Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bhutan & it's Youths

Children Learning in Class Room

The future of the nation lies in the hands of our younger generation”.

- His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck of Bhutan

Bhutan is a nation currently undergoing a state of transition from age old traditions to modernization and witnessing unprecedented economic and political reforms. Modernization and the introduction of mass media have also caused a significant change in Bhutan’s youth culture. Bhutanese youth have the unique challenge to balance modernization with traditions.

Based on Bhutan’s current labour market structure, the most labour absorbing sectors are agriculture and construction sector. However, Bhutanese youths are generally reluctant to accept employment that is rural based and manual intensive.
While there have been many proposed policies to alleviate youth unemployment situation in Bhutan, such as the provision for developing the tertiary educations and vocational training and sending our youths abroad to work among others. Our government is already doing a lot to maintain 0% unemployment among the youths. I think the other option available for us at the moment is to advocate the importance of self employment through entrepreneurship to our youths who are desperately looking for employment opportunities.

The reasons for youth unemployment are very complex with factors ranging from demographic and social economics as well as multitude of other factors like demand, supply and preference of white collar jobs as well as mismatch of expectations in skill level between prospective youths and employer.

Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the youths of Bhutan try to embrace agribusiness as a source of income and livelihood which will result in self employment and eradicate poverty and assist in food security in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture is already doing a lot in terms of assisting our farmers in terms of food production but it should also consider agripreneurship as a source of livelihood among the youths and encourage youths into the agri sector.

If you genuinely care for our future then join this informal discussion tomorrow on the topic "How can Bhutan employ its young workforce meaningfully? Can export labour solve Bhutan's unemployment problems? How can we replace migrant labourers worth around 7 billion ngultrums with local skills?". The Loden Foundation invites you to an informal discussion with Prof Mark Mancall, Dasho Kinley Dorji, Dr Karma Phuntsho and many others at Cafe Italia, 7.30pm, Friday, 21 March, 2014.

On that note, i would like to wish each and every one of you a very Happy International Happy Day. This day is very important to Bhutan because inspired by Bhutan Guiding Development Principle "Gross National Happiness" and our King's vision of "Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product", the United Nation endorsed March 20th as the Happy Day. :)


Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Escalating Cost of Paddy Cultivation

Development doesn’t necessarily bring prosperity.  While the cities and towns are flying high in their new-found opulence, far-flung communities in the dzongkhags are going dry.

And the increasing rural to urban migration makes the matter worse by scraping food out of people’s mouth.
Growing rice – the staple food of the Bhutanese – is becoming difficult, especially in places like Trashigang.  So, the cost of a kilogram of rice continues to rise from year to year, posing formidable challenge to the poor to put food on the table.

For a large number of people in the rural areas, whose daily income is Nu 125, Nu 75 a kilogram of rice is brutal.

In Trashigang, for instance, a kilogram of local rice costs no less than Nu 65.  The price has been rising continuously since 2008. In places like Rongthung and Rangshikhar in Trashigang, a kilogram of rice can cost anywhere between Nu 70 and 75.

However, government reports claim that production of rice in the country has increased over the years.

In Radhi, the rice bowl of the east, the price of rice has gone up as high as Nu 65 a kilogram.  Just about five years ago, a kilogram of rice did not cost more than Nu 37.  Radhi produces two varieties of local rice – Sorbang and Sungsung.  In 2008, a kilogram of Sorbang rice cost Nu 37.  Today it is Nu 60.  Likewise, a kilogram of Sungsung rice was Nu 45 six years ago.  It is Nu 65 a kilogram today.

And the price of rice will continue to increase due to shortage of labour in the villages.  Rural to urban migration has left no able-bodied people in the villages, which has triggered rise in the cost of labour, threatening the overall production of rice in the dzongkhag.

Currently, the cost of labour in Trashigang has reached Nu 200-250 a day.  Just a year ago, the cost of labour stood at Nu 150.

Apart from rural to urban migration, booming construction industry and availability of cheap substitute from India are the leading factors that contribute to increase in the price of local rice.

As land in the rural areas of Bhutan are increasingly left fallow due to shortage of labour, time may not be far when rural people’s stomachs will be stuck to their bones.

The only recourse, the farmers say, is the national dream – urban wellbeing and rural prosperity.

By Tempa Wangdi

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)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Samden Coffee Won't be Smelt For a While

Samden coffee won’t be smelt for a while

Villagers work on coffee saplings in the nursery

Had everything gone as planned, Bhutan would have had its first homegrown coffee in the market by this time.
However, Samden coffee plantation had to “downscale” its operations since 2012 because of lack of funds, as project officials claimed.

It means the company based in Hangay under Sipsu gewog in Samtse has temporarily suspended operations.  It was not shut down as many villagers speculated, officials clarified.
Otherwise, its general manager, Hemant Gurung, said, by the end of 2013, they should have processed the coffee to make available in the market by 2014.

“But we had to suspend because there was no fund to carry out the project,” he said. “We were also delayed because of the bureaucratic procedures involved to acquire land in Sipsu.”

Hemant Gurung said the project had to be suspended after financial institutions stopped giving loans, and a ban was imposed on vehicle import following rupee situation in the country.

“We inaugurated the project in mid 2011,” he said. “But by the time we were ready to take up the work by 2012, country was hit with rupee crunch.”

He said the project’s “sister company”, Samden and Hyundai Automobile, were the ones that sponsored the project.  The economic situation had hampered the company that started running into loss.

Meanwhile, with the government recently approving lease of 260 acres of reserved forestland at Kalimati and Sasboti in Hangay village, the project is expected to pick up.

A memorandum of understanding was signed with agriculture ministry.

Hemant Gurung said, once the project was completed, it would benefit local communities, because farmers have already been distributed with coffee saplings since 2011, which they would sell to the plantation under “buy-back guarantee scheme”.

“Then we’ll have our own processing unit to produce coffee,” he said. “We’ll also market and export the coffee.”

It was projected that a kilogram of coffee beans would fetch a farmer about Nu 20,000 a month for coffee plantation on a five-acre land.  The project had imported 100kg of Arabica coffee beans from Nepal in 2009, while 15 percent were beans grown locally.

The general manager said they have distributed about 6,000 coffee saplings to eight chiwogs in Sipsu. “We failed to distribute to other gewogs we targeted, all because of budget constraints,” he said.

In 2012, the project had to retrench some workers, who were mostly villagers from Sipsu hired to hoe weeds, look after plant nursery and to put manure.

“We had to retrench almost 220 villagers, because of insufficient work and fund,” Hemant Gurung said. “But we had meeting with the villagers and we’ll take them back once the situation improves.”

With the project working “internally” to get fund, they are hopeful that work would resume by January end.
“If this fund comes through, we’ll start the work,” general manager said, adding that way, they would be able to market the coffee by 2015 or 2016.

He also said the fund was important, because coffee needed constant organic fertiliser and water. “We haven’t been able to provide, so some coffee plants are drying up.”

With Sipsu being susceptible to wild elephant rampages every year, locals, who have grown coffee, said they saw the plantation lucrative since they observed that wild elephants showed no interest in coffee plants.

By Yangchen C Rinzin, Sipsu  (Kuensel)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Bhutan- Thailand friendship offer on tourism launched on His Majesty’s Birthday

The Tashichhoedzong in Thimphu

Bhutan and Thailand celebrated 25 years of friendship and diplomatic relations, coinciding with His Majesty the King’s 34 birth anniversary yesterday.

On the occasion the Royal Government of Bhutan has made an offer to the government of Thailand for promoting people to people contact in continuing its friendship and bilateral cooperation through tourism.

The ‘Bhutan- Thailand Friendship Offer’ was launched by His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuk in J.W Marriott Hotel in Bangkok yesterday.

As a part of the ‘Bhutan – Thailand Friendship offer’ the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) would exempt the Thai nationals from paying the mandatory minimum daily package rate and would only levy the daily royalty of USD 65 person per night during the peak seasons like June, July and August.

Further Drukair and Bhutan Airlines would offer 50 % discounts on airfares to the Thai nationals, while hotels would also provide discount of 50% for every halt. In addition Thai visitors would enjoy a special airport reception arrangement on arrival.

However, such facilities will be offered only to those Thai nationals who visit Bhutan through licensed Bhutanese tour operators.

During the launch the Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that such an exceptional offer particularly to the Thai nationals would further strengthen the relationship between the two countries and its people.

Lyonchhen also added that Thai and Bhutanese citizens have similar reverence and respect for the His Majesty and the royal families for both the countries. “More importantly this year Bhutan and Thailand celebrates its 25 years of friendship” said Lyonchhen.

The Prime Minister also added that apart from agriculture and hydro power, tourism is an important means for economic development and generating revenue for the country. Hence he said that it is very important to promote tourism in Bhutan by coming up with special plans and programs for visitors.

Lyonchhen said that tourists have the perception of a cold harsh climate during winter and incessant rainfall during summer which is why many visitors chose to visit in the month of June, July and August. Therefore, the government has plans to attract more visitors by providing diversification of services and products.

“This is the first such offer for the first time by Bhutan to Thailand, and similar offers would be made to other countries too” Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said. The PM said that such an offer to Thailand would also serve as a trial opportunity.

Tanden Zangmo/ Thimphu (Published in The Bhutanese, Feb. 21st, 2014)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

13th Bhutan National Film Awards

The 13th Bhutan National Film Awards was held on the 21st of February 2014 in Punakha coinciding with the 34th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the king.

The following are the award winners of 13th national film award.

1)  Lead Actor(male)- Phurba Thinley (Phurba Thinley)
2)  Lead Actor(female)-Tshokey Tshomo Karchung(My Teacher My World)
3)  Supporting Actor(male)- Dorji Khandu(Karma)
4)  Supporting Actor(female)-Sonam Chuki(Miss Kota)
5)  New Comer(Male)-Kelden Yoezer Wangchuk(Acho Kelden)
6)  New Comer(female)-Kuenzang Wangmo(Chuut Wai)
7)  Child Artist-Osel Tenzin Tshering(My Teacher My World)
8)  Actor in Negative Role-Kencho Wangdi(Sakten Meto)
9)  Actor in Comic Role-Phurba Thinley(Phurba Thinley)
10)  Direction-Karma Chechong(My Teacher My World)
11)  Screenplay- Phuntsho Rabten(Chut wai)
12)  Choreography- Karma Jerry(Phurba Thinley) & Chimmi Dorji(My Teacher My World)
13)  Art Direction-Kencho Wangdi(Sakten Meto)
14)  Make up-Dechen Tshomo(My Teacher My World)
15)  Playback Singer(Male)-Ugyen Panday(Karma)
16)  Playback Singer(female)-Namkha Lhamo (Shadows)
17)  Music Composer- Tandin Dorji(Karma)
18)  Cinematography- Leki Dorji(Arrows of Thunder Dragon)
19)  Background Score- Karma Jamtsho(Phurba Thinley)
20)  Lighting- Sangay Tenzin & Karma Jigs(Arrows of Thunder Dragon)
21)  Sound Designing- Sonam Rinzin(Sung Na Oie)
22)  Visual Editing- Wangchuk Talop (Phurba Thinley)
23)  Animation- Bishnu Kumar (Karma)
24)  Special Effect- Chencho Dorji(Phurba Thinley)
25)  Lyric Composer- Thinley Wangchu (Sakteng Meto)
26)  Culture Based Film- Sakteng Meto
27)  Dzongkha Language- Sakteng Meto
28) Youth & Education- My Teacher My World

Unlike the Oscars, 13th National Film Awards had some few Bhutanese film enthusiasts like me glued to the television. It was not glamorous and star studded like the Oscar Awards but something smaller in picture and also have only Bhutanese audience unlike Oscar where they have international viewers with much fanfare. The National Film Award of Bhutan cannot be compared to International Awards because our industry is still growing and it takes a lot of years and hard work to gain momentum. But still then, for Bhutanese its is nothing comparable to the Oscar.

I have hardly watched two of the movies from the above list. My Teacher My World and Phurba Thinley. However, both the movies has been nominated and awarded several awards.

My Teacher My World is a wonderfull movies focussed on a lot of issues prevailing in our society. There are beautiful and soothing songs in this movie.

In fact, Tshoke Tshomo Karchung deserves the awards for the Best Actress. She is portrait as an obedient housewife, daughter in law, mother and a caring teacher in this movie. She has tried her best to do justice to her roles.

Of course, this movie took home the award for the best director & Choreography as well as Youth & Education related awards.

My friend's son who is just two and half years old loves Phurba Thinley more than anything else. So, that was the main reason why we went all the way to Trowa Theater to watch this comedy film. It turned out to be a huge surprise for me to see Phurba Thinley in the role of the main protagonist because i had never ever imagined that he could be so good. The other actors Tshering Zam and Tandin Wangchuk looked cute.

 I think the Bhutanese film industry is developing. Every year, 10-20 films are released. And, it is good to see that movie theaters run houseful for few weeks. That shows the support our people have for our home made movies. And, it is even more encouraging for the film fraternity when there are also awards for Best Culture Based Film, Dzongkha Language and Youth & Education film awards which is quite peculiar in contrary to the lots of Bollywood awards that we watch on television. Some other movies that  i watched  last year was Selzin & Sorry wai which didnt receive any of the awards. I am yet to watch Miss Kota and Sakten Metog.

I don't understand why our people do not prefer to watch any of our Bhutanese movies. Our youths like Korean Dramas & movies while our educated folks prefer Hollywood type and there is no single person who do not like Bollywood movies.  It is sad to see that our own people do not promote our local films and appreciate their talents. Instead, some compare our movies with that of foreign ones. To the ones who complain and compares our local films, i must tell them that Why don't you invest your money in watching locally made films? So that the revenue they earn might go in purchasing better camera and filming equipments, so that they get well trained & also also can hire professionals. These are some the reasons. I know our industry is growing and they are going to do great oneday perhaps we have to be little patience. The small market we have is largely flooded by the Korean, Hollywood and Bollywood movies. I hope one day, all our people likes going to theater to watch our local made movies and our movies will have international audience. Hopefully, that day is not going to be distantly far with the release of Vaara, the Blessing. This is one i really want to watch.

Lowest Growth in Tourist Numbers

Bhutan’s infinite charms were able to draw only 10 percent more tourists last year – the lowest growth in five years. But the rise in the dollar, and the minimum daily tariff brought some relief.

In all, 116,224 international and regional tourists visited last year.

The international or dollar-paying tourists arrival was 52,798, an increase of only 329 tourists from the previous year.

Bhutan is facing rising competition from destinations, such as Myanmar and Sri Lanka. So major festivals like the Paro and Thimphu tshechus couldn’t draw crowds like before.

Americans beat the Japanese to reemerge as the top market, with 6,927 visitors compared to 4,015 Japanese. For the first time, China became the second top market clocking 4,764 visitors.

A majority of the visitors continue to be Indians, classified as regional tourists and who do not require visas.

Regional tourists are exempt from the minimum daily tariff of USD 250 per person a day.

The ‘Bhutan-Thailand friendship offer’ aimed at attracting Thai nationals during the leaner months of June, July and August was much awaited considering the effort towards lean season promotion.

Tourism Council of Bhutan still hasn’t revealed the total revenue or statistics of the jobs created in the tourism industry.

There were four tourist deaths. A Swedish woman fell below Bumdra, above Taktsang monastery. An Indian couple drowned in Mebartsho, Bumthang. One Japanese died from altitude sickness.

At least one tourist dies in Bhutan every year despite support and precautionary measures in place.

International tourists either die from altitude sickness or a previous medical condition. Most deaths among regional tourists are from mishaps, especially at the Mebartsho.

With 273 licenses issued last year, it rose threefold compared to the previous years. Among the applicants were contractors, whose businesses were affected by loan restrictions from financial institutions.

Hotel constructions are also on the rise. There are 63 hotels under construction in 14 dzongkhags. The highest is in Thimphu at 20 constructions, seven in Paro, five in Bumthang, three in Trashigang, and one in Trashiyangtse.

In general, the snake year treated the tourism sector well. The sector is optimistic for the year ahead.
But there is still a lot that needs to be done, if comments posted on various travel websites are an indication. Food and hygiene in the country have been criticised very often.

By Kinga Dema (Printed in Kuensel on 4th March, 2014)