THIMPU — Bhutan’s poverty stems from its history of isolation instead of modernization. Up until the 1960’s, the country lacked basic technology and elementary public services such as hospitals or post offices. In 1961, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck decided to end the seclusion from the outside world and integrate the Kingdom of Bhutan into modern society to develop it economically and to improve standard of living.
However, the Buddhist kingdom still lacks the economic means to eradicate the causes of poverty in Bhutan, which prevent it from becoming an agricultural powerhouse.
With 12 percent of the population living below the national poverty line and 70 percent of the population living in rural areas, the causes of poverty in Bhutan are especially harsh on its agricultural industry. Bhutan’s dependency on agriculture as a means of economic security is paradoxical. Agriculture is the main form of industry in Bhutan, but it also diminishes economic diversity within the country because there are not many job opportunities outside of the agricultural sector.
Another phenomenon that contributes to poverty within the rural community is the pressure of an increasing population accompanied by limited resources. Without advanced farming techniques or improved irrigation facilities, Bhutan struggles provide enough agricultural yields to maintain its internal economy, and to establish itself in the agricultural economy of the world.
Fortunately, the Royal Government of Bhutan has not turned a deaf ear toward its poor. In 2007, the Ministry of Agriculture introduced an agricultural program for farmers to grow organic produce in hopes of boosting the country’s economic autonomy. By introducing government-funded training to farmers who grow organic crops, Bhutan will make itself more appealing to the demands of developed international economies.
In addition, the government formed a multi-stage plan, known as the Five Year Plan, for economic prosperity in 1961 that since strengthened its infrastructure. It also lessened the poverty in Bhutan by introducing modern hydroelectric projects.
Lessening the primary causes of poverty in Bhutan can be achieved through the World Bank’s current recommendations. First, if Bhutan is to truly take off in agribusiness it needs more favorable government policies and incentives for farmers. In addition, the World Bank also recommends that Bhutan “[put]in place, for the poor and vulnerable segments of the population, formal social protection mechanisms along with access to finance mechanisms like targeted micro-credit programs and crop insurance.”
The economic restraints Bhutan faces in today’s global market demand reform, but they do not condemn Bhutan to the economic isolation it faced only fifty years ago.
– Kaitlin Hocker