They did twice in the past, but it didn’t work because of market
Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha
Farmers in north Punakha are well aware of the onion business. They tried their hands, not once but twice. Both times it didn’t succeed.
Farmers will try it again with the government making it mandatory for all dzongkhag to cultivate onions and tomatoes. However, given the risk, it will be tried on a small scale.
The dzongkhag has the potential to grow both the leafy spring and the storage onions. It didn’t pick up in the past because of the poor price, lack of market and the competition from imported onions.
Nearly two decades ago in 1996, about 30 of the 50 households in the Sirigang-Wakoo-Damchi chiwog took up onion cultivation. However, mass production ceased four years after cultivation began because of lack of market, price and lack of expertise.
Onion cultivation was once again introduced in the chiwog in 2013. This time, around seven households took up cultivation. However, the crop didn’t gain much popularity. Today, a household cultivates onions on less than 10 decimals land for self-consumption. The chiwog’s former agriculture extension officer, Kinley Dorji said that research officials were also involved to ensure that the plantation process was correct in 2013. “I am not sure but it was part of a vegetable promotion programme after the country faced the Indian Rupee crisis.”
Perhaps farmers would be lucky this time with the Indian government banning the export of onions and the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic drawing the attention of the government on import substitution.
There is a ready market and the dzongkhag agriculture office will provide technical support.
One of the first farmers who tried onions, Tshewang Dema said that onion cultivation thrived for four years when cultivation was introduced in 1996. “The price we got was also good. I cultivated onions on around 50 decimal of my land. Some had acres of onion fields.” The onion from Punakha was different. The bulb was bigger and flavour not as strong as the Indian onions.
As it flooded the market, farmers couldn’t sell it. They shifted to chilies, cabbages and beans.
Another hurdle was the difficulty in curing the bulbs. Curing is a process of drying onions to prepare it for storage for a longer duration. The weather of Punakha and lack of curing shelter proved inconvenient for the farmers.
Kinley Dorji said that harvest time fell around June and July at the peak of monsoon and the rains damaged the onions.
Chiwog Tshogpa Kinley said that it was easier and more profitable to grow chilies. “We once produced onions in huge quantities from Punakha,” he said on the potential of the dzongkhag taking up onion cultivation.
This year, onion cultivation will begin in January in seven gewogs.
Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer Gaylong said that because cultivating onions on a commercial level would be risky, farmers would take up cultivation on small scale.
This is on trial-basis. “It is risky if we do it at commercial and it would be a loss for farmers if it doesn’t go well. There are farmers who are interested in increasing onion cultivation. So if production goes well, we will increase it next time.”
Gaylong said that the other four gewogs in the dzongkhag would focus on cultivating other crops. Winter crop plantation has begun in Punakha.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering will address the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on September 25, themed “The future we want, the United Nations we need: reaffirming our collective commitment to multilateralism – confronting Covid-19 through effective multilateral action.”
The 75th session of the UNGA will commence from September 21 at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The UN will mark 75th anniversary of its founding with a one-day high-level meeting on September 21 during which Lyonchhen will address the event through a pre-recorded video statement.
Lyonchhen will also address the United Nations Summit on Biodiversity on September 30.
On September 24, at the invitation of the UN Secretary General, Lyonchhen will participate in a virtual high level roundtable on climate action.
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji will participate in important high-level events during the UNGA.
Lyonpo will participate in the annual ministerial meeting of least developed countries (LDC), the annual ministerial meeting of foreign ministers of landlocked developing countries (LLDC), and the high-level meeting of the 25th anniversary of the fourth world conference on women through pre-recorded video statements.
Lyonpo will also attend the virtual informal meeting of the SAARC Council of Ministers on September 24.
Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, engagement at the UNGA this year will mostly be virtual. Heads of state and government will virtually address the high-level general debate, which will take place from September 22 to 29.
Events of the UNGA can be viewed live on UN web TV through the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/general-assembly/
Established in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations, the General Assembly occupies a central position as the chief deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the United Nations.
Comprising of 193 members of the United Nations, the General Assembly provides a unique forum for multilateral discussion of the full spectrum of international issues covered by the Charter. It also plays a significant role in the process of standard-setting and the codification of international law.
Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) yesterday declared a 35-year-old businessman, Tenzin Norbu as its Chhoekhor-Tang candidate for the parliamentary constituency bye-election.
Tenzin Norbu, a businessman for the last 11 years and married with two daughters is from Chhoekhor gewog in Bumthang.
Tenzin holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Hotel Management and Tourism from the University of Applied Sciences in Business Administration in Zurich, Switzerland. He also has an undergraduate degree in Business Management from Bangalore University, India.
The press release from the party says that Tenzin Norbu’s experience and knowledge in the tourism and hospitality industry, public relations management and the private sector would serve the citizens through a political platform.
“Politics must be an instrument of our national progress and point of convergence of our common aspirations for generations of Bhutan’” said Tenzin Norbu.
The party’s press release stated that for Tenzin, it is not the case of the return of the native. “It is rather the native of the native.”
The party’s release stated that he understood the issues, problems and collective aspirations of the people in his constituency since he has been living with the people for a long time.
Bumthang being the heartland of tourism, Tenzin Norbu believes that it holds great potential to upscale the country’s economic development through tourism. “His passion for this developmental vision makes him the right candidate,” the press release stated.
Tenzin Norbu joined DPT because of the party’s core mandate and visions. He said, “The party’s overreaching vision to achieve Bhutan’s economic self-reliance, anchored in the principle of equity and justice, rings aloud during unusual difficult times such as Covid-19 pandemic we are reeling under.”
The press release claimed that Tenzin Norbu is ready to embrace politics as a platform for public service and to serve the people of Chhoekhor-Tang constituency.
The official resignation of former OL and Member of Parliament from Chhoekhok-Tang constituency, Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) on September 7, created a casual vacancy.
As per the Election Act, section 580 states, “A member elected to fill a casual vacancy shall only serve for the remainder of his/her predecessor’s term of office.”
The ruling party, Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) is expected to declare its candidate for the bye-election after Thimphu Tshechu.
The ruling party DNT has 30 members while the DPT had 17 members in the National Assembly.
The meat shops above Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) saw a huge crowd rushing for meat yesterday evening.
Except for one meat shop in the area, most were out of beef.
A 40-year-old meat vendor said that more customers walked in yesterday because of Thruebab (Blessed Rainy Day). “In other days, the frozen meats do not sell well.”
A civil servant said that she went to buy meat for Thruebab on Wednesday. “Local meat was not available. So I bought frozen beef.”
Nado, 59, from Tsirang, said that meat was important during events such as Thruebab and Losar. “This year, because of the pandemic, we do not get meat and the ones available in the market were costly.”
The price of frozen beef and chicken today range between Nu 300-400 and Nu 250-300 per kilogram respectively.
The price of frozen boneless beef costs between Nu 400 and Nu 450. Local beef costs Nu 400 per kg. A kg of chicken costs Nu 300.
A kg of local pork costs at least Nu 650. The ban on import of pork from India by the agriculture and forests ministry still stands.
A customer said that the prices of meat vary from shop to shop. She said, “The agencies concerned should look into the pricing of meat.”
The festive season is here. We start with the sacred Thimphu Dromchoe today. Then comes the Blessed Rainy Day, celebrated across the country. Looking around in the capital, there is excitement as people rush for last minute shopping. Meat has become dear, but it is a must as we prepare for picnics, even if indoors, this year.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives. We have missed a lot of occasions. The festive season comes as a relief, not because of the holidays, but because of the significance.
Tshechus are an important event on the Bhutanese calendar. It is a sacred as well as a fun festival with a distinct Bhutanese flavour. This year, there will be no crowd or tourists at the tshechus. But the blessings, our respected Lopons say, will not diminish even if we watch the events on television, at home. Bhutanese come to tshechus for blessings as well as to enjoy the break from work. The only thing missing will be a chance to display our tshechu wear-kiras and ornaments.
We ardently believe taking bath on the Blessed Rainy day wash all our defilements, bad deeds and obstructions. Let’s all, as we take shower tomorrow morning, pray that the sanctified or the blessed water cleanse us and remove our obstructions. The biggest obstruction this year was the new coronavirus pandemic. It has left a mark already. Livelihoods are affected, businesses are ruined and the economy is in a bad state.
Thanks to the wise leadership of His Majesty The King, the hard work of the government and the thousands of people on the frontline, we have managed the pandemic well. The Blessed Rainy Day marks the end of monsoon, let it be the end of the disruptions the pandemic has caused.
We enter the last quarter of a troublesome year. We have to look forward with positivity to end the year on a high note. And we need the positive energy that our religious festivals bring. Not long ago, tshechus means a break to prepare for a fruitful end to the year. It is harvest time in many parts of the country. Farmers look forward to the break and ready themselves for the hard work ahead.
There is so much to do after the holidays. All attention has been diverted on Covid-19. We have done well at that front and successfully prevented a full-blown community transmission without any fatalities. But we must return to work and return with a renewed sense. Life has to go on. The government needs to return to governing, business and industries should start opening, investments have to be made to generate work and employment. There is some sort of normalcy returning with children returning to schools, shops opening and people going back to work.
We can’t achieve in three months what we have lost in the last six. But after the holidays, we should return to work rejuvenated like the farmer who after the tshechu break is ready to toil until the harvest is secured. The responsibility is on us all. We need not be civil servants or corporate employees or in the private sector. The biggest contribution in a pandemic year is following the Covid-19 protocols, which we tend to forget, as life seems to return to normal. Another case of local transmission could derail all our plans and undo what we have achieved so far.
As we take part in the celebrations, let’s not forget that we have to live with the pandemic and our actions would determine how we get through this crisis.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests’ (MoFA) Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) has been one of the priority sectors. It employs over 2,800 civil servants—policymakers, administrators and extension agents. However, the sector today lacks vision and seems to be running out of ideas to stay relevant in the changing socioeconomic atmosphere of our country. With over 56 percent of Bhutanese employed in the sector, mainly in subsistence farming, it is worth sharing a few ideas to overhaul the sector.
The agriculture officers are one of the busiest civil servants. You can hardly spot them in office because they are perennially engaged in the ‘field’ work. Sometimes they become so busy that they even seem to forget what their actual mandate is.
Let us quickly look at the work routines of a District Agriculture Officer, in the following order:
Monitoring farm road constructions.
Forming farmer groups.
Training farmer groups in managing group.
Providing subsidies in the form of seed and seedlings to farmers.
Constructing market shed.
Attending endless training and workshops from MoAF and Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC).
In this seemingly hectic list, the key thing missing is the actual work that a technical expert like an agriculture officer is trained for, which is doing agriculture. To a generalist like me working in rural areas, this is an obvious responsibility that must be at the top of the priority, followed by:
Providing technical expertise to farmers on how to get the best yield from a crop.
Providing mentorship and guidance to illiterate farmers on improved farming methods seen elsewhere in the world.
Increasing agricultural land usage through land development and rehabilitation initiatives.
Ensuring that infrastructure built through agricultural projects, especially market sheds, are functional.
Adopting indigenous knowledge and learning from farmers.
Such experts are in fact so habituated to their systemic routine that suggestions, which might actually help them meet their goals are not only met with resistance, but outright suspicion and antagonism. They will not be educated and advised on agricultural production by anyone other than their superiors. What they end up doing is fabricating statistics for their ministry rather than actually producing agricultural prosperity for our country.
So, what next?
Hand over farm roads to MoWHS
The simple answer is, let the agriculture officer do what they are trained for—grow crops and provide technical expertise to farmers. Gewog by gewog, chiwog by chiwog and village by village, the agricultural officers and agriculture extension agents should meet with the farmers and help them grow crops better and teach them improved methods of farming and of upscaling their production.
Overhaul DAMC and separate Farmer Group formations
DAMC has been in existence for almost a decade now. Its main job, in brief, is to explore agriculture markets and form farmer groups and cooperatives. In practice, however, it means attending endless workshops and going abroad to explore agriculture markets while making the farmers and agricultural officers do the actual group formation work. It will be interesting to see how many times DAMC has actually visited villages to talk to the farmers. It would be more interesting to see how many Bhutanese crops have they successfully sent to the international markets that they so often visit. Value chain booklets published by them are many, but did any of them actually materialise?
Farmer training and group formation: This is one asset they will not let go at any cost. In spite of RAA observation that farmer training funds are being misused year on year, they will not let go of this source of income. DAMC was once put out of existence, for reasons only inner circle in MoAF know. A relook and possible overhauling of this department is urgently needed. People who are actually involved in agri-entrepreneurship will be especially desirable in such an exercise.
Human touch and embracing indigenous knowledge in agricultural development
It is time we realised the past mistakes and embrace a new way of doing agriculture. And the new way is to get closer to the farmers and learn from them and provide skilled mentorship and resource support. The gap between what agriculture sector promotes and what farmers grow has been huge, especially in cash crop production and marketing. One case example is Ground Apple. It is an important cash crop for farmers. But who actually introduced it to Bhutan? Its introduction in the country remains a mystery. It is believed that a ‘farmer brought it illegally from Nepal and planted it in his kitchen garden. It was sold at Nu 500 per kg. The seedlings for the crop were sold at Nu 1,000 per kg. It spread like wildfire and everyone started growing this crop and customers munched on the tubers for the alleged anti-diabetic benefits. Now every farmer grows it and there is excess production. The price per kilo has now plummeted to just Nu 20.
Farmers are pleading with agriculture officers to do something about it like adding some value to the crop syrup and exporting to international markets. What has DAMC, guardians of exploring market opportunities, done for this? Nothing so far. It took more than a year for the RNR-RC just to legalise this crop in our country. Two lessons can be derived from this Ground Apple case:
Firstly, in this age of mass information and entrepreneurial pursuits, you can be caught off-guard. The champions of agricultural knowledge who have travelled hundreds of times to Nepal to learn about crops and cultivation have not found Ground Apple, but a small-time farmer brought this seedling on his maiden visit to this distant land. The quarantine and all crop phytosanitary aspects went out of the window, but the result was a small miracle. We can expect similar crops to come in future as well, unless our RNR-RC and DAMC remain proactive.
Secondly, when farmers take initiative and ownership, it invariably results in success. MoAF should ride on such new entrepreneurial spirit, and provide technical and resource support. Sometimes, our experts should eat humble pie and just follow the native wit of ours.
Contributed by Sangay Thinley,
Sr. Economic Development Officer, Chhukha Dzongkhag
(Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are that of the Author and not that of Chhukha Dzongkhag)
Sudeva FC will participate in the upcoming Hero I-League for the first time in Kolkata later this year in November. Chencho Dorji, 38-year-old Bhutanese international coach will lead the team as the head coach.
Sudeva FC’s management recently nominated Chencho Dorji as head coach.
“It was really a big moment for me and I am excited. I want to thank the president and vice president of the club for having faith in me. I want to take this opportunity as a challenge,” said Chencho Dorji.
Sudeva FC is the Delhi-based professional club founded in 2014. The club recently won the bid to take part in the I- League.
In a video conversation on the Sudeva’s official Facebook page, the club’s co-founder and the president, Anuj Gupta, said that Chencho Dorji’s commitment to the club was commendable. “He gives equal importance to all the players and shares a good bonding with the management. He is farsighted.”
The club’s co-founder and vice president, Vijay Hakari, said that Chencho Dorji’s communication with players and management, field knowledge, his passion and caring attitude for the players, especially during Covid-19 pandemic were inspiring. “He believes in developing players.”
Chencho Dorji is from Mongar and joined Sudeva in November last year. He became the first Bhutanese coach to be hired by an international football academy in March last year when he became a new youth coach for Manipur-based FC Imphal City.
“It will be a challenging task being a part of I-league which is mostly managed by coaches from European countries. I-League is one of the best football leagues in South East Asia. It is an opportunity to learn and experience new things,” said Chencho Dorji.
Currently, the club has more than 130 players comprising of both junior and senior players.
His contract period in Sudeva will complete in May next year.
Chencho Dorji was a national coach for 12 years under the Bhutan Football Federation. He also coached the junior teams for SAFF U-19 (Nepal), U-16 (Sri Lanka and Japan), and U-16 AFC qualification (Iran).
Chencho Dorji said that Bhutanese football was gaining momentum and clubs were becoming more professional.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
A windstorm destroyed more than four acres of maize belonging to 19 households at Durungri in Dungmaed gewog, Pemagatshel at around 4am on September 20.
The dzongkhag agriculture officer (DAO), Tashi Phuntsho, said that the gewog agriculture extension officer and gewog administration carried out the assessment and submitted the report to the dzongkhag disaster management office.
“Of the 19 households, three households have been severely affected as they lost more than 10 percent of their crops.”
The DAO said that since maize is in the tasseling stage, most of the plants would recover as they were not severely damaged. This is the second time windstorm had destroyed maize.
He said that the dzongkhag agriculture office would provide high-breed maize seeds to the farmers.
“The estimated yield loss to the storm was found to be more than five metric tonnes.”