Agriculture sector needs subsidies

The dominance of large investment and government spending made in hydropower projects where a minimum number of Bhutanese workforce are employed, and in contrast the less investment and spending made in the agriculture and livestock sector where a vast majority of Bhutanese derive their livelihood, was the point of discussion during the Better Business Summit yesterday.

About 62 % of Bhutanese populations are in agriculture sector and contributes only 10% of GDP in 2011/2012 and shows decline in contribution as compared to the past, the Factsheet of the summit states.

Of the 62% employed in the agricultural sector, 93 % are in some form of subsistence agriculture. But the hydropower sector employed 2% of the work force but accounted for 14% of GDP in 2010, and the service industries sector employed 26% of the work force and accounted for 42% of GDP in 2013, it states.

Talking on the challenges and cure on practice of agriculture sector in Bhutan, one of the panelists, the former agriculture minister and now the Opposition Leader, Dr Pema Gyamtsho says that the agricultural products with high value low volume must be promoted to reach the niche market.

Talking on the comparative advantage of country, he mentioned the clean favourable natural condition in Bhutan as well as practice in use of less chemical fertilizers.

Sharing his opinions on the challenges the sector faces, he pointed out that the Bhutanese farmers have small land holdings and continuous land fragmentation, without a clear land use policy, shortage of labour, irrigation facilities, cost of production, seasonality and climate change, and the need for proper storage.

“Instead of always thinking of taking the product to the market, we have to also think of being a market to the products,” he said, suggesting the improvement needed in the sector. Land fragmentation issues can be resolved through formation of cooperatives among farmers and capacity building, he added.

Talking on the government’s vast investment in hydropower projects, the President, Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI), Ugen Tsechup Dorji said that the initiative will gain lot of wealth to the government, but not directly to the people.

“We don’t want to make agriculture fashionable, but viable”, he said. “We want the farmers to know that if I go for agriculture, I have business person who is going to be my partner,” he added. Further, he suggested on subsidies that government can provide.

Another panelist, Managing Director, Chharu Tshongdrel, Dechen Pelden also suggested that providing subsidies will attract people, including the educated lot, in the agriculture sector.

Chief Executive Officer, IDE, Tim Prewitt suggested on putting into place a competitive agriculture sector, research institutes, banks, machinery, warehouses, storages, huge private sectors investment, transportation, farming tools and technology. He added that more people will follow the path if the business is successful.

Bhutan has 2.9% of land that is arable and can be cultivated. Bhutan produced about 1,100 tons of meat, 30,000 tons of dairy and about 308,000 tons of crops, including 78,000 tons of rice alone, and 104,000 tons of other cereals, 148,000 tons of fruit, and others includes vegetables, spices and other cash crops.

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