Although Bhutan aims to achieve food security through increasing the production of cereal crops especially rice the effort has been mired with many challenges such as lack of irrigation water and loss of potential wetland to the developmental activities. According to a study carried out by the Research Development Centre (RDC) Bajo the national production of rice is about 78,000 metric tons (MT), which can hardly meet 50% of the requirement and the country needs to import 21,000 MT of rice each year. As the import of staple food draining out the exchequer increasing the rice production is one of the most urgent tasks for the government.
The increased expenditure which is against the government’s policy of achieving cereal self-sufficiency is thought to be a worrisome to not only the government but the national. The Department of Agriculture (DoA) under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) targets to produce at least 90,000 MT of rice by the end of the 11th Five Year Plan. As an important initiative by the ministry enhances rice production, RDC Bajo has found out that the entire southern belt and the mid altitude regions in the country have potentials to harvest rice twice a year.
Meanwhile RDC Bhur has tested 12 varieties of rice last year, examining their adaptability, maturity duration, yield potential and resistance to pests and diseases. So far DoA found only one variety that actually has a short harvest period. According to the report by the center, out of the 12 tested BRRI, IR20913, Hardinath and several others were found to have a potential in harvesting in a short period. “There is a great need to find more varieties, and give farmers more options,” stated the report. Those best rice varieties from the experiment would be distributed to the farmers across the country, and three other BRRI varieties along with one variety from Nepal are scheduled to be tested in the next season. DoA intends to release at least three to four varieties of high-yielding and short-duration rice within the next few years. These varieties are hoped to contribute significantly towards increasing the rice production.
MoAF also has adopted the cultivation of Kambja, the upland rice to be a viable option in contributing towards expanding the rice production. A specialist with DoA pointed out that although the Kambja alone perhaps wouldn’t contribute much it was going to help in accruing the rice production, hence helping to make rice available to consumers. “When it comes to rice, be it upland or wetland when it is available,” he said.
As the shortage of irrigation water due to water scarcity these days is another big challenge to Bhutan the expert claims that adopting the upland rice is suitable to boost rice production. Upland rice cultivation was once widely practiced in the eastern dzongkhags like Tashigang and Pemagatshel as well as a few other districts including Zhemgang and Sarbang, but farmers in these districts have quit the cultivation, focusing more on growing maize. However the Research Development Centre in Wengkhar has intervened and is trying to reintroduce and encourage the farmers to engage in cultivating upland rice again. Five varieties of upland rice including two exotic and three local varieties were introduced in the field of seven farmers in a village called Khinadrang under Pemagstshel dzongkhag in mid 2013.
Besides, MoAF is already engaged in bringing more wetland into paddy cultivation. A large area of wetland left fallow due to water shortage is being re-cultivated. The government has pursued renovating and repairing irrigation canals. Rehabilitation of the Taklai irrigation system in Sarbang is the biggest project that the ministry has undertaken so far.