Despite the impact on businesses and livelihoods, an important effect of the Covid-19 has been the realization of the importance of agriculture, and growing our own food and vegetables.
The signs are ostensible today as vast swath of fallow areas in different parts of the country have been turned into agricultural farms. There is also the formation of many cooperatives and groups apart from new emerging individual farmers, who are venturing into agriculture with renewed vigor and enthusiasm.
This is a good indication for the country’s agriculture sector. It can go on to not only limit the huge quantities of food and vegetables that we import every year, but it could also address to some extent the increasing youth unemployment issue in the country.
Despite the support and initiatives from the agriculture ministry for people to take up and engage in agriculture, the response seems to have been lukewarm until now. This is obviously because farming isn’t easy in Bhutan given the geographic terrains and the limitation on the use of agricultural machineries.
Wildlife depredation is another issue confronted by our rural farmers. There are scenarios where farmers have lost everything to wild animals after having had toiled in the farms for the entire year. While some have been fortunate with the electric fencing provided by the government, many still rely on rudimentary techniques to keep the animals at bay, albeit not known how effective the mechanisms are.
Further, the unpredictability that comes with farming is another issue. One may have a good yield this year, but it’s uncertain whether one would have the same fate next year, and the year after that. And that nature can be at times cruel and terrifying is what an avid group of farmers woke up to one morning in Samtse recently.
They found out that their efforts to grow varieties of winter vegetables in a new commercial farm had gone to waste as continuous hailstone during a night destroyed vast areas of their fresh vegetables. The members of this commercial farm were gob smacked and instead stared at each other not knowing what to do next. Such predicaments are not new in Bhutan, especially for those who take up or venture into agriculture.
A proper system of compensation and crop insurance scheme must be, therefore, put in place to help farmers in such situation. However, even if one wants to avail such a facility now, there is not even a scheme. While there are talks going on for quite some years about the agriculture ministry initiating a crop insurance scheme with the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan, it’s not known when it will ever see the light of day.
The fact is that insurance schemes are important to financially protect the farmers. It has become more important now as more Bhutanese people are taking up agriculture businesses such as vegetable commercial farms, dairy, poultry, fishery, etc. Apart from having an insurance scheme in place, our farmers must also be encouraged and supported to avail such a scheme.