At school, we, like all children, all over the world, loved playing pranks. Our arsenal boasted an impressive range of innovative pranks. But the simplest and the most popular of them by far was the very versatile but nat! prank.
This is how it was administered: We’d go up to a fellow student and excitedly declare, “I found your wallet!” And then, very slowly, add, “But nat!”
Or we’d tell him, “Our math test is postponed … but nat!” Or, “She says she likes you too … but nat!”
The but nat! was meant to negate whatever news had just been delivered.
For obvious reasons, the prank would work only if the victim had really lost his wallet. Or if he hadn’t prepared for the upcoming math test. Or if he had confided that he was in love with a certain girl. And if, by some chance, the victim had lost a lot money, or really hated math, or was madly in love, the prank would triumph.
The prime minister, who, incidentally, also attended the same school, has pulled off a but nat! on the entire nation.
Last month, he went on live TV and confidently broadcast that the government would ban the import of vegetables from this month onwards. But last week, a month after his announcement, he seems to have changed his mind, and slowly added … but nat!
There’s no doubt that we can grow our own vegetables. In fact, we must grow our own food. But we’ve done precious little to encourage domestic production. So we’ve been relying almost exclusively on imports.
We can, and we must, grow our own food, especially vegetables. But that’s not possible overnight. Our dependency on imported food has come about from years of inefficient farming combined with lazy government policy.
Yes, we can, and we must, work towards substituting imported food with domestic production. But we must work carefully, deliberately and intelligently. An immediate and outright ban on vegetable imports will do more harm than good.
So I wasn’t surprised to hear the government say but nat! and negate the vegetable import ban.
But I am surprised at their decision to allow only one agency, the Food Corporation of Bhutan, to import vegetables. The FCB, as far as I know, does not have any experience in importing vegetables. As such they will find it difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate, buy and transport a wide range of perishable goods every week to Thimphu and other parts of the country. They don’t have the experience to do the job. And they don’t have the incentives to do a good job.
It’s clear that we will be compelled to import vegetables for some time. As such, the government should permit the vegetable vendors to continuing importing vegetables. They, not FCB, are the people who know how to do this business the most efficiently.
But in the meantime, the government must encourage domestic vegetable production. The government must take food self-sufficiency seriously.
Playing but nat! at school, with students, is one thing. Playing around with government policy, without understanding the ground realities, is quite another.