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Updated: 1 hour 51 min ago

Cold storage facility in Samtenling to help reduce post-harvest loss

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 13:35

Nima | Tsirang

Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) is building a cold storage facility in Samtenling, Sarpang with a capacity to store more than 300 metric tonnes of agriculture and livestock products.

The storage facility is expected to help farmers find a better market for export and also to supply in the local market.

Without a cold storage facility, there were huge post-harvest losses while exporting and finding the market within the country, especially when the market is flooded with agricultural produce during the peak seasons.

FCB’s Gelephu regional director, Ugyen Choedup said that the facility would improve access to markets and help strategise the marketing of the agriculture and livestock produce both within the country and outside.

“Gelephu has become an important transit point for export after the pandemic prolonged lockdown in Phuentsholing. Almost all export consignments were transited via Gelephu,” he said.

He added that the facility would link domestic and international markets. “We could store during the lean season instead of exporting the products that have to be imported again later. We could store and supply slowly. It would also reduce damage,” said Ugyen Choedup.

He added that the local produce is less preferred when the cheaper imported products flooded the domestic market.

The construction of the cold storage facility started in February worth Nu 38.16 million is expected to complete in the next six months.

The marketing officer with Regional Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (RAMCO), Dawa Dakpa said that it was challenging to export agricultural produce without a storage facility during the pandemic.

“There was no proper place to store the produce. Export consignments were stranded for two to three days. There was a huge post-harvest loss because of high humidity,” he said.

He added that the export of agricultural produce would be better once the cold storage facility is ready.

“We could also maintain a sufficient stock of vegetables at least for the school feeding programme during the lean season,” the official said.

The construction of cold storage facilities comes at a time when the production of vegetables and livestock in the dzongkhag is expected to increase with more farmers venturing on commercial farming.

Sarpang received the highest share of the agriculture economic contingency plan budget of Nu 21 million to enhance vegetable production and to supply vegetables to northern dzongkhags in winter.

More than 18 youth have started commercial livestock farming this year under big-ticket initiatives that was launched to employ unemployed youth and those who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The government has invested over Nu 70 million in various livestock farming in Sarpang.

Sarpang dzongkhag agriculture officials said that farmers could store the vegetables when they struggled to find the market and sell it when the market is good. “Farmers in Sarpang struggle to store excess production of cereals. We are expecting increased production this year.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Lhuentse-Mongar local bus service resumes

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 13:34

… new Mongar-Pemagatshel route opens 

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Local bus service from Lhuentse to Mongar resumed on September 14 almost five months after the previous bus operator stopped the service in April this year.

The news came as a great relief for those in Lhuentse who come to Mongar mainly for treatment at the eastern regional referral hospital and other works including shopping. 

A heart patient from Lhuentse, who visits the regional referral hospital monthly for check-ups, said the past few months without bus service have been difficult because he had to pay exorbitant high charges. “A taxi charges Nu 600 to reach Mongar from Lhuentse but the bus charges only Nu 150.”

The service also benefits those from villages along the highway in Chali and Tsakaling gewogs of Mongar.

Road safety and transport authority (RSTA) officials said that the approval for the new bus was given immediately after the old bus was withdrawn due to a mechanical problem in April. However, the pandemic delayed the arrival of the new bus. 

RSTA’s base in-charge in Lhuentse Damchu Dorji said that the bus would make a round trip everyday on the 75-km national secondary highway throughout the week.

Meanwhile, a new coaster bus service from Pemagatshel to Mongar has started on September 4. RSTA approved it as a temporary route to one of the operators who was operating along the border and whose business suffered due to the pandemic. 

The bus operates six days a week from Tuesday to Sunday.

RSTA officials said the service would continue permanently if it is sustainable.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Change criteria for principal recruitment

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 13:34

With about 119 schools in the country without principals, some teachers have been officiating for decades. In many schools, decisions could not be made because the officiating principals do not have the authority.

The schools are left without principals not because there is dearth of leadership or because the teachers are not interested. Education ministry’s policy that mandates those intending to be principal have a masters degree is the main hindrance.

Local leaders in Dagana were vocal. They proposed the education ministry to revise the policy. The ministry’s human resource committee that framed the policy should have realised this long time when they found the policy was not serving its intended purpose.

Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations do not have such criteria for other professions vying for leadership positions.

 The main problem with such criteria is that it is set by officials in Thimphu who do not understand the problems of not having a principal in schools in remote areas.

If the vacancy of a principal is not filled because the schools are in rural areas, the ministry cannot just leave it there. It has to motivate principals to serve in remote areas by rewarding them through other incentives like promotions or some weightage in interviews. Schools in rural areas deserve competent and qualified principals. Our rural children need motivated principals.

Teachers who have officiated for decades and are passionate deserve the opportunity.

For the ministry, the criteria was set to encourage teachers to take up the masters of education in educational leadership and management the ministry initiated in Paro College of Education.

Teachers should take the opportunity to upgrade their qualification and hone their leadership and management skills, but lack of a masters degree should not stop anyone from becoming principal. Leadership quality of a person is more important than academic degree. Having a masters degree will not guarantee good leadership.

Principals play an important role in motivating teachers and students. They are the cornerstones on which learning in a school functions and grows. An effective principal will provide vision for the school.

His Majesty The King has issued the Royal Kasho on education and we need principals who could implement changes and facilitate adoption of new teaching practices.

Let us remind ourselves that all the knowledge in the world will not make a person a good leader. It is the passion and love for the work and children that will make the difference.

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Anju Gurung to play in Hong Kong 

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 13:32

Staff Reporter 

Bhutan Women’s cricket team vice-captain, Anju Gurung has been selected to participate in the first world FairBreak Invitational Women’s T20 Cricket tournament to be staged in Hong Kong in May 2022.

The 28-year-old will be the first Bhutanese female cricketer to play in an international league tournament.

The left-arm speedster will play in one of the six teams along with some of the world’s greatest international female cricketers.

Anju shared her excitement and said, “As a cricketer, we always look forward to playing on such big stages and I am looking forward to playing in Hong Kong along with the international players.”

“It’ll be a great learning curve for me and also an opportunity to showcase the hidden talents from associate members like Bhutan,” she said. “I hope to pave a pathway for my team and other players from Bhutan.”

The FairBreak Invitational tournament is also the first privately funded tournament for women’s cricket organised by FairBreak Global. It will be in conjunction with the National Cricket Association of Hong Kong. It is a first of a kind tournament approved under the international cricket council (ICC).

Bhutan Cricket’s chief executive officer, Damber Gurung, said this was a good opportunity for women’s cricket and for many associate member countries like Bhutan. 

“It’s an opportunity to display their talent. I have trained Anju personally and I believe she will do wonders at the tournament with her pace and bowling intelligence,” Damber said.

He added that he wrote to the managing director of FairBreak Global, Shaun Martyn, after learning about the tournament. “I had sent preliminary videos of some potential players from Bhutan as per the requirements, and Anju was selected.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Understanding mental health and well-being: Me For Myself

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 13:32

Chhimi Dema

About 50 Bhutanese youths are engaged in the Me For Myself (M4M) campaign that focuses on mental health and well-being.

The campaign also has youth participants from other South Asian countries.

Ayeshwini Lama, 23, co-founder of the campaign, said that M4M evolved from a campaign called “Live Now” which provided the platform for people to share their write-ups during pandemic times.

The campaign started in August last year after understanding that the pandemic had caused distress among people because they lost their livelihoods, Ayeshwini said. “With M4M, we focus on mental disorders and illness, how to cope with mental stress and improve mental health and wellbeing.”

She said that it is difficult to break the social norm that being mentally weak is a character trait.

M4M has three aspects – volunteer, mentorship and school ambassadors programme. However, since the schools in the region were closed last year, the school ambassadors programme could not be started.

Under the volunteer programme, the participants are given tasks to research topics such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, nutrition, and mental health.

Participants create advocacy materials like posters, videos and podcasts that are archived on their website and shared on social media. In between the programme, webinars and interactive sessions are held.

This year, there were more than 350 volunteers for M4M from the regional countries and about 50 from Bhutan.

Karma Choezom, 23, a volunteer said that through M4M she got the opportunity to create media content on various issues surrounding mental health.

Although there are challenges to manage her time, she said, that she learned a lot.

“To bring change in how people view mental health, we have to talk about it and advocate on the issues without reservation,” she said. “M4M helped me look at mental health from various angles allowing me to think of different ways to deal with it.”

According to the World Health Organisation, half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated. “Globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.”

Ayeshwini Lama said that the volunteers were given a free e-course after completion of the programme in three months.

“The takeaway from the campaign is the ability to network with others, get information regarding mental health and become aware of mental health policies of various countries,” she said.

Moreover, policy awareness provides a real-world scenario about what governments are doing and how youth can make the government pay more attention to mental health, she added.

The third volunteer programme is expected to start this winter.

Participation is open to all under the age of 30.

Karma Sangay Phuntsho, a volunteer, said that M4M gave a broader perspective on many issues regarding mental health, new information, and opportunities.

“Mental health is not just about depressive episodes and anxiety. But there is an entire range of issues, and the most important relief was that it can be treated,” he said.

He said that the elder generations are usually neglected while talking about mental health. “I came to realise that mental health should be talked about more.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Commercial youth farmers wait for NLCS’s approval

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 13:31

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

To expand their commercial farming, a youth group in Samarchu, Dagana, proposed to lease 11.40 acres of state land nearby their farm in March this year.

Bimal Gurung, 24, and his two brothers have planted 24,000 winter chilli saplings in their six nurseries. It is ready to be transplanted.

The brothers said they are now confused since concerned authorities did not provide any directives about the land lease.

“I am worried that saplings would go into waste once the cultivation season ends,” one of the brothers, Bimla Subba said.

He said they spent more than Nu 100,000 to construct greenhouses on a cost-sharing basis. “We need to know whether the National Land Commission Secretariat (NLCS)  has approved our proposal.”

The three brothers, who dropped out of school and started commercial chilli farming last year in their three-acre land.

They said the dzongkhag has encouraged them to expand their commercial agriculture and even provided plastic mulching, seeds, and nurseries.

They are expected to transplant the saplings by this month-end or at the beginning of next month.

Dzongkhag agriculture officer, DC Bhandari, said they wrote to the agriculture ministry seeking intervention. “The proposal was forwarded to NLCS.”

Tshendagang gewog’s agriculture officer, Bikash Tamang, said winter chilli production has become critical since the gewog was working towards off-season production. “We were supposed to get the response in July.”

He said if the land lease got approved within 15 days, the brothers won’t run into losses.

It was learnt that agriculture minister Yeshey Penjore responded that while the ministry was insisting on land lease for commercial farming, NLCS encourages the use of private fallow land.

There are 67,000 acres of private fallow land in the country.

Meanwhile, an official from NLCS said that last week he asked the dzongkhag and gewog to resubmit the area’s geolocations to ensure that the land would not be required for other purposes. “We will review the documents and communicate the decision within a week.”

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Parties renewing membership without consent?

Thu, 09/16/2021 - 13:30

MB Subba 

Despite being the ruling party, the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has become the smallest party in terms of membership.

The DNT, which had the largest number of members in the 2018 elections, today has only about 200 registered members, according to the membership lists of political parties. It had more than 11,000 members in 2018.

The other three political parties, however, have retained members, at least in their membership lists. The past trend was that most of the members would resign from their parties soon after the general election.

The Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT), the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP) had 5,267, 5,143 and 1,200 members, respectively, according to the lists published recently by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB).

However, an official said that there could be some instances of the party secretariat retaining members despite them not coming forward to renew their membership.

The issue came to light after some of the aspiring candidates for the upcoming gewog elections found that they were registered members of political parties although they did not renew their membership after the 2018 election.

A tshogpa nominee each from Thimphu and Gelephu thromdes were disqualified during the scrutiny process on the grounds of party affiliation in the second thromde elections held in April this year.

Gyeltshen from South Thimphu wanted to contest as thromde tshogpa and participated in the functional literacy test (FLT). But he found out that he was still a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) although he had not renewed his membership.

“I didn’t renew my membership since 2018 and was thinking that my membership would automatically expire after a year. I was surprised to find out that membership automatically gets renewed if we don’t apply for deregistration,” he said.

He said that he deregistered recently although it was too late.

Similarly, Kelzang Tashi from Choekorling gewog in Pemagatshel was disappointed to know that he was not eligible to contest in the upcoming local government election due to his affiliation with People’s Democracy Party (PDP).

He had applied for deregistration in October expecting that he would meet the cooling off period requirement for the upcoming election. But he found that his deregistration was effective only from February this year.

Members of parties Kuensel talked to said they assumed that they would be automatically deregistered if membership was not renewed.

One of the causes of the issue is that a member should write to the party to deregister himself from the party. But some of the party officials are not clear what would happen to the membership if members neither submit an application for deregistration nor renew their membership.

According to political parties’ charters, party membership would be renewed by paying a nominal fee to the party.

The general secretary of DNT, Phurba, said that it was unethical to retain the membership of people if they do not show interest to stay with the party.

He said that the DNT had the lowest number of members as the party secretariat did not renew membership for those who did not want to.

“After 2018 elections, people did not feel the need to keep their membership because the job of winning the election was done,” he said, adding that many might lose the opportunity of contesting the upcoming local government elections due to the membership issue.

DPT’s general secretary, Sonam Tashi, denied that his party had renewed anyone’s membership without his or her knowledge. “We don’t have the money to renew membership on others behalf.”

PDP’s general secretary, Kuenga Tashi, in an earlier interview said some of the members who had not renewed their membership had wrongly presumed that they were deregistered automatically.

He said that some members who found their membership active expressed their commitment to stay and work with the party.

Almost 12,000 people today are affiliated to political parties, as per the lists of political parties. The number of people affiliated with parties was only 871 in the second LG election in 2016.

The increase in the membership of political parties, observers say, could mean a decrease in choices of candidates in the upcoming elections given the small population as many would be ineligible to contest.

ECB maintains the membership lists based on the lists submitted by political parties.

ECB’s secretariat director, Phub Dorji, said that a member could deregister himself by submitting a letter to the party and that the party gives the updated lists to the ECB.

He said that parties should take responsibility to ensure that a person is deregistered if he no longer wants to remain as a member.

Membership fees are one of the sources of money for parties. A political party can also accept up to Nu 500,000 in voluntary contributions from its registered members as per the election Act.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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REC must be independent, even under MoE

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 11:25

Education must receive the top priority in the larger scheme of a nation’s development. Many argue that education has always been given special importance. But then, there has to be some sense of stability in the system to ensure that what we give to our children is not only relevant but is also well-researched and time-specific. Education is looking ahead, not backwards.

Politics and education can never go hand in hand, in the sense that politicians often must, unfortunately, rely and depend on support groups. RCSC’s organisational development exercise to merge Royal Education Council with the Ministry of Education (MoE) has looked at financial benefits. But when it comes to education of our children, especially when we are talking about space science and major reforms in the education system itself, these changes and arrangements do not fall in the right place.

The Royal Education Council had to go through a lot of push and pull before it became the Royal Education Council. It had to, and rightly, be an independent body of experts to design curriculum from PP to 12, in the fast-changing circumstances. But we messed with its mandate. We are now testing a baccalaureate system of our own, which will be replicated in many schools. This will demand a strong and capable group of curriculum designers.

The fact is that there are many changes happening, but no visible focus in the system.

REC, wherever it is placed, must be independent. Disturbances, internally and externally, will be detrimental, not just to the system of the organisation’s work but they also will have long-term impact on the standards of Bhutanese education.

The employees of REC are professionally trained in their job—to design curriculum relevant to the needs of the citizens and the nation. Any disturbance in the system will have an untold impact on children and the nation’s bigger objectives. That’s why, even as REC is a department under the Ministry of Education, it must be given full autonomy.

RCSC must ensure this on the grounds of OD exercise that it carried out and prove that such interventions are indeed critically necessary. What a monumental waste it would be otherwise!

Accepting that all the changes have happened already, the only option left for us is to ensure that we do not have to begin from zero up again. REC is a professional department now; let it function independently. It is, and has to be always, a think tank for the country’s education development and research. Do not mess their vision and missions up.

Change has come unavoidably but we can still pave the way forward so that our education system remains ever-ready to tackle the challenges of the future. This can only happen by giving respect and independence to the experts who are well-trained and are available to chart the future of Bhutan’s education.

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Embracing solar power to promote clean energy

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 11:22

Yangyel Lhaden 

To diversify renewable energy resources, Department of Renewable Energy (DRE) launched an 11.7 kilowatt peak (kWp) in an hour grid-tied solar photovoltaic (PV) car park and an indirect 500-litre thermosiphon solar water heating system in the economic affairs ministry (MoEA) compound yesterday.

This is the first phase of renewable energy demonstration in MoEA compound.

DRE Director Phuntsho Namgyal said that the initiative was a small step in terms of scale but a giant step in taking solar PV  technology forward in the country. “The initiative is also to enhance the capacity of the department with hands-on experience, and data collection will enable informed policy and decision making.”

The solar PV is installed on the top of a car park and is supplying energy to a building in the office.  It has been a week since the operation of solar PV system. The use of power is monitored through a smart television or a smartphone.

The system generated 168.5 kilowatt-hours in a week. This, according to officials is equivalent to reducing 67.4kg of carbon dioxide or saving nine trees and 67.4kg of coal. The emission was calculated by the system with respect to non-renewable energy required to generate 168.5-kilowatt-hour energy.

Phuntsho Namgyal said that within the past decade the cost of solar power systems has dropped by up to 80 percent. 

“If proper policy support is provided solar energy alone can meet up to 85 percent of energy demand  in the country and meet 25 percent of global energy demand according to IRNA report.”

The grid-tied solar photovoltaic system worth Nu 1.2M was funded by Mr and Mrs Phelps from the USA.  Phuntsho Namgyal said that Mrs Phelp’s only intention was to support climate-resilient through green activities to fight the threats induced by global climate change.

The grid-tied photovoltaic system means the electricity is fed in a transmission line so that solar and hydropower energy can complement each other when solar energy is in short supply.

Tengye Lyonpo (MoEA minister) Loknath Sharma said that the data collected from the system in the building would give a true picture of the impact of solar energy and show whether solar energy was more economical than hydropower.

Lyonpo said we have seen delays in constructing mega hydropower projects, complications, and damages to marine life. “ It is important to diversify energy to renewable resources and in the long run solar energy will help us attain energy security especially during lean season.”

Phuntsho Namgyal said that it took about 18 months to install a solar PV plant in a small area. “Ideally, we aim to see every rooftop with solar panel feeding into the grid and we are aware we are a long way from achieving it but progress is being made.”

He said that the department has planned activities to install two types of solar PV namely grid and decentralised system. “ DRE installed decentralized solar PV in Aja Ney in Mongar where installing transmission line for hydropower is not feasible.”

An indirect thermosiphon solar water heating system is installed at a cost of Nu 450,000. An indirect thermosiphon solar water heating system is a technology that uses solar energy to heat the water. A water tank supplies water through pipes inside the solar panel, the water is heated and transferred to a geyser for storage. The water can stay hot for up to 12 hours.

The solar water output system is a part of the project Promotion of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficient Technologies in the Building Sector funded by the Australian Development Agency.

In the first phase, Department is going to install 45 solar water heating systems in public institutions (25), residential (10), and commercials (10).

Phuntsho Namgyal said solar water heating systems to public institutions would be provided free of cost and for residential and commercials projects would chip in 40 percent.

The solar water heating system is part of Alternative Renewable Energy Policy- 2013 to achieve the target of 3MW equivalent energy generation from solar water heating systems by 2025.

Edited by Tshering Palden

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Geptay-Satsam road in dire need of maintenance

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 11:19

Phub Dem | Paro

Motorists and pedestrians commuting towards Geptay from Paro town are frustrated with the worsening road condition every year.

With the bridge en route Geptey worn out, commuters are worried it might collapse any time.

The road stretch is also filled with potholes and is worse than farm roads.

Residents living along the roads complain of dust during the dry season and muddy puddles during the monsoon. Walking along the road is a challenge.

Many drivers try to avoid the stretch as it damages the vehicles and the area is accident-prone as it is narrow and bumpy.

A regular motorist, Sonam, said that it had been more than two years since the road condition remained the same without any maintenance.

He claimed that it was difficult to drive along the stretch, especially during the rainy season as cars slipped.

He said some residents decided to maintain the road but couldn’t proceed as it was public property.

Another resident, Prem Maya, who runs a garment shop along the road, said customers were not willing to visit her shop because of the road condition.

Although her shop is right next to the town, she said customers were reluctant to even walk to her shop due to the muddy and bumpy road.

During a heavy downpour, she said that muddy water destroys her items displayed for sales, such as mattresses, beds, and carpets. “It is becoming difficult for shopkeepers. Our items usually remained covered against rain and dust.”

A Geptay resident, Karma Dema, said the roads are mostly covered with potholes starting from town to Satsam Choeten.

She said that the road was important for those residing and growing crops in Nemjo, Shomu, Gongju and Geptay.

She said that the road damages light vehicles and it was difficult even to hire cabs as drivers were reluctant to drive along the damaged roads. “Usually taxi drivers charge extra fare because of the road conditions.”

She also said not many people want to rent houses along Geptay road. “In the past, about six people would come looking for rental space.”

The road above Sompal Driving Centre mostly remains flooded due to poor drainage and irrigation canals.

Wangchang Gup Kuenzang Rinzin said road maintenance and blacktopping were underway along with the hospital road widening project.

He, however, said the bridge reconstruction was not included in the project. “There was no budget allocated for the bridge, but gewog would study and allocate budget considering the situation.”

According to sources, gewog doesn’t have a separate budget for blacktopping and it was the government that initiated the work, adding that the results usually lack quality.

During the deliberation on the budget allocation for the financial year 2021-2022 in dzongkhag tshogdu, Lamgong Gup Gem Tshering emphasised on the proper distribution of budget as the gewog has many important activities.

He said that the road connecting Geptay to Satsam Choeten benefits four gewogs of Lungnyi, Wangchang, Lamgong and Tsento. “Road improvement should be included in the plan activities.”

He requested the dzongkhag administration to reprioritise the budget.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Chang residents disappointed with agriculture marketing agent 

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 11:18

Thinley Namgay

Thimphu dzongkhag agriculture officials will assess the performance of the agriculture marketing agent in Hongtsho after residents of Chang gewog raised their dissatisfaction with the agent at recent dzongkhag tshogdu.

The private agriculture marketing agent was started in Hongstho in 2005 with the renewal of one year contract by the dzongkhag.

Thimphu Dzongkhag’s Assistant Agriculture Officer, Wangdila, said that the tshogdu decided to send agriculture officials from the dzongkhag to investigate the issue.

“We have received a complaint from the gewog office stating that the agent does not fulfil his mandate. Officials will check his services and meet with the residents,” said Wangdila.

According to Wangdila, the agent’s primary responsibility is to buy seeds and fertiliser from the National Seed Centre in Paro and distribute them to the residents of Chang. “Dzongkhag used to give him a commission of 10 percent depending on the sales.”

Chang Gup Ugyen said that the agent was essential for the community as many depend on agriculture.

He said that Chang gewog was a fertile place to grow vegetables for which the timely supply of seeds and fertiliser is critical. “I am glad that the team from dzongkhag agriculture sector will visit the site soon.”

Hongtsho resident Minjur Wangmo said that unlike in the past, market opportunities for the villagers are improving with road connectivity. But authorities concerned should encourage people by providing basic needs such as seed and fertiliser on time.

“Some people in Hongtsho have been growing vegetables on acres of land as they have a ready market in Thimphu thromde” she said.

Another resident, Jamyang Lhamo from Yusipang said that the village was going to use their mini processing factory constructed with the help of dzongkhag this year.

She said that the mini-factory would collect the vegetables from residents who could not sell in the market. “We’ll do the value addition in our factory.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

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JAB trains rural communities on citizen journalism

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 11:17

Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

As part of the Journalists’ Association of Bhutan’s (JAB) effort to strengthen rural populations’ involvement in healthy discussions on social issues affecting their communities, about 120 people from six dzongkhags were trained on the use of social media platforms.

Two senior journalists from Ox Media conducted the month-long training, which was divided into citizen journalism and social media.

One of the facilitators, Tshering Dorji, said that the citizen journalism workshop focused on how people can use various social media platforms to report news and issues and become active citizen journalists by using social media platforms. “This is important since a lot of mainstream news outlets cannot reach these areas and are least covered.”

The second component of the workshop, he said, introduced the participants on the different social media platforms and how to use each of these platforms to share news. “We also delved into some aspects of cyber security and digital financial literacy.”

The workshop, which recently ended in Lingzhi, targeted semi-literate and school dropouts living in remote communities.

Tshering Dorji said that JAB would create a website to document the issues affecting the communities and also create a WeChat group among participants and journalists.

Another facilitator, Nidup Gyeltshen said that although it was exhausting to cover many dzongkhags in a short period of time, the job was rewarding. “Our rural folks are eager to voice their issues and engage with journalists to highlight key issues affecting their communities.”

He cited the example of how participants in Lingzhi highlighted on issues such as the human wildlife conflict, stray dog nuisance, overharvesting of cordyceps, and yak disease outbreak.

At the workshop in Tsirang conducted on August 28, participants from Mendrelgang reported about the lack of reliable water supply for paddy cultivation in the dzongkhag despite being the organic capital of the country.

A participant from Pemashong chiwog, Ugyen Wangmo, said that the workshop had helped them understand social media policies.

She said that she used to post and share unverified information on Facebook and WeChat but she now knows the rules. “I should first crosscheck the information.”

She said that she also did not know that people could raise issues on social media.  “Instead of reporting to the local government, we would be able to come up with solutions by sharing on social media. I am planning to use the platform meaningfully.”

Another user, Nima Dorji, said that WeChat was popular among people in his communities including the elderly and the illiterate.

He said unverified information and fake news were shared in the group chats. “With the training, I hope such trends would decrease in the community.”

The facilitators said that while rural communities had a fair understanding and awareness on social issues and the use of social media, there is a general lack of empowerment to use social media to highlight their issues.

“One area where more awareness is required is to generate useful and meaningful content on social media platforms,” Tshering Dorji said.

He said that most users on social media use the platform to consume news and entertainment, which could be used for engagement in healthy discourse but with contents based on facts.

JAB’s programme officer, Sangay Choki, said that digital literacy is poor in Bhutan despite the fact that a sizeable amount of the population is online. “As a part of the training, JAB has facilitated the formation of community-based social media platforms to build two-way communication between the media and community members.”

She said that the workshop trained people to access online apps and tools, particularly G2C apps such as educational services, security clearance, audit clearance, business services, among others.

The training is supported by the United Nations Democracy Fund.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Swimming pools New attraction in Damphu town

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 11:16

Choki Wangmo

The new swimming pool is the talk of Damphu town.

Located between Damphu public football ground and Damphu Municipal office, since its inauguration towards the end of last month, more than 100 people have availed the services.

Many are waiting for their turn to take a dip in the two pools.

Majority of the visitors are young people.

Ayush, a class-two student, is a regular visitor. Pool operator Dechen said that before the swimming gate opens around 10 in the morning, he is often seen waiting at the gate. He pays Nu 150 an hour.

Donning his superman swimsuit with a matching swimming cap and goggles, he wears a look of someone who takes swimming seriously. “It is my interest. I am excited and like to be in the pools.”

He sometimes skips his classes to be at the swimming pool.

“I visit from Friday to Sunday,” said Ayush who even likes to swim at the pool for adults which is at least 1.8 metres deep.

Kinley Dorji recently came to visit his sister in Damphu. The 25-year-old final year student was also excited about the swimming pools which he heard from his sister.

“Here the pools for adults and children are separate, water is clean and the price is reasonable,” he said.

However, he said that connecting gate between the two pools would make it easier to maintain hygiene. There is a need for separate washrooms and changing rooms for children, he said. “The operators could provide services such as hiring swimsuits.”

Dechen, who leased the pool from the dzongkhag administration for two years, said that at least 10 people visit the pools every day. “The customers increase during weekends.”

She said that since it was first of its kind in the dzongkhag, people are visiting out of curiosity. “Everyone wants to explore.”

De-suups are deployed to control crowd during weekends. To reduce the risk of Covid-19, the visitors are required to use Druk Trace app and take the antigen test. 

Dechen is in the process of developing token system to avoid huge gatherings in the pool area.

Many visitors are monks from Tsirang Dratshang.

Namgay Lhendup and his friends take leave from the dratshang to visit the swimming pools once or twice a week. He likes swimming and is interested to learn more. However, he avoids the visit on weekends as there are more people.

His friend Dawa has visited four times already. He said that he wanted to swim on the day of inauguration but couldn’t due to a huge crowd.

“I come whenever I have free time. A futsal ground nearby would be perfect,” said Dawa who loves being outdoors. 

Dechen’s husband, who is also a passionate swimmer, said that he expects the business to do well in summer. “Winter might be challenging if there is no heating system.”

The dzongkhag administration has plans to install electric or solar heating system and build roof over the swimming pools.

Dechen has to pay Nu 40,000 to the administration. The water bill comes to about Nu 8,000 monthly.

  She also runs a small canteen within the swimming pool enclosure.

They have plans to provide swimming classes in the future and provide membership opportunities to attract more people. They are also in the process of recruiting a guard to avoid accidents at the pool.

The couple said that currently it is challenging. With only one water storage tank and one inlet to the pools, it takes about five days to refill the pools. They drain out and wash the pools twice a month.

During refill and cleaning, they cannot operate for five days.

The two pools— adult (20m by 12m) with 20-people capacity and children (12m by 6m) with a depth of 90cm and capacity of 15 children—were constructed by the dzongkhag at the cost of Nu 4.2 million.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Autonomous REC merged with MoE again

Wed, 09/15/2021 - 11:15

Office to be relocated to Thimphu by December

Yangchen C Rinzin 

As recommended in the Royal Civil Service Commission’s (RCSC) organisational development exercise, the Royal Education Council will again be merged with the Ministry of Education (MoE).

The REC will now function as a Department of Curriculum and Professional Development and no longer be an autonomous agency. It has remained an autonomous agency under the RCSC since 2014.

Although staff of REC office located in Paro were asked to move to the capital, an official from the REC said that they have requested the ministry to consider and allow them to move after December.

Officials said that the decision was an outcome of organisational development exercise and there was no option than to merge with the education ministry after having delinked from the same ministry seven years ago.

However, it was learnt that it was not a recent development.

An official said they were informed about the merger in January this year and were told to move to Thimphu in April.

“It’s not easy because we have families here, spouses working and students in the school, which is why we requested to defer till December,” the official said.

An official said that the ministry has deferred the relocation of office till December giving them time to prepare.

REC was first established through a royal command in August 2007 to initiate and implement education reform across the spectrum, covering school education, technical and tertiary education.    

Following several discussions, the REC was later merged with the education ministry’s department of curriculum and research development (DCRD) to avoid duplication of work.

REC and DCRD was then merged as an autonomous agency on December 12, 2014. It was delinked from the ministry to conduct educational research, curriculum and technical development.

During the merger in 2014, REC had to lay off 42 employees. Officials said they did not hear of any employee lay off this time.

As the new department, the REC has proposed five new divisions to be headed by the REC’s existing curriculum specialists.

The RCSC has approved the divisions, which included STEM division, language and humanitarian, commercial, educational technology and publication, and teacher professional development.

“Everything will be finalised once the office is relocated to Thimphu after December,” an official said.

The official added that the ministry’s current teacher profession support division would likely be a part of the Department of Curriculum and Professional Development. “Some officials from the ministry will also join the new department.”

Meanwhile, few officials shared that it was illogical to relocate the office to Thimphu after they were asked to move to Paro years ago.

Some officials shared that the relocation is coming at a time when the government was already looking into decongesting Thimphu by relocating offices to other dzongkhags.

“We don’t see any added value to move back to Thimphu. We were asked to move to Paro in the name of decongesting offices and now that philosophy is not there anymore.”

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Class VII and VIII students in P/ling return to schools

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:32

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

A 12-year-old Class VII student of Phuentsholing Lower Secondary School (PLSS), Shrijana Khatiwara, was overjoyed yesterday.

She was returning to school after about five months of online studies.

“I am extremely happy to be back to school,” she said. “I met my friends after a long time. I kept in touch with them during the lockdown.”

She said learning online was difficult. “Learning in the classroom is much better. Teachers can guide us and also explain lessons better.”

Phuentsholing went into lockdown on April 17. Although partial relaxations were given depending on the zones, the town didn’t see full relaxations until August 10. All schools were closed.

While students from Classes IX to XII were relocated to Punakha last month, students of pre-primary to class VIII learnt online.

Since Phuentsholing Higher Secondary School (PHSS) and Phuentsholing Middle Secondary School (PMSS) premises are used for Covid-19 related purposes, students of these schools have been accommodated at Sonamgang Middle Secondary School (SMSS) and Phuentsholing Lower Secondary School (PLSS) respectively.

The schools are operating with strict Covid-19 protocols prepared by the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC19TF).

The principal of PLSS, Chimi Rinzin, said the school is operated as per the SC19TF standard operating procedure (SOP).

“Our campus is also used by the PMSS students,” he said.

The students of the two schools have different entrance and timing so that the students do not crowd. The morning assembly is also not conducted. Students directly attend the classes.

The principal of PMSS, Tshewang, said the students are happy to return to the school.

“As per the SOP, we also have a counselling room, a health room, and an isolation room,” he said. “There is a difference of 30 minutes. Our students come after the PLSS students are already in the classes.”

Meanwhile, it is exactly a month now Phuentsholing has not seen Covid-19 case from the community. On September 13, 410 samples were collected from enhanced surveillance areas, flu clinics, communities and quarantine facilities in Phuentsholing.

The samples received from other dzongkhags also tested negative as of yesterday.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Khelekha block open for commuters

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:31

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Almost three days after the road width at Khelekha along the Wangdue-Trongsa highway was washed off on September 11, the road opened to traffic last night.

Travellers had been stranded at Khelekha, located around 27km from Wangdue bridge towards Trongsa for over three days until yesterday night.

Department of Roads (DoR) had been trying to create a bypass since September 11.

According to Chief Engineer with the Department of Roads’ regional office in Lobesa, Karma Tenzin, four excavators were deployed at site to create bypass.

Many travellers stuck at the location were returning to Wangdue for the block to clear. Others, mostly truckers, were camped near the site.

Jamyang Gyeltshen, who was planning to travel to Tashiyangtse, said that he had been in Wangdue since he heard of the roadblock at Khelekha. “I am waiting in Bajo with by elder brother for the block to clear.”

Among the many stranded at the location was a group of journalists and health staff moving to Bumthang for a five-day workshop on September 12.

Bhutan Times’ reporter, Lhakpa Tshering, said that because the planned meeting couldn’t be postponed, they walked on foot for around 20 minutes, passing the roadblock to reach the other side of the block.

He added that the team left for Bumthang around 5:30pm on September 12. “We reached Khelekha from Thimphu around 12:30pm and waited for the vehicle coming from Bumthang. Although the vehicles had come early from Bumthang, there were multiple blocks—Chuserbu and Yontongla—which is why they took time to reach here,” Lhakpa Tshering said.

The blocks were cleared during their return journey.

According to sources, public transport buses were also stranded at both ends of the roadblock as of yesterday evening.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Picture story

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:30

 Samuh launched the first crime series called “Jarawa” (Undercover) highlighting human trafficking on September 11. The film involves a young policewoman as an undercover agent to bust a human trafficking racket.

Samuh’s chief executive officer, Nyema Zam, said that recognising the importance of creating awareness for vulnerable women who could fall victim to human trafficking, there was a need for creating a medium such as films to get to these women.

Creating pathways for sustainable food systems

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:30

Chhimi Dema

Various representatives from stakeholders relevant to the agricultural sector yesterday took stock of Bhutan’s future in agriculture.

Themed “Strengthening Bhutanese Food System for Gross National Happiness”, the dialogue discussed Bhutan’s food systems and the Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) Strategy 2040 to gather the recommendations and ideas from different sectors.

MoAF’s chief planning officer, Karma Tshering, said that collaboration from all sectors was critically important for sustainable food system in the country.

The recommendation and findings of the regional and national dialogue will be consolidated and made into a pathway document that would be presented during the UN Food Systems Summit (FSS) on September 23 this year.

The UN FSS aims to establish the future direction and launch bold actions to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.

Karma Tshering said the concerns raised during the dialogues were on fallow land because of rural-urban migration, water and irrigation, and marketing agricultural produce.

The major transformative pathways are viewing agriculture from the food security perspective and not just from food self-sufficiency and consistent farming that has been practised this far, he said.

Moreover, looking at the agricultural sector from a digital perspective, private sector participation, and the government as a facilitator and enabler in taking on board all sectors are some transformative areas, he said, which could build sustainable food systems.

“If we can tackle the issues of production, we have a sufficient amount of agriculture and horticulture produce,” Karma Tshering said. “Because of the scale and difficulties of production, rather than exporting, we are importing huge commodities.”

In 2019, Bhutan imported food (includes cereals, processed food, dairy, edible oil, meat and vegetables, fruits and spices) worth Nu 9.4 Billion (B) and Nu 8.9B worth in 2018.

Karma Tshering said that one of the ways to address food import is for the government to support the private sector with subsidies and enable them to reduce import.

Another way, he said, is to create an enabling environment such as tax subsidies, financial incentives and upscaling provisions for loans from existing banking sectors.

The first-ever RNR Strategy 2040 is also due to complete this year. The consultation regarding it started in 2018.

Karma Tshering said that the strategy would be the “mother document” that would guide the development of the agricultural sector in the country.

The strategy would look at how the country can be self-sufficient.

During the dialogue, Bhutan Ecological Society’s executive director, Nawang Norbu (PhD), highlighted that limited landholding, crop loss to wildlife and weather, limited inputs such as in irrigation, and labour constraints in the sector, are some of the challenges in the agricultural sector today.

Nawang Norbu said that there is a need to encourage, incentivise, and support climate-smart productions systems.

“Especially for Thimphu, if we ensure a steady supply of high-quality essential produce, it will entice youth,” he said, adding it will contribute to image building of farming as a technology-based enterprise.

What the country needs today, he said, is focus and interventions on strategic crops production, strengthening market information and building supply chain management, among others.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Rape in Punakha

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:29

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Police in Punakha detained a 27-year-old man for allegedly raping his 17-year-old sister-in-law on August 21.

The alleged incident occurred early morning on August 21.

The suspect is from Dzomi gewog in Punakha.

According to sources, the suspect had come home drunk and allegedly entered the victim’s room and raped her.

Sources said that when the victim told her elder sister, who is the suspect’s wife, about the incident, the sister confronted her husband, but he became aggressive. The two sisters ran away from the house and stayed in a neighbour’s house.

It was learnt that the man and his wife came to stay with the younger sister since the father was away from the house.

The sisters informed the father and he reported the matter to the police. The suspect initially admitted to the crime to the police but later denied it. However, medical report confirmed the sexual assault.

Based on the suspect’s confession and the medical examination confirming that the victim was raped, Punakha police forwarded the case to the Attorney General’s Office yesterday.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Picture story

Tue, 09/14/2021 - 11:26

 Fire razed a single-storey traditional house to the ground in Minjiwong village of Serthi gewog, Samdrupjongkhar, on the night of September 12.

Although no casualties were reported, the house owner reportedly lost belongings worth about Nu 100,000 and Nu 10,000 cash to the fire. An electric short circuit is suspected of having caused the fire.