Bhutan’s latest National Forest Inventory Report states that 71% of our land is under forest cover - rest are taken up by shifting cultivation, forest plantation, horticulture, pasture land, agriculture and human settlement. What is revealing is that only 5.5% of our total land mass is under agriculture farming. Small wonder than that we suffer from food insufficiency.
But it does not have to be this way. Bhutan has phenomenal climatic variation. Our staggering altitudinal range is unmatched - from 97 Mtrs. at the lowest point to 7,570 Mtrs. at the highest point. Add to that our water resources, which is among the highest in the world. All these conditions go to endow us with the most ideal conditions for agriculture production. Our good fortune does not stop here.
Bhutan is located bang in the middle of the world’s three most hungry nations - China to the North, India to the South and Bangladesh to the East. These nations’ consumptive powers are inexhaustible - they collectively represent the biggest market for food!
And yet, we keep talking of hydroelectricity at 60% loan money borrowed at 10% interest. What are we, DUMB?
We have the land, we have the water recourses, farming and farm work is in our blood – and yet agriculture sector remains neglected - to the point that we cannot even produce enough chilies that we eat for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner, on a daily basis. A country that identifies itself with Emma Datsi does not grow enough chilies that we need to import the arsenic-ridden variety from across the border.
But Rotary Club of Thimphu is doing something about it. We have taken on agriculture as one of the three areas of our focus. We believe that agriculture production is key to development and economic progress. Thus we have been supporting rural farmers with farm machinery, solar fencing, green houses etc. - to encourage agriculture production.
Three Members of Bongo Agriculture Group flanked by RC Thimphu Club President Rtn. Tsewang Rinzing and Charter Member Rtn. Kesang Tshomo - during a briefing dinner yesterday evening. The agriculture group's 9-days trip to Thailand is being sponsored by the Rotary Club of Thimphu and a number of Clubs in Chiang Mai, Thailand, including a passionate social worker - Khun Viennarat Chuangwiwat - based in Bangkok. The Group Members will learn all aspects of organic farming. This project is a precursor to a larger project totaling US$ 49,000.00 that is being planned and implemented in the three villages of Bongo, Jungley and Phasuma, under Chhukha Dzongkhag, in collaboration with a Club in Malaysia, among others in the region.
The government has got the bull by the tail - we do not need to teach farming to the famers - what help they need is in marketing, distribution, storage, post harvest processing - primarily to be able to sell what they grow. Growing comes naturally to our farmers. They are hampered by lack of capability to market, transport, store, distribute, and package their produces. Once we assure them those --- the farmers will grow abundantly.
We no longer need to place our rivers under bondage - as collaterals for ill-conceived and poorly implemented hydropower projects on borrowed money at 10% interest.
We DO NOT NEED 10,000 MW of hydroelectricity. We are a country of less than 800,000 people that is not even the population of a small gully in suburban Shanghai. What we do NEED is 10 hardworking people who care enough to work hard at solving 20 small problems. We can do without those 1,000 people who think big and talk big and plan big - but achieve absolutely nothing.
It is about time that we learnt to focus at solving our small problems - the big ones will fall into place.