On a firm footing for agricultural development

Besides shredding respective pledges, political parties bent on increasing agricultural production, boosting economic growth, and addressing market challenges

Simple and ground realities were laid on the table for discussion as Vice Presidents (VP) of the five political parties stood firm to assert their pledges for the agriculture sector of the country during their final public debate Thursday, a fortnight before the nation goes to polls on November 30.

The VP of Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), Ugyen Wangdi, said that for agriculture development, the party pledges to supply fruit trees to each gewog, tailoring the selection based on the climatic zone. He added, “If possible, we commit to giving Nu 0.1 million, if not about Nu 40,000 to every household to ensure economies of scale and productivity.”

Ugyen Wangdi also shared that there are pledges to provide chain-link fencing to protect crops from wildlife depredation and commits to increased annual budget allocation for agriculture, emphasizing land management through technology and tackling issues such as wildlife conflicts, which often pose challenges for farmers.

DPT also committed to improving the export strategy and even the trees. For instance, in the southern side of the country, the teakwood and agar trees are fetching a good market, and DPT pledges to support in fetching good prices and securing markets.

VP of the Druk Thuendrel Tshogpa (DTT), Chenga Tshering highlighted the need to boost economic growth from agriculture. “We consider agriculture important, but the past government seems like they focused more on services and did not emphasize boosting economic growth from agriculture.”

To address all these challenges, DTT plans to establish processing factories in every region, aligning with the production capacity of the respective areas. The VP said that this initiative aims to encounter low budget allocations to the agriculture sector, ultimately aiming for enhanced production and reduced dependence on imports.

Implicating the 56 percent of Bhutanese population living in rural communities, depending on agriculture for their livelihoods, the VP of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Dasho Dorji Choden said that they have proposed the implementation of a “one gewog, one product” program, whereby each gewog will focus on producing at least one specific product. The party has allocated Nu 20 million for manufacturing units that will facilitate grading, sorting, processing, and packaging. Furthermore, PDP commits to supporting farmers with power tillers, establishing livestock processing units, and providing fertilizers to enhance production capacity.

Meanwhile, the VP of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT), Dasho Sonam Kinga said that the discussion gets two-pronged when talking about agriculture; the first one focusing on the country’s food security and the other on agriculture marketing.

He said that Bhutan has achieved a food security of 68.3 percent. If the country is to achieve food self-sufficiency, the country must focus on more production. “For that, we need the best water irrigation, and we pledge to continue the water flagship program to provide irrigation to unreachable areas.”

The party also plans to improve farm production and address the challenge of human-wildlife conflict. The VP said that the DNT government provided chain-link fencing, and they will continue to provide chain-link fencing within Gewog, and in three years they will cover all Chigwog.

The DNT also commits to commercially producing high-value crops such as cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus, and adzuki beans to boost the market and will continue with fruit tree plantations, ensuring both security and marketability.

Pema Tenzin, the VP of the Bhutan Tendrel Party (BTP), shared the historical significance of agriculture in the country and the potential for substantial income generation from fruits and agricultural products.

According to the BTP VP, before hydropower and tourism, the people mostly depended on agriculture for their livelihood. He shared that if everyone cooperates and work harder, there is potential to generate Nu 7 billion in revenue over the next five years from agriculture.

The BTP VP also shared that the agricultural products are also hampered due to the decline in tourists. “Earlier, Chapcha potatoes used to be bought by restaurants in Thimphu and also used to fetch a good price. With fewer people now, there is no market to sell their agricultural products,” he reiterated. He said that farmers are eager to work hard, but there is no market for farmers to sell agricultural products, and the market price is also disheartening.

He said that the party plans to facilitate easier transportation for farmers, construct cold storage facilities and warehouses, and blacktop the entire gewog center road to improve access to markets. The party has 25 pledges for agriculture.

With a substantial dependence on agriculture for the 700,000 or so Bhutanese populace, the parties were skimming out their respective plans to address market challenges, increase production and boost economic growth.

Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu