Bhutan Achieves 47% Self-Sufficiency In Rice Production

Rice constitutes 53 percent of the daily dietary energy requirement for the Bhutanese.

Bhutanese Red Rice. (Source: Bhutan Natural)


By Tshering Palden I Kuensel

With 28 percent of cultivable land used for rice cultivation, Bhutan is currently 47 percent self-sufficient in rice.

A rice specialist from the agriculture research and development centre in Bajo, Mahesh Ghimeray said that one of the main problems in Bhutan is the low production base. 

Obstacles which hinder Bhutan’s rice production

“We’ve lots of forests and the wild animals attack the crops,” he said.

Another challenge is the insufficient incentives for rice farming as it is cheaper to buy than to produce rice, Mahesh Ghimeray said.

“Wet land conversion to other land use and urbanisation are emerging challenges in Bhutan,” he added.

Rice constitutes 53 percent of the daily dietary energy requirement for the Bhutanese. Bhutan cultivates rice on 53,055 acres of land and produces 85,090 metric tonnes (MT) of rice. An acre produces an average yield of 1.68MT of rice.

Bhutan is the only country facing this problem alone. The region of South Asia could face rice shortage if measures are not taken in time, experts said.

Scientists and experts on rice from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal indicated that if conditions do not improve to boost rice production, it could impact not only South Asia but also the global food supply.

Experts from the International Rice Research Institute meet to find ways to cope with the rising demand for rice

They are in Thimphu to discuss ways to meet the rising demand for the staple food of the region through a project between the three countries.

An agriculture specialist, Tayan R Gurung (PhD) said, “The region grows 31 percent of the world’s rice and 18 percent of its wheat. Rice is the most important crop for regional food security.”

He said that in order to help ensure global food security and to keep pace with the growing demand for rice, there is a need to increase production by 26 percent by 2035.

The UN and IFPRI have projected that the region has to double food production to feed the world’s population of 2-2.68 billion people by 2050, Tayan R Gurung said.

Forms of challenges faced by rice producers

However, experts said that rice production faces enormous challenges in the form of diminishing resources (land, water, and labour) and environmental threats, such as climate change, land and water degradation and biodiversity loss.

The IRRI Bangladesh Country Representative, Humnath Bhandari (PhD) said that two of the emerging challenges are rapid growth in population and economic growth.

He said that if the growth in rice production were not above the population growth rate, it would lead to rice shortage. The population growth in South Asia is expected to be about 19 million annually.

“For instance, in Nepal, rice productivity also determines political stability in the country,” he said.

“It’s that important. Economic prosperity will bring a shift in the demand from quantity to quality of rice.”

Despite achieving a seven percent economic growth rate, the region has 15 percent of the population still living in poverty.

“Rural –urban migration is increasing and since a majority of the population are youth, this adds to the labour shortage,” Humnath Bhandari said.

He said that the area of rice cultivation has remained the same at 50 million hectares since 1960 while production and yield has rose from less than 100 million metric tonnes (MT) to almost 250 million MT in 2017.

“This is mainly because of investment in research and development of rice,” he said. “However, the growth rate in production has stagnated because of lack of better yielding varieties. South Asian economy is transforming, rice sector must too.”

Measures initiated to solve the problems of rice production

Some of the measures initiated are: to enhance the current rice productivity and production levels, to bridge the yield gap between research and farmers’ fields and using mechanisation to reduce drudgery so that youth would take up agriculture, and commercialisation.

Agriculture in South Asia is operated in roughly 270 million hectares of land representing 58 percent of the total regional land area.

South Asia also has 33.5 percent of undernourished people in the world and more than 50 percent of mal-nourished children under the age of five years.

Some of the priorities the experts proposed were the use of quality seeds or varieties, the development of irrigation infrastructure and water management, to improve soil fertility and nutrient management and better pest and disease management.

“Building partnership among research facilities and sharing knowledge could help in increasing productivity,” an expert from Bangladesh said.


This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for the Bhutan Times.


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