FOOD SECURITY- Rice for three meals could face repercussion on our security
“One of our primary objectives is to be self-reliant. When we talk about self-reliance it means that we should be able to stand on our own, without depending on others.” - His Majesty The King
The first thing you see when you are about to land in Paro International Airport is the terraces of the paddy fields; vibrant green during plantation time and beautiful yellow during the harvest time. Village hamlet and international Airport are located in the middle of acres of paddy fields. Rice is the staple food for more than half of the world’s population, mainly Asian countries. Bhutanese rice has been a part of our traditional diet. Red rice grown in the western part of Bhutan is a great source for carbohydrates. Bhutanese red rice is also exported to other countries in the world. Natural Bhutan is one of Bhutanese based firm that exports organic Bhutanese products.
Rice still makes up for a dominant portion of our Bhutanese diet for most of the households consume rice for all three meals on daily basis.
Bhutan is covered with 38,394 square kilometers with a population of 736,100. Although the size and the population are proportional because of its location in the Himalayan ranges, the majority of our country is either too steep or too cold for farming. With 83.9 percent of forest coverage, the arable land makes up for 2.62 percent of the total land only. Out of which only 319.1 square kilometers are irrigated land. Thus Bhutan is only 47 percent self-sufficient in rice.
It is said that, in the 1960s, Thimphu used to be just a cluster of few houses surrounded by acres of paddy fields. But now, due to urbanization, a huge portion of our agriculture land has been converted into dry- land for the development of infrastructure. All we see are buildings sprouting everywhere. There are hardly few paddy fields left.
Further, on top of all the urbanization challenges, it is economically difficult for our farmers to compete with the rate of imported rice in the market. People opt to buy imported rice or the locally produced due to cost factors, which leaves our farmers discouraged to do large scale production. Our farmers don’t earn enough for the resources and time invested in rice farming.
Because of our landlocked status and the cold harsh terrain in the north, we sought our trade arrangements/relations in the South, with India. India is the primary and major source of Bhutan’s import. As per the Bhutan Trade Statistic, in 2018 alone, Bhutan has imported goods worth Nu. 59.81 billion from India. Out of which, the top 7 commodities to be imported were rice worth Nu. 1.689 billion.
Ministry of Agriculture and Forest has set its target to achieve 65 percent of self-sufficiency in rice. Their primary effort has been put in farm mechanization. But we must realize that most of our terrains are too steep for machines. Moreover, these cultivable lands are fragmented and scattered in most of the remote places.
Bhutanese has to understand that we can’t change our geography. But that shouldn’t stop us from making the most of what we have. We didn’t import rice during the times of our forefather; our farmers could produce enough and we were self-sufficient in rice. Therefore, when it comes to a simple choice, while at the market for shopping, Bhutanese should make an effort to promote local products, even if they are a little expensive than imported goods. If we don’t encourage our farmers, who will?
The survival of our nation between two globally powerful nations takes constant effort. We have to consider the consequences of every decision and we cannot afford to be reckless when it comes to the security of our nation. Therefore, we have to take food security seriously. Our dependence on other countries for basic food could highly impact our independence. The security of the country shouldn’t be only about border security, Bhutanese must rethink of Food Security.