In what is likely to thwart the country’s target of achieving rice self-sufficiency or at least make the country 60% rice self-sufficient is the kind of agricultural practices that we see today in places such as Paro and Thimphu.
Instead of growing rice, an increasing number of farmers in Paro and Thimphu these days are growing other crops in their paddy fields, especially vegetables like asparagus and cucumber that fetch better income in the market.
While farm mechanization has made paddy cultivation easier and the yield has improved as well, farmers reasoned that the returns are better from other crops.
Because of the better returns, cultivation of asparagus in paddy fields has become common among many farmers in Paro.
Similarly, in Thimphu, farmers have started cultivating asparagus and chilies en masse in their paddy fields.
According to the farmers of Maedwang gewog in Thimphu, it is easier to grow asparagus as it doesn’t require much water or get infested by pests. They started growing the crops instead of rice due to water shortage.
The country’s current rice self-sufficiency was reported at 37% in June, 2021.
In 2018, statistics reported that Bhutan is 47% rice self-sufficient. The target was to increase to 60%, which was expected to be achieved in three years.
However, going by the development in the front of rice development, we have much more to go and do even if we were to make our country 50% rice self-sufficiency.
Contrarily, the local demand for rice is on the rise and the cereal remains among the top 10 food items imported annually.
To meet the local demand, Bhutan imported about 50,000 metric tons of rice on an average every year, which is more than 4,000 truckloads of rice approximately. The above calculation is as of August 2014.
However, it is a relief that the change in farming practices like the ones in Paro and Thimphu have not affected the country’s rice production as of now. This is according to the agriculture and forests ministry. While it may sound comforting, the thing is we cannot take chances. What will happen if farmers in some other prominent rice-growing areas or districts today engage in similar practices like the ones in Paro and Thimphu?
Another thing for sure is that we cannot allow further decrease in the area that is used today for rice cultivation. Already, over the years, there has been reports of decrease in the area of land used for rice cultivation, and with more wetlands being left fallow in Punakha and Wangdue due to a shortage of irrigation water.
Apart from farm mechanization and tools, we must, therefore, ensure that there is no further decrease in the small wetland areas that we use for rice production today and address the irrigation water shortage, which is still prevalent in many of our major rice-growing areas today.