Photo Courtesy: Heavenlybhutan

Economic Contingency Plan for Agriculture looks at revamping the entire sector from production to the market

A report on acceleration and reprioritization of works in the agriculture sector for the 12th Five Year Plan (FYP) was released by the Economic Contingency Plan (ECP) Delivery Unit on 13 May.

ECP’s committee focal officer said that the works had to be reprioritized due to the COVID-19 situation, with the short-term goal of ensuring food self-sufficiency. He stated that the unit is looking to carry forward the assessments and measures for even a longer period with the ultimate goal of food security and sufficiency within the country using its leverage on main resources.

He said that the program is also looking into the marketing aspects and in encouraging commercial farming through Farm Machinery Corporation Limited (FMCL) or Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation (BLDC). The corporations also need to be reformed, in terms of organizational standards while remaining true to their mandate of commercial agriculture, he added.

The project aims to tackle the deep-rooted issues in the agriculture sector, like data collection, tracking figures of production. This in turn will help to resolve other issues, like supply chain management, storage facilities, increase in demand and supply, both in the short term and long term.

There are meetings being held in the agriculture ministry to work out the details of the plan while reinstating the immediate measure of the agriculture sector to meet vegetables, cereals, and livestock, etc., demand.

“When we talk about the demand, farmers themselves are consumers. Therefore, they have to fulfill their own requirements and consumption firstly, after that they can think of meeting the demand and consumption in other part of the population, like the Centenary Farmers’ Market, hotels and institutions which are the main consumption market for the agriculture sector,” he added.

He said that under the ECP program, there are three categories of producers, in terms of the primary suppliers of farm-based produce.

“The first group being the farmers, themselves, who actually do subsistence farming but will deliver to more people if they can manage,” he said.

The officer also mentioned that the Prime Minister had previously interacted with all the 20 Dzongdas and visited farmers, in his personal capacity, to try and identify the production capabilities of the farmers so that there is more agricultural and livestock production.

The PM also asked the farmers if they required help to enhance the farm production, such as accessing loans, credits or in terms of seed supplies or other inputs.

“Therefore, having discussed this, the PM, himself, approved a format and shared with all the Dzongdas, which was later followed up through a video conference with all the Dasho Dzongdas. So as we speak, we are receiving this information from the dzongkhags,” the principal secretary stated, and further added, “Some dzongkhags have submitted the reports while other dzongkhags are still working on improving the information.” The names and information on farmers are being collected in the dzongkhags.

“The detailed information is being collected from the dzongkhags and based on that, the government’s job is to support them through input supply and other things which can be done by the dzongkhag administration, regional agriculture offices and MoAF,” he added.

Other activities, like encouraging farming through briefing on livestock rearing and what sort of crops and vegetables farmers should be cultivated are being held.

He said, “The second group of producers are a bit more organized groups and cooperatives, and from their expectations, they need more professional support, like greenhouse development, different forms of irrigations, seeds, fertilizers, know-how, mechanization. Likewise, we are collecting all the list of groups and cooperatives that would like to enhance production.”

ECP is finding out on the different kinds of support mechanisms required by the farmers so MoAF can work towards providing them accordingly.

One is a buyback scheme and giving support price for crops with higher support price for off season production and lower prices for bulk production during the season time.

Another support is to connect producers with farmers markets for better marketing.

He said that the opportunity not only goes out to the groups and cooperatives who are already there, but also towards the unemployed youth to engage in a proper commercial and professional agriculture-based industry for a living.

He said, “The third group of producers are the commercial producers, like the BLDC and FMCL. They develop large pieces of land and then do commercial farming, so this is another group. BLDC is also doing MoAF’s livestock processing and packaging activities.”

ECP expects to see a positive outcome within the time span of 9 -14 months to understand what the different groups of farmers, corporations and the two SOEs can produce during this time. However, this is deemed as a short-term plan.

He said that marketing aspect of agriculture has always had some hassles in channeling goods towards the customers, and this is the other thing that they are hoping to provide a solution to.

He said, “There is a group that has been setup with officials from the Department of Agriculture, Marketing, Department of Livestock from the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) BAFRA and then the ministry, itself, within the next three months to clearly establish the processes of marketing.”

He added that this would help the vegetable farmers to have the direct contact access to vendors in different markets within the country so that their supplies could be picked up from their homes or farms.

According to him, another group at DMC is separately reviewing on the possibility for value addition for cash crops, like cardamom, oranges, potatoes, doma and ginger.

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