Thursday, March 13, 2014

Minister Outlines Plans to Boost Production

Besides assisting farmers, the agriculture ministry wants to involve itself in cultivating, producing and processing major food items like meat, milk and rice.

This is one major activity the ministry intends to carry out in the next few years to achieve food self-sufficiency.

Bhutan’s performance, when it comes to food self sufficiency, is one of the lowest in the region.  The country has a little more than 50 percent self-sufficiency in rice production, 6 percent sufficiency in terms of edible oil, and close to zero percent in terms of meat.

Against this backdrop, recent statistics show imports of rice, edible oil and meat increasing significantly.
According to the Royal Monetary Authority’s annual report, published early this year, total value of rice imports increased from Nu 853M in 2011 to Nu 1.25B in 2012.  Edible oil imports increased from Nu 667M to Nu 926M, and meat increased from Nu 642M to Nu 1B in the same period.

Overall, there is a Nu 4.2B deficit in the balance of food trade (export minus imports).  This is more than half the total net earning made by the hydropower sector in a year.

To reduce dependence on imports, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said the ministry will be establishing mega farms, slaughterhouses in the country, dairy farms, piggery, fishery and turkey farming, among others.

“We want to change the way we do things and we’ll achieve food self-sufficiency only with these kind of activities,” lyonpo said.

“Bhutanese on an average consume around two pigs weighing 70 kilograms a year,” the minister said.
Officials from the agriculture ministry had earlier said that the ministry received a less percentage share of budget to carry out any activities to boost production.

The budget allocated for the agriculture sector had steadily dropped from around 44 percent in the 4th five-year plan to only 2.8 percent in the current plan.

Other plans, the minister said, to increase self-sufficiency, was to cultivate rice in another 2,000 hectares 2014.  Plans also include buying raw paddy from India and processing them in the country before selling it to domestic consumers.

This, the minister said, had various advantages, because it will be cheaper to buy raw paddy than rice, and it can be supplied fresh in the domestic market.

Similarly, raw edible oil would be imported before processing and selling to domestic consumers.

When it came to budgetary constraints, lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said that, in terms of absolute figures, the budget allocated for the agriculture sector has been increasing although in terms of percentage share it has been dropping.

“So, in reality, our budget hasn’t dropped, and this is only because other ministries came up along the way and the budget was shared,” the lyonpo said.

By the end of the 11th Plan, the lyonpo said, actual budget for the sector would have rather increased, as there are many funding agencies for the sector, since it has an important bearing on poverty reduction.

In the 11th Plan, Nu 5B has been allocated for the sector, and this might increase to Nu 7B by the end of the Plan period, he said.

By Nidup Gyeltshen (Kuensel)

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