Thursday, May 7, 2015

Finally, Some Good News: III

One other good news that has not yet grabbed the headlines but one that deserves it, is the recent Cabinet decision to operationalize the Ministry of Agriculture’s concept of “Farm Shops”. In a nutshell, this concept is going to be implemented through the collaborative efforts of: Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education. It is an endeavor that never saw the light of day - during one earlier attempt made during the tenure of Lyonpo Khandu Wangchuck who was then the Director of Agriculture. Hopefully it will succeed this time through the concerted efforts of the parties involved. We need this to succeed.

There is nothing complicated about the concept of “Farm Shops”. Simply said, it is an attempt by the PDP government to boost local production of: kharang, tengma, rice, soya, chickpeas, lentils and oil - to supply to a market that is readily available. The ready market being the School Feeding Program sponsored by the World Food Program and the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB).

In 2013, a staggering 53,307 students, or 31% of the total student enrolment in the country received free food from the WWF and the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB), under the School Feeding Program.

From 2014 through 2018, the WFP has earmarked a budget of US$8.6 millions (Nu.551 million) that it will pump into school feeding program. During the same period, the Royal Government of Bhutan is expected to spend upwards of Nu.1,200 million, to feed school children.

And where would all this money go? To India! As of now not even 10% of the overall expenditure on School Feeding Program is met from local production!

The Royal Government of Bhutan’s recent “Farm Shop” initiative that is still on the drawing boards is aimed at encouraging local production so that most of the requirement is met from home grown supplies. Can it be done? Yes, it can be done. All that we need is a proper coordination among the agencies involved and a will to work hard at achieving the set goals.

We need to up the scale of production - in order to attain a certain economies of scale. Without mass production, the prices will remain to be uncompetitive. This will call for heightened rural production, which, as I said in my series of writings (in Kuensel) will ultimately contribute to the reversal of the malady called “Rural-Urban Migration”.

I wish the government all the success in its endeavors.

One word of caution: Beware that the Indian traders at the border towns do not do a repeat of the 80’s fiasco. There was a strange case relating to the FCB and how they allowed the RGoB to be royally DUPED - in their effort to buy up the farmers' produce under the "Farmers' Cash Incentive" program! This is a long and complicated story to be told another day - but a very, very interesting one. :)

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