Commercialisation of agriculture growing: Agriculture minister

At the question hour at the National Council yesterday, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said that the government’s investment to upgrade agriculture to commercial scale has grown over the years.

“Commercialisation of agriculture is one of the focus areas to achieve food security,” said Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji.

He added that to ensure food and nutrition security, three things are important: “Maintaining stable production, easy accessibility and utilisation are key to achieving food and nutrition security.”

Agriculture ministry is focusing on commercialisation of rice, maize, horticulture and vegetables.

The ministry invested Nu 8 million between 2014 and 2015 for rice commercialisation in Sarpang, Samtse, Wangdue, Punakha, and Samdrupjongkhar. Food Corporation of Bhutan bought, packaged and marketed about 3,000 metric tonnes of rice from these dzongkhags.

The ministry spent about Nu 7.54 million to supply improved paddy seeds to 18,067 farmers between 2011 and 2016 in these dzongkhags. Three rice mills were established in Bajothang in Wangdue, Phuntshothang in Samdrupjongkhar, and Chuzergang in Sarpang at the cost of Nu 14 million.

The ministry encouraged growing maize twice a year from spring of 2014, the minister said. Since then, FCB sold about 3,000 metric tonnes of maize bought from farmers to Karma Feed.

Private companies grow coffee and mountain hazelnut on a commercial scale. A new FDI company is dealing in potato from Nobding in Wangdue.

There are about 60 cattle farms with more than 20 cattle each. About 2,000 acres of pest-infested orange orchards have been rehabilated so far.

The cold storage in Phuentsholing has been enlarged and another one was constructed in Phuntshothang in Samdrupjongkhar. One is being constructed in Lingmithang, Mongar, and the ministry is going to construct one in Nganglam, Pemagatshel.

The ministry carries out continuous research and distributes quality seeds to boost production of crops and livestock. Seed distribution has increased more than 180 percent in the past three years. Agriculture ministry supplied Nu 150 million worth of seeds and seedlings between 2015 and 2016.

The ministry has established 59 farm shops and expects to open a total of 72 shops by the end of this month. There are around 700 farmers’ groups and seven cooperatives aiding the government’s efforts in commercialising agriculture, the minister said.

“Recently we brought 4,680kg of vegetables from Wangdue and Punakha to Thimphu and it was a success,” Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said. “We’ll continue this.”

Cardamom is now thriving in 17 dzongkhags except Bumthang, Paro and Thimphu, the minister said. Under the International Food and Agriculture Development Assistance Project, households in the six eastern dzongkhags are growing at least 20 fruit trees.

However, challenges such as lack of irrigation, farm labour shortage, and human-wildlife conflicts hamper progress. To overcome farm labour shortage, the ministry has distributed 274 power tillers to gewogs so far. The hiring centres provide machineries with operators and fuel for Nu 1,400 a day.

In the 11th Plan, the ministry has identified 108 major schemes, each catering to more than 70 acres of paddy fields to boost production of rice. These schemes are expected to bring 79,855 acres of land under cultivation. The ministry will construct 63 minor irrigation schemes with financial support from World Bank.

The minister said that electric fencing is the only measure to keep wild animals from destroying crops. A total of 1,253km of electric fencing has been installed so far, covering 11,022 acres of fields belonging to 5,233 households.

The ministry made efforts to commercialise rice, maize and vegetable cultivation since 2011.