In line to maximize Gross National Happiness and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, the Ministry for Agriculture and Forest is laying the foundation by embarking on eight ambitious and transformative pathways over the next decade.
According to Bhutan National Pathways (BNP) launched by MoAF, these transformative pathways will ensure that Bhutan’s food systems assure access to affordable and safe food to all members of society, eradicate all forms of malnutrition and hidden hunger, double smallholder incomes and alleviate poverty; empower women and children; reduce drudgery, contribute to meaningful employment creation; remain ecologically benign and carbon neutral; and build resilience to shocks and stressors across the food system network.
BNP align closely with Bhutan’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and the Low Emission Development Strategy (LEDS) for the agri-food sector.
To secure production and smallholder livelihoods, a suite of strategies to secure production, increase smallholder incomes, and build ensure climate resilience will be initiated and implemented. A comprehensive plan fertility and secure Bhutan’s limited arable land will be put in place. Innovative mechanisms to bring fallow land into productive use will be up-scaled and funding will be secured to expand irrigation coverage and improve farm roads. Investments will be increased to stem crop and livestock loss to wildlife.
Modalities and mechanisms to ensure adequate inputs of quality seeds, livestock inputs, animal breeding stocks, feed and fodder, fertilizers and farm machineries will be put in place. An urgent assessment of whether such services can be better delivered through private parties and/or farmer cooperatives will be conducted to maximise efficiency and create enterprises.
Opportunities for farmers to obtain carbon credits for tree crops including fodder trees will be created and implemented.
Uptake and support for climate smart production technologies will be expedited by provisioning soft loans, tax breaks, and easy access to state land lease. Such climate smart food production systems will entice youth to be meaningfully employed, bring in technology, reduce drudgery, generate substantive income, and contribute to image building of farming as a technology-based enterprise.
To protect and enhance value, private enterprises and farmer cooperatives will be promoted and strengthened. Such enterprises will serve as primary aggregators and ensure collection of farm produce at the farm gate. These enterprises will possess the technology, know-how, financial resources, and human capital to liaise with farmers, collect and process, build, and adhere to standards, and serve as conduits between smallholders and markets, thereby minimizing waste and maximizing returns. They will contribute to building technology competence along supply chains from pre-harvest to post-harvest, storage, and processing. Such aggregators will ensure a steady supply of produce to the markets, ensure optimal export, and maintain quality, process, store, and value add where possible. They will thereby protect and guarantee incomes to smallholders by assuring the purchase of their produce. Such enterprises may also be sanctioned to operate cold-chain, ware house and packhouse infrastructure, and will increasingly, and effectively, link suppliers to processors and markets.
Apples, mandarin, cardamom, areca nut, ginger, and potatoes stand out as crops of strategic significance to Bhutan given their export dominance. Detailed business plans for all these crops will be drawn up facilitate investment and enterprise building. Additional investment plans for specific livestock and forest based produce will also be developed. Standards across the food systems value chain will be improved to capitalise on Bhutan’s pristine and nature positive image. Certification schemes will be developed and rolled out to help Bhutan gain competitive export advantage.
To unleash the power of digital tools, an ensemble of digital tools will be developed and rolled out to provide crop and livestock advisory services, early warning on weather, and incidences of pests and diseases. To assist service delivery, such digital platforms will also be designed to support agriculture and livestock extension agents. Digital tools to collect real time data on farm conditions will also be rolled out to track the pulse and health of Bhutan’s agri-food systems.
To address information asymmetry within the agri-food market ecosystem, support will be provided to develop dynamic real time digital platforms to provide information on agri-food produce and also facilitate digital marketing, Such platforms which may be developed by private parties will link smallholders, cooperatives, farmer groups, aggregators, and consumers in real time and ensure faster and much more efficient flow of information and finances between supply and demand networks.
At the national level, in collaboration with the National Statistical Bureau, a food systems dashboard will be launched to track performance, and provide a standard reference for all actors within food systems.
To secure financing and de-risk the agri-food sector, current agri-food related financial institutions will be strengthened to function at the level of a full-fledged agricultural bank. Such bolstered institutions will guarantee financing for upscaling smallholder farming activities, ramping up climate smart productions systems, and establishing logistic centres, storage infrastructures, and agri-food based processing industries. Buy back and minimum price schemes will be re-designed to suit the needs of both producers and consumers.
Smallholder farms remain vulnerable to climate related risks and will continue to lose produce to weather related events. Innovative schemes to insure crops and livestock to buffer financial loss of farmers will be established. Such schemes will boost farmer confidence and assure livelihoods at times of disasters and calamities.
Given the significant capital costs associated with road and irrigation infrastructure, the establishment of an infrastructure fund to ensure quality and timely maintenance of agri-food related infrastructure will be explored.
To accelerate science and technology, research within the agri-food sector of Bhutan can build on more than forty years of institutional strength and experience. Current research initiatives will be strengthened by fostering closer collaboration with the University and civil society organizations, both within and outside Bhutan. An immediate exercise to determine ‘grand challenges for science and technology on food systems will be spearheaded and conducted by the Government. The exercise will draw up investment and operational plans with clear deliverables for the research sector. Priority will be accorded to research and technology aimed at building resilience, securing and increasing production, helping build value chains, and enhancing nutrition.
To boost nutrition positive initiatives, Bhutan will exponentially improve the delivery of food and nutrition to children and women with the aim of eradicating malnutrition and huger in all its forms. Supply chains to institutions (schools, universities, monasteries and military) will be rebooted to ensure that menus provide for adequate nutrition. Such menus will be used to plan procurement from farmer groups, cooperatives, and private aggregator firms. Such linkages will also positively influence what is grown by farmers.
Research and technology initiatives will prioritize bio-fortification and production of nutrient dense crops.
Educational and outreach programs aimed at changing consumer behaviour will be ramped up help transition towards healthier diets.
In sustaining nature first approaches, Bhutan continues to champion environmental conservation. Bhutan’s NDC and the LEDS for the agriculture and livestock sector lays out the plans and ambitions for Bhutan to pursue a low carbon strategy. Bhutan’s prioritised measures and targets until 2030 will mitigate a total of up to 710 Gg CO₂e emissions, significantly more than current emissions from agriculture and livestock.
Forests which cover over 70% of Bhutan’s land area will be conserved and sustainability managed. Financing mechanisms will be upscaled to ensure that forests continue to provide ecosystem services, protect biodiversity and mitigate climate change. Enterprises involving the sustainable use of non-wood forest products and agro-forestry initiatives will be promoted.
Given Bhutan’s aspirations to pursue organic production, facilities and enterprises to provision for organic seeds, organic composts, bio-fertilizers, bio-feed and bio-pesticides will be fast tracked and established. Biogas production integrated with livestock systems for domestic use in rural households will be up-scaled, while bio-digesters for production of biogas and bio-fertilizers from food and organic waste in major towns of Bhutan will be commissioned. Low carbon and shorter supply chains will be encouraged by proactively linking consumers with producers and processing facilities.
In terms of building capacity, strengthen coordination and partnerships, broad frameworks to foster collaboration and partnerships across agencies and actors will be established. The food systems dashboard will be used to inform priorities, identify chokepoints, and forge win-win partnerships, on an annual basis.
Given the unanimous call for policy coherence, a complete review and harmonization of all the policies and acts will be initiated to facilitate transformation of the food systems and render it fit for the twenty first century.
A multi-year capacity building initiative will be rolled out targeting all actors within the food systems and aimed at elevating standards and efficiency. And an annual food systems and agri-business’ conclave will be convened to promote value addition, establish business ventures, create synergistic inter-agency plans, and track impact.