Bhutan is a challenging environment in which to develop commercial agriculture. The country has limited areas for agriculture, and its geography and road conditions make logistics and market access costly.
Therefore, commercial agriculture is critical to increase productivity, which will help create jobs and access to more and better food. This can be achieved not only through focusing on high-value products and investing in traditional infrastructure such as irrigation, but also through using information and communication technology (ICT). Based in eastern Bhutan, Mountain Hazelnuts has developed innovative uses of ICT for its commercial agriculture operations.
The World Bank is working to mainstream climate smart agriculture in South Asia with a series of Climate-Smart Agriculture or “CSA” Country Profiles for Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan, that were launched recently in collaboration with Governments and relevant stakeholders. The findings in the profiles are specific to national contexts, but there is a common thread. We learned that for South Asia, climate change adaptation and mitigation pose major challenges and opportunities for agriculture sector investment and growth.
The farmers, Government representatives and other stakeholders I met during the CSA Country Profile launches expressed huge interest in learning how they can put CSA into practice. Farmers especially were interested in making CSA part of their daily farming routines. As interest grows, so does momentum to take the CSA agenda forward, from research institutions and high level gatherings into farmer’s fields. As one farmer I met in Pakistan said, “Climate-smart agriculture is Common-sense agriculture.”
Climate change is already impacting Pakistan, which often experiences periods of severe droughts, followed by devastating floods. In the aftermath of the 2010 floods, one fifth of the country’s land area was submerged, damaging the economy, infrastructure and livelihoods, and leaving 90 million people without proper access to food. Moving forward, changes in monsoons and increased temperatures will further challenge the agricultural sector, particularly northern Pakistan where vulnerability to climate change is already high.
At the same time, CSA offers attractive opportunities for strengthening Pakistan’s agricultural sector. Innovative, technological practices like laser land leveling and solar powered irrigation systems and management changes like crop diversification, proper cropping patterns and optimized planting dates could put Pakistan’s food system onto a more climate-smart path. Investments in research to develop high-yielding, heat-resistant, drought-tolerant, and pest-resistant crop varieties as well as livestock breeds could also make a difference.
While Bhutan has seen immense growth along with impressive reductions in poverty, it remains a predominantly agriculture-based society, with the majority of the population relying on agriculture for their livelihoods. Most of the country’s arable land is cultivated by small farm holdings – an average size of 1.2 hectares – which produce most of the crop and livestock. However, despite importing 34% of its cereal needs, nearly one out of three Bhutanese suffer from food insecurity. Additionally, nearly 27 percent of Bhutanese households consume less than the daily minimum calorific requirement of 2,124 kcal, resulting in nearly 30 percent of the population facing malnourishment and related health issues such as stunting, or children that are too short for their age.
To help improve the county’s agricultural productivity and better meet the nutrition needs of its people, we recently launched of the Food Security and Agricultural Productivity Project (FSAPP) with the government of Bhutan. The project is designed to reduce the country’s reliance on food imports, help combat malnutrition in children, while improving agricultural productivity. It will assist farmers in five selected dzonkhags (districts) to diversify and enhance agriculture through better cultivation and sales and marketing of their products.
How could the project really be transformational for farmers in Bhutan? The project builds on past efforts where the farmers were assisted with production inputs and equipment. It seeks to transform subsistence farming toward commercialization by boosting production and forging direct links to the market. The new project will also provide opportunities for the farmers to work together, form farming collectives, and create a unified voice to negotiate with agro-entrepreneurs for better terms for their goods.
Economic growth is a key concern for economists, political leaders, and the broader population.
But how confident are we that the available data on economic activity paints an accurate picture of a country’s performance?
Measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most standard measure of economic activity, is especially challenging in developing countries, where the informal sector is large and institutional constraints can be severe.
In addition, many countries only provide GDP measures annually and at the national level. Not surprisingly, GDP growth estimates are often met with skepticism.
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
As shown in Figure 1, there is a strong correlation between nightlight intensity and GDP levels in South Asia: the higher the nightlight intensity on the horizontal axis, the stronger the economic activity on the vertical axis.
However, measuring nightlight is challenging and comes with a few caveats. Clouds, moonlight, and radiance from the sun can affect measurement accuracy, which then requires filtering and standardizing.
On the other hand, nighlight data has a lot advantages like being available in high-frequency and with a very high spatial resolution. In the latest edition of South Asia Economic Focus, we use variations in nightlight intensity to analyze economic trends and illustrate how this data can help predict GDP over time and across space.
Several years ago, a newspaper cartoon in a neighboring country caught everyone’s attention when it depicted the government machinery as a big pipe in which lots of water was being poured from one side as taxpayer’s money and only a drop reached the poor on the other end. The water, representing the funds were being lost due to holes in the pipe. The holes were depicted as inefficiency, wastage, corruption etc. Globally, governments lose trillions of dollars due to various inefficiencies, and lack of proper controls and oversight. Citizens suffer as they do not receive the services that they are promised.
Bhutan provides lots of attention to good governance, which is also one of the pillars of Gross National Happiness. Public Financial Management (PFM) is an important element of good governance and delivering high quality of services to citizens as it’s comprised of budgeting, revenue, procurement, accounting and reporting, internal controls and institutional oversight. Sound PFM systems play an important role in strengthening the efficiency, accountability and transparency of the Government systems. Every dollar, every Ngultrum saved through sound PFM systems mean that more resources are available for better schools, hospitals, roads, and other services.
Bhutan is one of the smallest, but fastest-growing economies in the world. Its annual economic growth of 7.5 percent on average between 2006 and 2015, placed the country 13th of 118 countries, compared to the average global growth rate of 4.4 percent.
The recent developments on strong lending growth, inflation, exchange rates and international reserves show that Bhutan maintains a solid and stable growth in the first half of 2017. Gross international reserves have been increasing since 2012, when the country experienced an Indian rupee shortage. Reserves exceed $1 billion, equivalent to 10 months of imports of goods and services in mid-2017 which makes the country more resilient to potential shocks. This is also very much in line with the requirement spelled in the 2008 Constitution which outlines minimum reserve requirements. The Bhutanese ngultrum, pegged to the Indian rupee, have been stable or slightly appreciating against the U.S. dollar.
Despite recent solid growth and macroeconomic stability, we need to carefully monitor its Development. According to the latest Bhutan Economic Update, the hydropower construction and the implementation of the 2016 Economic Development Policy are expected to support this solid growth during the next few years. However, with confirmed delays in the completion of two hydropower projects, the contribution of the hydropower sector to growth will be lower than the originally projected. Therefore, the World Bank revised down its growth forecasts in 2019/20 by a few percentage points to 7.6 percent, still among the fastest in the world.
That regional cooperation in South Asia is lower than optimal levels is well accepted. It is usually ascribed to – the asymmetry in size between India and the rest, conflicts and historical political tensions, a trust deficit, limited transport connectivity, and onerous logistics, among many other factors.
Deepening regional integration requires sufficient policy-relevant analytical work on the costs and benefits of both intra-regional trade and investment. An effective cross-border network of young professionals can contribute to fresh thinking on emerging economic cooperation issues in South Asia.
Against this background, the World Bank Group sponsored a competitive request for proposals. Awardees from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan, after being actively mentored by seasoned World Bank staff over a period of two years, convened in Washington DC to present their new and exciting research. Research areas included regional value chains, production sharing and the impact assessment of alternative preferential trade agreements in the region.
Young Economists offer fresh thoughts on economic cooperation in South Asia
Mahfuz Kabir, Acting Research Director, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies and Surendar Singh, Policy Analyst, Consumer Unity Trust Society (CUTS International) presented their research: Of Streams and Tides, India-Bangladesh Value Chains in Textiles and Clothing (T&C). They focus on how to tackle three main trade barriers for T&C: a) high tariffs for selected, but important goods for the industries of both countries; b) inefficient customs procedures and c) divergent criteria for rules of origin classification.
Sreerupa Sengupta, Ph.D. Scholar at Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi discussed Trade Cooperation and Production Sharing in South Asia – An Indian Perspective. Reviewing the pattern of Indian exports and imports in the last twenty years, her research focuses on comparing the Global Value Chain (GVC) participation rate of India with East Asian and ASEAN economies. Barriers to higher participation include a) lack of openness in the FDI sector; b) lack of adequate port infrastructure, and long port dwell times; and c) lack of Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRAs).
Aamir Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of Management Sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad presented his work on Economy Wide Impact of Regional Integration in South Asia - Options for Pakistan. His research analyzes the reasons for Pakistan not being able to take full advantage of its Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, and finds that the granting of ASEAN-type concessions to Pakistan in its FTA with China would be more beneficial than the current FTA arrangement. The work also draws lessons for FTAs that are currently being negotiated by South Asian countries.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country located high in the eastern Himalayan mountain range with its population 760,000. Up until about 20 years ago, the country was isolated from the world; Bhutan’s first ever television broadcast occurred in 1999. Since then, information communications technology (ICT) has made rapid advancement. Mobile subscriptions increased from 0.4 per 100 people in 2003 to 87 in 2015. The proportion of people using the internet have increased from 0.1% in 1999 to 40% in 2015. Today, all 20 districts and 201 (out of 205) sub-districts are connected through fiber optic cables.
The World Bank’s 2016 World Development Report on “Digital Dividends” argues that digital technologies have boosted growth, expanded opportunities, and improved service delivery. Use of ICT for development is especially applicable to small states with populations of less than 1.5 million. Another report, “World Bank Group Engagement with Small States” finds that ICT investments can help reduce economic isolation, lessen barriers to trade, promote tourism, and improve mobility. These messages are highly relevant to Bhutan today.
The Government has enthusiastically adopted the use ICT to improve its services to its citizens as described in Bhutan ICT Roadmap and Bhutan E-Government Masterplan. The Government to Citizen (G2C) program, launched in 2005, provides a one-stop-shop for more than 100 services such as procuring a passport. The national ePayment Gateway Infrastructure, established by the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), the central bank, has enabled citizens to pay for some public services online. Recently, the National Land Commission (NLC) launched eCitizen Portal - an online one-stop shop for transferring property titles online. This has reduced the number of days to transfer ownership of a property from 90 days to 62 days in the capital, Thimphu. More importantly, the NLC is reaching out to the private sector to seek feedback on how to improve its usability by piloting a feedback survey using an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) tool for the first time in Bhutan. The government has also introduced an electronic government procurement system (e-GP) to make optimal use of resources. Given the size of the budget (exceeding 30 percent of GDP), the adoption of e-GP will contribute to effective use of public resources. The World Bank Group has been supporting these efforts through various instruments such as the second Development Policy Credit: Fiscal Sustainability and Investment Climate, which helped get the eCitizen Portal off the ground.
In many respects, Bhutan has been a development success story. Its people have benefitted from decades of sharp reductions in poverty combined with impressive improvements in health and education. The country is a global model in environmental conservation. It is the first carbon negative country; Bhutan’s forests, which cover over 70% of the country, absorb more carbon dioxide than is produced by its emissions.
The Kingdom of Happiness also must grapple with the reality of managing budgets, creating infrastructure, and preparing its citizens to be able to create and take advantage of jobs of the future. To do that, we are working with closely with Bhutan to build the foundations for a more prosperous future through the cultivation of a vibrant private sector economy and supporting green development.
At the same time, Bhutan has invested generously in hydropower energy production to create a reliable and lasting source of green energy for its people. It also benefits from exporting excess electricity to neighboring India, whose energy needs continue to increase at a rapid pace with their growing economy.
In large part due to the hydropower investments, Bhutan’s public debt was 107 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as of March 2017. Hydropower external debt was at 77 percent of GDP with non-hydropower external debt accounting for 22 percent of GDP. Questions have arisen on whether this level of debt is sustainable and what should be done to address it.