While Bhutan has seen immense growth along with impressive reductions in poverty, it remains a predominantly agriculture-based society, with the majority of the population relying on agriculture for their livelihoods. Most of the country’s arable land is cultivated by small farm holdings – an average size of 1.2 hectares – which produce most of the crop and livestock. However, despite importing 34% of its cereal needs, nearly one out of three Bhutanese suffer from food insecurity. Additionally, nearly 27 percent of Bhutanese households consume less than the daily minimum calorific requirement of 2,124 kcal, resulting in nearly 30 percent of the population facing malnourishment and related health issues such as stunting, or children that are too short for their age.
To help improve the county’s agricultural productivity and better meet the nutrition needs of its people, we recently launched the Food Security and Agricultural Productivity Project (FSAPP) with the government of Bhutan. The project is designed to reduce the country’s reliance on food imports, help combat malnutrition in children, while improving agricultural productivity. It will assist farmers in five selected dzonkhags (districts) to diversify and enhance agriculture through better cultivation and sales and marketing of their products.
How could the project really be transformational for farmers in Bhutan? The project builds on past efforts where the farmers were assisted with production inputs and equipment. It seeks to transform subsistence farming toward commercialization by boosting production and forging direct links to the market. The new project will also provide opportunities for the farmers to work together, form farming collectives, and create a unified voice to negotiate with agro-entrepreneurs for better terms for their goods.
The FSAP will be implemented in five south western dzongkhags of Chukha, Dagana, Haa, Samtse and Sarpang because of their potential for production of high-value nutrient-rich crops (large cardamom, ginger, other spices, vegetables and citrus) and food crops (rice, potato, vegetables, and pulses). Farmers will be trained to develop expertize in better crop management, efficient use of water in farming and use of better agricultural techniques to enhance production of crops. They will also learn about markets for their produce and establish productive linkages with public and private market players; link production groups with schools for home-grown school meal programs; and with exporters. This is planned to be done through business orientation training to farmers’ groups and organizing study visits for them to learn new technologies and explore value addition options with large scale enterprises.
The project will directly benefit approximately 10,400 households (52,000 people) with women constituting about 30 percent of the direct beneficiaries. It will also improve homegrown school feeding programs for 3,000 school children in 16 schools located in 11 project gewogs (group of villages) by facilitating productive linkages among producer groups and the schools.
Agriculture is a priority area of the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests has been promoting a strategy of transition from subsistence to commercial agriculture that generates income and attractive employment opportunities, particularly for youth. By the end of the project, it is expected that there will be an increase in the productivity of targeted crops by at least 20 percent in the project areas and an increase in both the volume and value of produce marketed by at least 20 percent. This will enhance the income of beneficiaries and ensure availability and affordability of nutrition rich crops.
This project, which is supported by the World Bank with a grant of $8 million, is expected to be a game-changer for the country.
(The writer is a Senior Rural Development Specialist and the World Bank Agriculture Coordinator for Bhutan [Courtesy – worldbank.org]. )