crops, crop diversity, and reduction in fallow land. This also means reduced crop guarding time and also reduced crop guarding related disputes in the community, which would eventually contribute towards the national food security.
The minister will be touring other dzongkhags as well and address similar problems faced by the farmers.