MoAL Minister, Lyonpo Younten Phuntsho

Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock plans to revive the declining agricultural sector

The agricultural sector has faced challenges, leading to a decline in production. The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MoAL) intends to solve the issues. According to the MoAL Minister, Lyonpo Younten Phuntsho, mechanising farms, preparing for the effects of climate change, cultivating high-value commodities, and vigorously courting overseas consumers are ways to address the issues.

The 2022 integrated agriculture and livestock census unveiled a concerning trend: a notable decline in the production of key cereals. Paddy production saw a downturn of 8 percent compared to the previous year, while maize production plummeted by 16 percent during the same period.

These findings were further echoed in the Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) annual report for 2023, which underscored a diminishing trend in agricultural labour productivity over the years. The gap in agricultural productivity, measured by output per worker or GDP per person employed, has been steadily widening.

From a peak of 7.5 percent in 2018, agriculture labour productivity dwindled to a concerning 4.5 percent in 2022.

The decline in agricultural productivity has prompted a shift in labour from the agricultural sector to supposedly more productive fields. While this shift holds the potential to bolster overall economic output, it also raises red flags. Despite the migration of labour, a significant portion of Bhutan’s workforce remains entrenched in agriculture, hinting at a persisting reliance on this sector for employment and sustenance.

The overarching concern lies in the stark reality that the decline in agricultural production is taking distressing proportions, with entire swathes of farmland now lying fallow. Should this trend persist unchecked, Bhutan risks exacerbating its dependence on imports, further straining its already negative trade balance.

During this year’s first Meet-the-Press, Lyonpo Younten Phuntsho said that there are multi-dimensional factors that are affecting the agriculture industry: land modules, farm labour, and access to finance. Lack of irrigation and farming tools is followed by human-wildlife conflict and the effects of climate change.

He said, “The main issue currently is about decreasing production and the marketability of Bhutanese agriculture produce. In order to revive that, we have lots of policies in place, and one of them is farm mechanisation and increasing production. Another is to have better infrastructure facilities, repairing those that are damaged, followed by building one where it is required.”

“Another pressing issue is the effects of climate change; for that matter, we have research and development, and we plan to develop new climate-resistant crop varieties, followed by the practice of protected agriculture,” he added.

Lyonpo said that access to finance is also a major issue for people who want to start farming after their much-needed training. For that, MoAL is undertaking studies and looking at alternatives to help them.

Lyonpo acknowledged that agriculture produce is becoming less marketable. He said, “The availability of the same produce at a cheaper cost from abroad and the very high cost of transportation within the country are the reasons for the decline in the marketability of Bhutanese agriculture.”

He stated the ministry will focus on the production of high-value crops in the 13th Five-Year Plan, pursue alternative markets abroad, and establish demand centres and collaborate closely with all private agriculture sector corporations.

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