Strengthening Agri-Business In Bhutan
"It is imperative that agriculture, being a jewel selected by the government, must be treated like a jewel," said Ugen Tsechup Dorji.
By Damcho Poe| The Bhutanese
A group of panellists from different sectors held a discussion on agri-business during the ‘Better Business Summit’ on 18 May.
Though agriculture is one of the five jewels of Bhutanese economy which involves 70 percent of the private sector workforce, it contributes only 18 percent to the country’s GDP. Bhutan continues to depend on food imports with rice being one of the largest imports.
The Chairman of Zimdra Industries Pvt. Ltd., Ugen Tsechup Dorji said, “We live in a fantastic country, all happy and peaceful and we want to continue this way, but we need to bridge the gap between rich and poor and how do we go about that?”
“The only way is to address the majority of the population, where 65 percent of our people are farmers,” he added.
The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI) came up with a proposal called ‘One District Three Product (ODTP)’. It is aimed at strengthening agri-business in the country.
“We had to look for a commercial viability of the products, we need to get in touch with the countries close to Bhutan and find out what are the organic products as we don’t want to go for any competition,” he added.
Promoting organic farming in Bhutan
The aim was to go for organic farming and for off-season products where Bhutan will have the advantage.
“Today in our country, every dzongkhag is planting everything and competing with each other. Therefore, why don’t we divide zone-wise, as per the temperature and product, so that they complement each other rather than compete,” Ugen Tsechup Dorji said.
Until and unless they have the commercial viability, farmers get discouraged easily, he said, adding that the government and private sectors need to work together.
It is imperative that agriculture, being a jewel selected by the government, must be treated like a jewel, he added.
“The entire government mechanism, all the ministries have to think as one and their priority should be agriculture, be it labour, finance, environment clearance or approval,” he said.
Bhutan’s advantage as a rich biodiversity hotspot
Bhutan has been labelled as a rich biodiversity hotspot with 72 percent of its land covered by forests – about 52 percent of the country is secured as protected areas and biological corridors, which is more than half of the country. Such environmental protection is regarded as one of the most comprehensive in the world.
Bhutan also encompasses a representational sample of almost all major ecosystems. In line with this, the CEO of Samden Group, Ronrig S. Mututsang said that they have a number of agro projects such as: the coffee plantation in Sipsoo, Samtse, an extraction and a distillation lab in collaboration with Chanel of France, the National Biodiversity Center in Serbithang and a potato processing plant in central Bhutan.
He also said that due to the far sighted vision of the Kings and rich tradition of living in harmony with nature, Bhutan is fortunate to have emerged as a biological vault in the 21st century.
Over the past 4 to 5 years, Ronrig S. Mututsang’s company has been engaged in projects at research level in Samdrup Jongkhar and the northern part of Thimphu. It was a collaborative effort with the horticulture division and the Department of Agriculture for agronomics studies.
“In Samdrup Jongkhar, we are working and trying to commercially cultivate a medicinal plant with many farmers in Lauri gewog, and once they start seeing the financial rewards, there will be more farmers wanting to join the program,” he said.
Challenges facing commercial agriculture in Bhutan
The Chairman and CEO of Mountain Hazelnuts Pvt. Ltd., Daniel Spitzer said that some of the challenges facing commercial agriculture in Bhutan is the diverse growing environment.
With steep valleys and limited arable land, it is difficult to achieve production on a massive scale due to such geographical conditions.
In addition, other challenges include complex logistics and limited infrastructure as technological innovation is essential for efficiency.
Climate change is another major issue, he said adding that they are promoting climate resilience know-how among farmers.
Meteorological station networks are being deployed to identify regions at higher risk from the effects of climate change. Support is given to build irrigation systems in at-risk communities and selective breeding programs are also created.
Trainings provided for Bhutanese farmers
In partnership with the ADB and MoFA, 11,000 farmers were trained in Integrated Pest Management.
Another 8,000 farmers were given training on harvest and post-harvest solutions. They were also provided with a weather App which gives climate information in development.
According to Daniel Spitzer, 300 entrepreneurs have been supported with various trainings while 4,000 were given training on personal financing.
“Our vision is this, and it’s manageable and doable, but as long as we get together, I think it is the vision we can prove,” said Ugen Tsechup Dorji who believe in training and educating people in agriculture to create a skilled workforce.