Inadequate and insulting

 

Terrible job!

Farming in Bhutan is difficult work. Our farmers toil from dawn till dusk, in the sun and the rain, and with rudimentary tools, just to secure a basic harvest, which, at the best of times, is barely enough to feed their families through the year.

Farming in Bhutan is also a notoriously risky business. Rain, drought, floods, storms, hail, insects, disease and wild animals combine to keep our farmers on edge till they have harvested and safely stored their produce. But even after that, our farmers face one more big risk: markets. There’s absolutely no guarantee that their produce will fetch the money needed to make the hard work – and the anxiety – worthwhile.

That’s why, yesterday, during the National Assembly’s question hour, I asked the Agriculture Minister two related questions. One, I asked how the government would help our farmers secure more predictable prices for their produce. And two, I enquired when the government would start a crop insurance scheme.

The Agriculture Minister’s answers to both the questions were inadequate. And they were insulting.

To introduce my first question, I had reported that that the prices for cash crops – cardamom, mandarin oranges, apples, and potatoes, for example – are set by foreign buyers; that, as such, our farmers have absolutely no say over the price for their produce; that the prices are erratic and change every year; and that, last year, the price for potatoes fell three-fold in 7 weeks, from a high of Nu 21 per kg in October to Nu 7 per kg in late November.

Staying with last year’s potato disaster, I reported that, when I visited the Phuentsholing auction yard, I saw more than 150 truckloads of potatoes. Most of them had already been there for more than a week, paying Nu 500 per truck per day in demurrage, as the yard was able to auction only 20 to 25 truckloads a day.

Some farmers admitted to purposely holding on to their produce expecting the price to rise, but most others had no such intention; they just couldn’t get their potatoes to the auction yard earlier for a variety of valid reasons.

So I asked the Agriculture Minister if the government could look for ways of expanding local demand for cash crops; or ways of tying up with more reliable and established Indian buyers; or ways to do business with buyers from other countries.

The Agriculture Minister’s answer, which was inadequate and insulting, was that our farmers were gambling, that they were spoilt, and that the government would not spoil them any further. He also complained that when cash crops fetched good prices, farmers did not credit the government and expected even higher prices the following year. But he didn’t commit to, or for that matter comment on, doing anything to make the price of cash crops more predictable.

To introduce my second question, I had recalled that, last year, just before harvest time, a terrible hailstorm wiped out a lot of the paddy in Shengana; that 150 families had lost almost their entire crop; and that Aum Dorjim had cried inconsolably on national television bemoaning her misfortune and lamenting that she wouldn’t be able to feed her family or service her loans in the coming year.

I went on to report that, every year, many farmers face similar situations; we just don’t hear about them. Disasters routinely undo a whole year’s worth of hard labour, undermining the fortunes of entire families, and effectively trapping them in a vicious cycle of poverty.

I also reported that way back in September 2008, the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan and the Ministry of Agriculture had submitted a joint proposal to the government to begin a crop insurance scheme. Crop insurance is, no doubt, complicated. But it is possible. And it is necessary. It would remove much of the uncertainty and anxiety that dominate the lives of our farmers today.

So I asked the Agriculture Minister, to tell us what happened to that proposal, and, if possible, to let us know when we can expect crop insurance to be launched.

The Agriculture Minister’s answer, which was inadequate and insulting, was that his ministry had started a human wildlife conflict endowment fund, and that none of the members of Parliament had contributed to that fund. He totally ignored the question about crop insurance.

Farming in Bhutan is a difficult and risky business. Let’s take the plight of our farmers seriously. Let’s protect them from unscrupulous syndicated foreign buyers. Let’s guarantee them fair market value for the hard work. And let’s provide some form of basic crop insurance.

 

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  1. chechay nidup says:

    Oh…well whats new…not suprised with his response. Blames the media and the opposition party if he cant agree with you:( his exact words…my hands are tied.

  2. tormai-nyaro says:

    yesterday’s Kuensel carried a story about one Dr. Tandi starting the third party with some very credible members on the principles of Social democracy. Their ideology appeals to me, what do others think of this?

  3. Pasang Dorji says:

    Very nice and broad idea. I really appreciate your broad thinking for the whole country. If Agriculture minister or our government thinks in the same way, then how happy our poor farmers will be. Your idea are all, “The way to Gross National Happiness.”
    By the way, i don’t know who Agriculture Minister is and many other ministers even though I am a Bhutanese.

  4. what can we expect..this is typical of most bhutanese leaders, especially so with this government led by jigmi thinley who wishes to interpret the constitution to suit his needs..pema gyamtsho avoids the questions & talks about something else, wangdi norbu is irrelevant & lost, nandalal rai – you can’t understand what he’s saying, zangley dukpa talks but doesn’t say much, speaker jigme tshultrim can’t speak, minjur dorji’s incompetence doesn’t allow him to do much except, with uncanny resemblance, look like the indian activist anna hazare..and dpt mps all live in fear & uncertainty about a party ticket..
    come the next elections, i sincerely hope bhutan will get leaders genuinely committed to king, country & people..

  5. I fully agree with the OL. In fact, our agriculture system is in a mess (if we look closely).

    There are lots to be done. Our farmers need help not just in finding market and saving their crops from wild animals…

    What are the plans and agenda of your party to solve problems of the farmers, if elected? I think many are interested.

  6. Who cares about such petty issues when we have domestic air and education city, right. Who cares that Bhutan has fresh water everywhere but the people in the capital get water twice a day and villages resort to untreated water, who cares that farmers from my village pay 350 ngultrum per quintal of potatoes as transportation charge and they got only 150 ngultrum per quintal at the auction yard, who cares that about people rotting in jail for 3 years for carrying 5 packets of baba ,when we have gangs and thieves beating, injuring and robbing people everywhere, who cares about human rights when we can ban meats few times a year, who cares about , who cares about the general population when officials can drive in luxury vehicles whose cost are borne by the state, who cares about farmers when we have state funding and CDG to worry about, who cares about the narrow, slippery and rough roads of Bhutan when we have domestic flights.

  7. Truth_is_Buddha says:

    Rahul Gandhi said that in India, out of every Rs 100 from development funds, only about Rs 10 reach the beneficiaries/ farmers. I think it could be true even in Bhutan.

    Our developmental programmes have only lofty ideals and grand schemes, but most of the time fail to FOCUS on beneficiaries, and what sort of assistance should be planned. There is a huge gap in Plans vis-a-vis field projects. For example in Agriculture, we lament about low productivity and fallow lands and blame our people. But the truth is we don’t have enough labour. And Govt don’t allow farm labour import. Regarding marketing, govt seems to spend most of the budget internally (servicing themselves) while ground work to improve market linkages, bring traders & producers together, monitor markets, encouragement of pvt sector enterprises, advise to farmers on prices & seasons, are largely missing. Saving our own neck seems to be the mantra & prority rather than investing in realistic ground services. We spend too much time defining high ideals, and wasting precious time in implementing practical solutions at beneficiary level. We need to change, and Govt has to move fast. Otherwise, we will not stop going backwards.

  8. I think it is our elected leaders who are spoilt, because of:

    1. Weak Opposition
    2. Weak Media (or indirectly controlled by govt.)
    3. Public generally indifferent to such problems
    4. etc….

  9. @Truth_is_Buddha: truly said.

  10. ???

  11. Chechey Nidup remarked that “his exact words…my hands are tied’

    Chechey Nidup, what do you make of this remark? Please tell us how you find his hands not being tied and having the worldly leverages into doing things his way. Why can’t this be a possibility given how the top MOAF bureaucrats run the show in the most awful fashion? What is OL’s true opinion on the RCSC’s lavish unchecked powers vested on their bureaucrats which in turn was producing a bulk of the hardened bureaucrats traversing on the blemished path while working for the public? This basically boils down to systemic correction missions which needs a concerted effort from all the quarters – opposition, state, government and other relevant agencies if we are truly keen on seeing a people centric government machinery put to active actions. How can a single minister rectify such a mammoth system overhauling task? That’s why; I think people have now requested OL to raise this issue in the parliament so that under parliament’s direction government can look into such pressing issues in juxtaposition with the RCSC authorities who otherwise were supposed to oversee such shortcomings

  12. i appreciate your concern for the nation… i have even seen u putting a question on our country’s debt to india, and its circumstances. i am really thankful for ur informative and concern question. and as expected nothing serious and relevant answer is being given by govt, i even heard our speaker jigme tshulthrium saying that no one can answer where that money(rs. 3000 million taken recently frm india on loan) have gone, what does that mean??? our govt is expert at giving irevelent answer…

  13. tormai-nyaro says:

    Our own elected goverment will leave us a huge debt and when questioned, it will not even answer. This is a spoilt government that is used to having its own ways.

  14. Tormai-Nyaro,

    Whether or not this government has been heading the spoilt way (which appears far from being true), I think, the verdict on this aspect would be decided largely by the Bhutanese people themselves when franchising their votes every 5 years period. Therefore, there is an adequate check mechanism in place to guarantee us this hope. However, what has been a nerve-racking concern for us is in knowing the fact – how fast our system was getting most evil by the unruly behaviors of top bureaucrats owing chiefly because of their limitless time at the power chairs.
    Today, these top bureaucrats in the real sense are the new breeds of untouchable lots. RCSC as an organization is now becoming very ineffective each passing time in the real world and as a result, they will now go down in history as being an unbeatable paper tiger through generation on end.To me, more than anything else, the need of the hour is in waking up to the dangers posed in the concentration of unchecked powers vested in these top bureaucrats. Something needs to be done lest they would take the system hostage. The compulsory 5 years transfer of executive people is not a bad solution if implemented effectively.

  15. A good write-up from someone who may be coming across these facts like the difficulty and drudgery associated with farming for the first time in life. Hope you will argue for higher investment in the sector during the coming budget session.

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