Last week, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest ordered the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) to ‘temporarily’ suspend the import of beans and cauliflowers. Laboratory tests had confirmed that these vegetables contain pesticide beyond the permitted ‘limit’.
This is heartening for many Bhutanese farmers. This is truly our opportunity to grow and feed Bhutanese people with vegetables grown and nurtured on Bhutanese soil. It is an opportunity to go bigger into farming and turn farming into a financially lucrative venture for our rural farmers, who still continue to grow crops for self-consumption.
Otherwise, it is difficult for our farmers to compete with literally cheap vegetables that are imported from across the border, where they are grown in much bigger quantities. Our farmers do not stand a chance at all to compete in the market.
Thus, they end up growing only what’s enough for their own families and the rest go waste, most of the time. This is the same thing with dairy and poultry products. Bhutanese farmers should be able to cater enough dairy products for Bhutanese consumers. Someday soon, we should stop importing cheaper products. I am unsure how healthy these products are, but today, Bhutanese in the urban centers continue to consume imported dairy products.
We are already self-sufficient in eggs. And we should now explore markets beyond Bhutan for our poultry products. The same goes for our dairy products.
This is the right time when we should seriously think about growing more vegetables that is enough for all consumers. That way, we can stop importing vegetables. I think that is possible.
Of course, again, sometimes we tend to go wild. Our authorities need to control the prices of these products and make them affordable to everyone.
Strike the iron while it is hot, they say; we must make use of this import suspension order as a basis to stop importing vegetables from across the border and strive for self-sufficiency in vegetables and other food items – one product at a time.
The writer works at an NGO and lives in Thimphu