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Declining vegetable production raises concerns within the agricultural sector, impacts on the sufficiency rate

โ€ฆโ€ฆ๐’…๐’‚๐’•๐’‚ ๐’“๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’‚๐’๐’” ๐’”๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’๐’Š๐’‡๐’Š๐’„๐’‚๐’๐’• ๐’…๐’“๐’๐’‘ ๐’Š๐’ ๐’—๐’†๐’ˆ๐’†๐’•๐’‚๐’ƒ๐’๐’† ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’…๐’–๐’„๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’ ๐’‡๐’“๐’๐’Ž 2019 ๐’•๐’ 2022, ๐’˜๐’‰๐’Š๐’๐’† ๐’‘๐’๐’•๐’‚๐’•๐’ ๐’†๐’™๐’‘๐’๐’“๐’•๐’” ๐’…๐’๐’Ž๐’Š๐’๐’‚๐’•๐’† ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐’Ž๐’‚๐’“๐’Œ๐’†๐’• ๐’Š๐’ 2022

Sonam Deki

The agricultural sector faces a worrisome setback as vegetable production experiences a significant decline in growth from 2019 to 2022. According to the latest data released by the Department of Agriculture, the total vegetable production stood at 47,828 metric tons (MT) in 2019, followed by 57,770 MT in 2020. However, the figures took a sharp downturn in subsequent years, with 34,197 MT recorded in 2021 and a further decrease to 26,261 MT in 2022.
In terms of vegetable exports in 2022, potatoes claimed the top spot, reaching a staggering 190,485 metric tons, while cabbage came in second with a respectable 11,608 metric tons. However, the current vegetable sufficiency rate is at 65%.

Tshetrim, the National Vegetable Focal officer at the Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, highlighted various factors contributing to the decline in production growth. These factors include the need for more robust survey techniques to assess production levels accurately, challenges such as pest and disease outbreaks, wildlife damage, and the impact of natural calamities on agricultural activities.

The decline in vegetable production has raised concerns among farmers and vendors, who rely heavily on the availability and consistency of local produce. Many attribute the decline to a multitude of factors, including climate changes, market challenges, and pest and disease infestations.

Farmers like Tashi Dorji from Zhemgang expressed their worries over the situation, emphasizing how unpredictable weather patterns, erratic rainfall, and prolonged droughts have negatively impacted their vegetable crops, leading to decreased yields.

Leki Dorji, a farmer from Mongar, shared the disheartening experience of witnessing the decline in vegetable production over the past few years. The decrease has affected their livelihoods and the contribution they make to the agricultural sector. It is crucial to address the underlying issues causing this setback.

Vendors too, are feeling the effects of the decline in vegetable production. Pema Wangmo, a local vendor at the bustling Centenary Farmers Market, voiced her concerns, saying, “As a vendor, I rely on a consistent supply of locally grown vegetables to meet the demands of my customers. The decline in production has resulted in increased dependency on imports, which affects the quality.”

Dechen Zangmo, another vendor said, “The decline in vegetable production has had a direct impact on our business. With fewer supplies available, we face challenges in meeting the demands of our customers. It’s important for the agricultural sector to recover and ensure a stable vegetable supply chain. Customers are noticing the decrease in vegetable availability. We have to carefully manage our inventory and explore alternative sourcing options to maintain a consistent supply for our buyers.”

“Despite the decline in overall vegetable production, we still see certain crops like potatoes and cabbage performing well. These varieties have become our go-to options to meet customer preferences and maintain a steady flow of produce in the market”, said Sangay Nidup, a vendor in CFM.

Kinley Yangden, a regular customer said, “Obtaining locally produced vegetables has become increasingly challenging leaving us with no choice but to rely on imported alternatives”

Tshetrim, a focal officer said, “Although the department accords high priority to the local produce, the current production level will not be able to feed the entire population given the low agricultural land at disposable. Moreover, the access to cheap imports discourages local production during the season. The Department of Agriculture is placing increased importance on high-value crops that have high demand in the market, such as fruits, black pepper, quinoa, and betel leaves. To promote the commercialization of these crops, the department is focusing on implementing high-tech cultivation practices and ensuring the availability of necessary production inputs.”

“In terms of vegetable production, the department aims to achieve optimal levels of production. However, if there is a deficit in quantities produced locally, there may be a need to rely on imports to meet the demand for vegetables. This suggests that while the department encourages local vegetable production, it acknowledges the possibility of supplementing domestic supply with imports when necessary. By prioritizing high-value crops, adopting advanced cultivation techniques, and addressing production input availability, the Department of Agriculture aims to boost the commercialization and overall productivity of the agricultural sector”, he added.

Indeed, significant changes are noticeable in terms of the diversity and expansion of the availability season of agricultural products. These changes can be attributed to various factors, including advancements in cultivation practices, the introduction of new crop varieties, improved storage and preservation techniques, and the adoption of technologies that extend the growing season. This is attributed to following factors. Such as constant technical inputs from the departments, farm mechanization, protected cultivation system and sustainable soil and nutrition management.

He further added, “The Department of Agriculture has implemented a series of impactful initiatives aimed at bolstering and enriching local production within Bhutan. These initiatives include the establishment of chain-links across 20 dzongkhags, effectively safeguarding production from wildlife-related losses. Furthermore, to uplift household food security, the department has introduced the provision of one greenhouse for every farming household, fostering self-sufficiency and resilience. Additionally, recognizing the challenges posed by water scarcity, water-efficient irrigation systems have been introduced, ensuring sustainable production even in areas with limited water resources. Lastly, the implementation of climate-proof irrigation systems showcases the department’s commitment to adapting to changing climatic conditions, enabling farmers to overcome climatic uncertainties. Together, these initiatives underscore the Department of Agriculture’s dedication to empowering local production and ensuring a thriving agricultural sector in Bhutan.”

Birpa Maya Pradhan, hailing from Gosarling in Tsirang, expressed, “In 2020, we faced a severe water scarcity issue that prevented us from cultivating any crops. However, in 2021, we were able to resume farming and successfully grew a variety of vegetables such as Saag, Cauliflower, Cabbage, and Broccoli. The yield saw a remarkable 100% increase in 2022, and vendors from Thimphu eagerly purchased our produce, utilizing full Bolero trucks, while the remaining harvest was sold in the Damphu Vegetable market.”

She added, “Regrettably, in 2023, our agricultural output began to decline due to a pest infestation. A concerned friend of mine reported this issue to the local Gewog authorities, seeking assistance. However, they informed us that it was a natural occurrence and beyond anyone’s control, offering no remedy for the situation.”

Gyalpo Tshering, the gup of Wangchang Gewog in Paro, expressed, “Our agricultural practices primarily focus on cultivating a diverse range of crops, including potatoes, chillies, brinjals (eggplant), radishes, cucumbers, cabbages, cauliflowers, and tomatoes. However, our region has been consistently plagued by the issue of water scarcity, which has become particularly acute in 2023, resulting in arid land and diminished yields. Although we manage to grow enough to meet our own consumption needs, we also engage in selling the surplus produce. Our community has a strong inclination towards farming, but the persistent water scarcity restricts our agricultural endeavors. Unfortunately, we have yet to witness any significant improvements in this regard due to the ongoing water scarcity issue.”
However, he also added, “In Paro, an additional initiative undertaken is the production and distribution of mushroom seeds to the entire community, enabling individuals to cultivate mushrooms independently.”

The Department of Agriculture encounters various challenges and obstacles in its efforts to promote and maintain the growth of local agricultural production. These challenges include post-harvest losses, which can significantly impact the quantity and quality of harvested crops. Additionally, the department grapples with the increased incidence of pests and diseases, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, posing risks to crop yields and farmer livelihoods.

Furthermore, the availability of cheap imports presents a formidable challenge, as it can undermine the competitiveness of locally produced agricultural goods. Another concern is the loss of prime agricultural land to infrastructure development, which further restricts the available space for farming activities. Moreover, a lack of an established marketing system poses hurdles in connecting farmers with potential consumers. However, it is worth noting that markets for high-demand crops are emerging, offering promising opportunities for agricultural growth.
“Addressing these challenges requires concerted efforts and innovative strategies to minimize post-harvest losses, develop resilient crop protection measures, promote local produce, safeguard agricultural land, and establish efficient marketing channels. By overcoming these obstacles, the Department of Agriculture can create a conducive environment for sustainable and prosperous local agricultural production”, said focal officer.

The decline in vegetable production growth serves as a wake-up call for stakeholders to collaborate and prioritize the revitalization of the agricultural sector. With concerted efforts and proactive measures, farmers and vendors remain hopeful that a rebound in vegetable production will be realized, ensuring food security and supporting the local economy in the years to come.

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