Food security and food self-sufficiency in Bhutan

According to a widely accepted definition from the Food and Agriculture Organization, food security is achieved when “when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” In contrast, food self-sufficiency is defined as being able to meet consumption needs (particularly for staple food crops) from own production rather than by buying or importing.

There is a long-standing debate on whether food self-sufficiency is a useful strategy to achieve food security. Supporters of this proposition argue that relying on the market for to meet food needs is a risky strategy because of volatility in food prices and possible interruption in supplies. The opposing view is that it is costly for a household (or country) to focus on food self-sufficiency rather than producing according to its comparative advantage and purchasing some of its food requirements from the market.

This debate is reflected in the evolution of food policy in Bhutan. The Fifth and Sixth Five-Year Plans (1981-86 and 1987-92) called for self-sufficiency in staple foods. The Seventh Five-Year Plan (1992-97) called for self-sufficiency but recognized that it may not be a realistic goal. The Eighth Five-Year Plan (1997-2002) focused on the goal of food security, though it called for the value of agricultural exports to exceed the value of agricultural imports. In 2007, the Bhutan National Food Security Strategy Paper adopted the definition of food security from the 1996 World Food Summit, cited above. In spite of this shift in policy emphasis from food self-sufficiency to food security, some continue to favor the concept of food self-sufficiency.

Is food self-sufficiency necessary or sufficient for achieving food security in Bhutan? We use data from the 2000 Agricultural Census, the 2005 Population Census, and the 2007 Bhutan Living Standards Survey to address this question. We also use a model of rice markets in Bhutan to explore the impact of different strategies to achieve rice self-sufficiency.

Peljor, Nidup
Minot, Nicholas
Published date: 
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
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