Agriculture in Bhutan plays an extremely dominant role in Bhutan's economy. In the year 2000, agriculture in Bhutan accounted for 35.9% of GDP of the entire nation. The share of the agricultural sector in Bhutan’s GDP declined from approximately 55% in 1985 to 33% in 2003. Despite this, agriculture still remains the primary source of livelihood for the majority of the Bhutanese population.
Approximately 80% of the population of Bhutan are involved in the food and agriculture sector. Over 95% of the earning women in Bhutan work in the food and agriculture sector. The majority of the refugees in Bhutan are also employed in the agricultural sector. Agriculture in Bhutan is characterized by its labor-intensive nature with relatively low intensity of farm inputs. Most of the peasants in Bhutan are small and marginal.
Out of the agricultural lands in the Bhutan, an estimated 21% are wetland (irrigated), approximately 43% are dryland (rainfed), almost 27% are used for shifting cultivation, approximately 3% are used for orchards and 1% are kitchen gardens.
The two major crops cultivated in Bhutan are maize and rice. Maize in Bhutan accounts for 49% of the total domestic cereal cultivation while rice accounts for 43%. Rice is the major staple crop and food for the people of Bhutan. Agriculture in Bhutan also includes cultivation of wheat and other minor cereal crops. Paddy is the primary crop in those regions where proper irrigation is available. Apart from paddy, other crops like wheat, barley, oil seeds, potato and different vegetables are also cultivated in these lands. Maize is mainly cultivated in the dryland regions which occur at lower elevations. Forests in Bhutan act as the source of livestock fodder and organic materials and help in fertility. The forests are also responsible for regulating the availability of water for agricultural purposes in Bhutan.
The primary goals of agriculture in Bhutan are as follows : to raise the per capita income of the people living in rural areas, to enhance self-sufficiency in staple crops and to increase the productivity per unit of farm labour and agricultural land. Agriculture in Bhutan is often hampered due to irrigation problems, rough terrain, poor soil quality and limited number of fertile, arable lands. In addition, farming in Bhutan is generally limited to the river valleys and are often seen as small parcels on slopes. Further, farming in a mountainous ecosystem is challenged by natural factors like inherently low soil fertility coupled with cold stress and frequent weather changes. Mountainous ecosystems are characterized by frequent extreme weather events and natural catastrophes, thus making it one of the most sensitive ecosystems of the world.
However, there are several other factors that have contributed in the development of agriculture in Bhutan. These factors include improved quality of various cereal seeds, oil seeds, and vegetable seeds, use of fertilizers, mechanization process and trained agricultural experts. The agricultural sector has experienced development especially in the projects listed below:
Paro Valley Development Project
Geylegphug Development Project
Punakha-Wangdi Valley Development Project
Tashigang-Mongar Area Development Project
Chirang Hill Irrigation Development Project.
Production of cash crops such as apple, orange and cardamom has also increased and become profitable in Bhutan. In several areas, shifting cultivation is being replaced by orchard cultivation. This is expected to help further increase the cultivation of cash crops.
In 2013 the government of Bhutan announced that Bhutan is on it’s way of becoming the first country in the world with 100 percent organic farming and started a program for qualification. This program is being supported by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM).