Farming in Bhutan

Plans for better amenities, skilling and entertainment hubs in agriculture mega projects to attract the youth

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF), it is a huge challenge to keep the youth engaged in the agriculture sector, as many of them do not view farming as a viable career option in the long run.

As a result, MoAF is planning to provide a social entertainment package to the youth in the mega projects so that they will continue working in the farming sector.

An official from MoAF said that attracting and keeping the youth meaningfully engaged in agriculture sector means providing proper amenities and amusement facilities. A lot of young people see agriculture as a tiresome job and getting their hands ‘dirty’.

He said that many of the youth are focused on working in the city, and international labour markets, or they are focusing on extending their education abroad in the goal of getting better-paying salaried jobs.

He said that MoAF has set up major megaprojects in Bumthang, as well as two projects in Trongsa, all of which are 50 to 60 acres in size each.

“We are currently attempting to push modern technology, green houses, but this is insufficient to keep the youth engaged in farming.  There are around 15 youth working in Phaithang in Trongsa, and if we want to keep them, we must give them with social entertainment facilities, like games and other amusement,” he said.

He added, “We must include these facilities within the megaproject.  And we thought for instance to  start with some excellent hot water bath amenities and then go on to some gaming facilities. As a result, we decided to create a package for the youth to stay. Youth basically don’t want to go into farming because the agricultural return is minimal, and your life is monotonous and when we think about agriculture, we think of manual work.”

He said that for example, for the school feeding program, the FCBL imports almost 90 percent of the products from outside and supplies them to the schools; for example, potatoes are said to be abundant here, but we still import them during certain seasons.

“If you form a group and focus on one or two prioritized products, it will be good because we have an assured market,” he said.

He added that because of the pandemic, the youth have returned from overseas, and those who have been laid off are turning to agriculture, however, if the situation returns to normal, the ministry believes that everyone will seek out better job alternatives.

“The question of whether or not the youth who have taken up farming will be able to stay after 3 to 4 years is one that we believe will be challenging. The current scenario is quite perilous. So, in one to two years, we want to see some changes in how we work, and we are attempting to persuade. Our target audience is the youth, and altering their thinking is one of the most difficult issues we face,” he added.

A farmer Singye in Tsirang said that young people are typically uninterested in this field of work, in part because they believe farming is outdated and non profitable.

“There is a lot of stigmatization from peers and the community, who see people who work in agriculture as failures. Graduates, or anyone with a respectable amount of education, should be able to find a white collar job or anything more interesting than working in farm. We need to change their mind set,” he said.

An overseas returnee, Eden, said that during the pandemic, farming has assisted her to sustain her livelihood.

“I used to think that going into agriculture was a difficult and low-paying profession, but after the outbreak, I discovered that it is a vital area where you can earn money without having to work under someone else. I am planning to continue with the farming even if the situation becomes normal,” she said.

Meanwhile, MoAF is up skilling 1,800 youth, with 1500 participating in skill-building programs and 300 in specialized skill building programs, where the trainees receive both theoretical and practical lessons at the ministry’s research centers.

MoAF will also collect their business idea proposals after the training. Horticulture, mushroom spawn generation, organic fertilizer manufacture, and other skills are part of the training program.

“We believe that within two years, even if 70 to 80 young people take up (farming), it will still be a success when compared to the existing scenario and trends. If they submit a proposal, we will aid them in a variety of ways, including providing equipment and technical advice,” the Chief Planning Officer of Planning and Policy Division under MoAF said.

Going forward, the ministry aims to improve the atmosphere of business for all of the enterprises, particularly youth-run mega projects.

Till date, the ministry has been concentrating on practically every crop, but now they will identify a particular crop. “We are nearing completion in terms of crop prioritization. We evaluated the trade balance while prioritizing the crop,” he said.

He said that the ministry’s immediate focus will be on implementation. “We have completed a lot of plans and projects in the past. So, we want to do something now that requires us to go down into the field,” he said.

Digitized information systems, user-friendly free App with information on prioritized crop requirements are being designed to aid the farmers. There is also monetary incentive.

“If you cultivate prioritized crops or fruits, you will be eligible for part of the subsidies,” he said.

Previously, subsidies were given in a broad manner, but now the government will provide small-scale subsidies to farmers at the dzongkhag-level, as well as significant subsidies if a farmer wishes to move into income creation, which will aid the government in balancing the trade.

“Our main goal is to see these plans being implemented within the two years,” he added.

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