Bhutan’s Agriculture Sector Aims for High-Tech Harvest

In the heart of the picturesque Bhutanese capital, Thimphu, a recent gathering shed light on the challenges and opportunities in the nation’s agricultural landscape. Despite its vital role, the agriculture sector in Bhutan faces hurdles, chiefly its reliance on traditional methods. However, a consensus is emerging among experts that embracing technology could be the key to unlocking its full potential.

The Bhutan Agri-Trade and Investment Forum, a congregation of stakeholders from across sectors, underscored the urgency of modernizing agriculture to meet the demands of a growing population. With nearly half of Bhutan’s populace engaged in farming, the need for innovation is more pressing than ever.

Jigme Tenzing, the secretary of Bhutan’s GovTech Agency, acknowledged the global imperative of bolstering food production to match population growth. Bhutan’s unique topography, characterized by rugged mountains that limit arable land to a mere 2.7 percent, adds to the complexity. Yet, agriculture still contributes significantly to the nation’s GDP, hinting at untapped opportunities awaiting exploitation.

“We have about 65,000 acres of fallow land, and to cultivate them, we need to adapt to the usage of technology,” Tenzing remarked, emphasizing the crucial role of technological intervention.

The forum shed light on the potential of smallholding farms, which form the backbone of Bhutan’s agricultural framework. Ngawang Gyeltshen, founder of Guu.AI, highlighted their importance while cautioning against the unintended consequences of technology adoption. While it could enhance large commercial farms, smaller players might find themselves marginalized without adequate support and incentives.

Dinakar Radhakrishnan, a senior program manager at the Delegation of the EU to India and Bhutan, outlined ongoing projects leveraging earth observation technology like drones and satellites to enhance agricultural practices. Given Bhutan’s rugged terrain, such innovations offer promising solutions, provided the necessary skills and infrastructure are in place.

Government officials echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the alignment of technological integration with broader initiatives such as the National Digital Identity (NDI) and the expansion of high-speed fiber connectivity. These initiatives are poised to revolutionize Bhutan’s agriculture landscape, empowering farmers with digital tools to navigate markets efficiently and improve productivity.

However, amidst the optimism surrounding technological advancements, the need for caution was not overlooked. The potential trade-offs between mass production and quality, as well as the risk of marginalizing smaller farmers, warrant careful consideration.

As Bhutan marches towards its vision of food self-sufficiency, the path forward seems clear: a delicate balance between tradition and innovation, with technology serving as the bridge to a prosperous agricultural future.

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