Thursday, May 28, 2020

Thank God for COVID-19

The human race has a number of choices – in the manner how we choose to die:

Hunger and starvation – caused by shortage of food
Isolation                         – extended periods of lock-down
COVID-19                     – the dreaded virus that has gone pandemic.

Of the above three, I choose the last – I have a chance to survive COVID-19. I have no chance against the first two.

I have said this twice before – that the COVID-19 is God sent for Bhutan and that we must not allow this perfect crisis to go to waste.

I am truly encouraged to see that a large number of Bhutanese – both rural as well as urban dwellers are seizing the opportunity that has been thrust upon them. They are growing food and I suspect that this coming season will see Bhutan’s agricultural production going through the roof.

Fresh, organic and home-grown

Now this is something we had always aspired for – for the past 4 decades: food self-sufficiency. And the dreaded COVID-19 is going to deliver this dream. Unfortunately there is a flip side to this revolution that has every chance of upsetting the equilibrium: a situation where there is a reversal of role: consumers turning providers.

The urban centers have traditionally been the consumers of products and produces. Growers from far away places had thronged to urban centers to sell their produces. But now there is every likelihood that Bhutan’s urban dwellers may no longer be a dependable source of market for rural farm produces – because they are growing their own food. This could spell disaster for the newly invigorated farming community in the rural areas.

Thus there is an URGENT need for the government to plan how to keep the farmers encouraged and farming vigorously. We cannot allow this momentum to tapper off and die down. We need to come to the rescue of the farmers.

Few days back I spoke to one very senior official in the Agriculture Ministry about the emerging trend in the agriculture sector. He assured me that the Government will do “buy-back”. Buy-back???? Damn the miss-coined concept! Anyway I told him that is all fine – but where will you store what you buy-back? Why don’t you build a chain of cold storage facilities? He said – that is the plan. I said the farm produces will begin to hit the markets in the next 3-4 months. Thus this is not a time to plan – it is a time to DO IT!

I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture will begin to act and plan their preparedness in order that the newfound fervor among the farming community – both in the urban as well as in the rural areas, continue to stimulate and scintillate!

Being prepared is not merely dishing out money on buy-backs – but planning for marketing, storage, distribution, and most importantly – post harvest processing of excess production.

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