Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Although the recent news of positive Covid-19 cases in Falakata, India has generated some fear among people, importers continue to import vegetables and fruits.
But they observe utmost prevention measures and care.
Falakata, an Indian town from where Bhutanese imports vegetables and fruits, is about 60km away from Phuentsholing.
Recently, Indian media reported that four people were tested positive for Covid-19 in Falakata. They had returned home from different states after completing quarantine periods.
On an average, every day, about 25 Indian vehicles enter Phuentsholing with vegetables and fruits.
Starting April 15 until May 19 this year, record with BAFRA office in Phuentsholing shows that the country imported 536 truckloads of vegetables and fruits. This includes 1,290.34 metric tonnes (MT) of vegetables, 155.05MT of fruits, and 72.2MT of areca nut and betel leafs.
As part of the prevention procedure, vegetable importers first register the details of the vehicle number and driver with Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory (BAFRA) office in Phuentsholing.
BAFRA then forwards the details to Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA) from where the information is passed to the Covid-19 Task Force. This information is managed before the Indian vehicle from Falakata brings in the produces to Phuentsholing.
While entering Bhutan, Indian trucks are given a token number before entering the port. When their turn arrives for transshipment, the Bhutanese vehicle is allowed to enter the port. Only one person is allowed to enter into the port. The Bhutanese and the Indian individuals also do not come in contact while making the cash payment.
Labourers, all Bhutanese, are already at the port for transshipment manual job.
The billing documents are also directly passed to the customs officials at the port, which are then channeled for necessary taxing.
Importers said that there were no other options than to import fruits and vegetables from Falakata.
Phuntsho Wangdi imports fruits and vegetables from both Falakata and Dhupguri, another Indian town, about 65kms away from Phuentsholing. “I heard about positive cases in Falakata and it is scary,” he said. “But this is the only option.”
Chorten Gayser, a shopkeeper from Mongar, imported vegetables and fruits on May 4.
“I import four times in a month these days,” he said. “I am worried but I have no other option.”
Chorten said that moving the vegetable port to the old customs office was better and safe compared to taking the consignments to the mini dry port (MDP). With the country’s consignments landing at the MDP, Chorten said it was getting too crowded and it was risky.
Kuensel also talked to Indian drivers from Falakata who said there was no issue bringing in the vegetables.
A vegetable dealer in Falakata, Basantu, said that delivering the vegetables did not involve too much hassle. Prevention measures are observed strictly while entering Bhutan.
However, as the import continues, for now, safety is the highest priority.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The two central dzongkhags of Trongsa and Bumthang are witnessing a green revolution.
Over hundreds of acres of fallow lands that remained barren for decades in these two dzongkhags have been converted into farmlands today.
Of the many projects, the Wobthang Organic Wonders popularly know as the WOW initiative in Tang, Bumthang has become an inspiration for many to take up agriculture.
Thirty-five acres of land in Wobthang has been converted into a fertile landscape for cultivation recently. An initiative of the opposition leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho (PhD) and his partners, WOW aims to produce organic produces.
The project in collaboration with local government and the agriculture ministry will expand the existing community diary farm by providing improved pasture grown at Wobthang.
According to officials, should things work as per the plan, the WOW farm could eventually become a training and development centre for commercial farming in the country.
Also, more than 15 acres of land at Gorthak in Chumey, Bumthang is being prepared for cultivation. The land had remained fallow for more than 15 years.
Villagers said that given the severe human-wildlife conflict in the area, they could not effectively use the land. Majority of the people here depend on weaving yathra (wool) products.
The gewog administration has conducted land reclamation in the area on a cost-sharing basis with villagers.
Chumey gup Jamphel said that there were several acres of land left uncultivated. The gewog has also prepared more than 15 acres of land for cultivation in other chiwogs.
The gewog last year reclaimed around 10 acres of land for cultivation. People will grow buckwheat and wheat. Potatoes would also be grown.
In Trongsa, the farm machinery centre has started a farming project called the Phaithang Eco Agro Farm (PEAF). The project is reclaiming around 50 acres of fallow land for large-scale commercial farming.
The farm will produce the currently banned vegetables such as beans, chillies and cauliflower. Officials said that the farm would make sure that all these vegetables are made available in the country.
To generate interest among youth to take up farming, PEAF has also started a month-long programme ‘Earn and Learn’ about a month ago. Under the programme, agriculture experts are called to provide practical and theoretical lessons to the participants.
Officials said that the farm would also supply tomatoes for a year throughout the country from its greenhouse.
A recent class XII graduate, Tshering Lhamo will join five other youth from the village for the project.
Project director, Jitshen Wangchuck, said that the project was started to fulfill the national goal of food self-sufficiency. The project will recruit youth who are interested to take agriculture.
He said that in the beginning the farm would be supplying the products to Trongsa dzongkhag and gradually begin to supply to the hospital and dratshang. The project will also serve as a collection centre, where farmers can sell the surplus products.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
In seven gewogs in Samdrupjongkhar, there are a total of 45.5 acres of land left fallow, which is being brought under cultivation
Martsala, Gomdar, Phuntshothang, Lauri, Langchenphu, Serthi, Orong and Langchenphu together have brought 45.5 acres of land under cultivation.
People in these gewogs are focusing on growing vegetables. The people of Phudukhar in Orong are preparing land for the winter vegetable among others.
“Our main target is to achieve self-sufficiency in agricultural products,” a farmer said.
While fallowing of land is not a problem in Samrang, Dewathang, Wangphu and Pemathang gewogs, the people in these gewogs have also begun growing vegetables.
Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer (DAO), Chorten Gyeltshen, said that fallowing of land was due to goongtong, human-wildlife conflict, and lack of irrigation and farm roads, among others.
He said that the dzongkhag agriculture office provided the greenhouse, seeds and technical support to the people. “The main objective is to produce enough vegetables should there be a lockdown because of the increasing Covid-19 cases in the country,” Chorten Gyeltshen said.
Jampani Nyamlay Tshogpa’s secretary, Lhaten Dorji, said that crop loss to wild animals was the major problem facing the people.
Sonam Choden, a farmer, said that people faced acute water shortage in winter.
The local leaders said that the budget was allocated to improve irrigation facilities in the chiwogs and villages.
Coinciding with Lord Buddha’s Pranivana yesterday, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering launched the logo to commemorate the 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty The King at Changangkha Lhakhang, Thimphu.
Lyonchhen said that the launch of the logo is part of the year-long celebration of His Majesty’s 40th birth anniversary this year.
Lyonchhen said that the turning of the thousand-spoked golden wheel denotes secular and spiritual sovereignty protected by a universal Buddhist monarch.
“Equally, the wheel symbolises a beneficial movement that travels everywhere without obstacles, overcoming all challenges.
“The 40th birth anniversary of His Majesty the King is depicted by the golden wheel of a universal Buddhist monarch as his reign forges ahead with exemplary governance towards happiness and wellbeing, and harmony with nature. The distinctive Buddhist monarchy of Bhutan is depicted by the Rave Crown.
“The auspicious birth of His Majesty The King on February 21, 1980 corresponding to Iron Monkey Year, is indicated in Dzongkha-cursive forty that echoes with the symbol of the Sun and Moon which shines on the world with their blazing luminosity.”
The logo was designed by Dasho Karma Ura.
Senior government officials and representatives from the monastic body, and various agencies attended the launch.
Three gewogs have acute shortage of water for irrigation
Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue
The people of Wangduephodrang take pride in the varieties of indigenous rice they grow. From Nabja to Tantshering to Wangdakam, the dzongkhag is known for rice.
High on the pride list is the Shar gi Wangdakam grown in the shar region, Bjena gewog. However, rice cultivation that needs plenty of water for almost four months is under threat from the shortage of irrigation water.
Shortage of water is forcing farmers to leave fields fallow. Records with the dzongkhag agriculture sector shows that over 1,780 acres of land has been left fallow.
Of that 50 percent is in the three gewogs of Gasetshogom, Gasetshowom, and Phangyul gewogs.
In Phangyul, of about 1,000 acres of command land (cultivated and cultivable land), more than 370 acres remain fallow. The Phangyul-Kumchi chiwog, which has around 175 households, is among the many affected in the gewog.
According to Phangyul gup Ugyen, almost all land in Phangyul-Kumchi remained fallow despite farmer’s effort to cultivate.
He added that because lack of water has affected irrigation, farmers tried cultivating chillies. That too failed. Similarly, in Genkha chiwog, around 50 percent of the land remains uncultivated. And in Chumgen, around 30 percent of the land was not cultivated.
Famers of Gasetshogom have resorted to finding employment outside the gewog as farming is affected without water. According to Gasetshogom gup, Kinley Gyeltshen, due to lack of water, people find work in other’s field (those with water), work at construction site and along the roads.
“If not for the rain, they cannot do anything. So they have to find another source of income,” Kinley Gyeltshen said.
Of five chiwogs in the gewog, four of it has serious water issues. The affected includes around 150 households.
Wangdue’s water issue, apart from drying of the water sources is also because of the traditional water distribution system. Most in Gasetshogom gewog despite owning land, doesn’t have access to water. This according to Kinley Gyeltshen is because in the past, despite one selling their land, the share of the water is not sold with the land.
When it is paddy transplantation time, quarrels and arguments are common in the dzongkhag. “We also have unresolved court cases, which is an issue for everyone,” said Kinley Gyeltshen.
If not for the water issues, Wangdue bears major potential in agriculture. Wangdue is home to seven verities of rice like Wangdakam, Tantshering, Machum, Nabja, Mapp phogom, Bonday, Bajo kapp and Bajo mapp. Wangdakam produced from Bjena gewog is a speciality and sells for around Nu 250 in market.
There are solutions identified, which could run into millions of ngultrums. The Wangdue dzongkhag has identified three major waters sources.
For Gasetshogom and Gasetshowom gewogs, the water source at Hasotshamchu located around 43km from the gewogs was identified. The dzongkhag has proposed Nu 125 million (M) budget for the project. However, on further study, the dzongkhag concluded that a total of Nu 251M was required for procuring and laying of the pipes.
The dzongkhag is today seeking additional budget. According to Wangdue’s Planning Officer, Passang Dorji, if approved the project would benefit around 532 households.
He added that another source at Baychu will help resolve the issue in Phangyul gewog. A budget of Nu 187M from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was already approved. Groundwork has begun to bring the water located around 34km from the gewog.
Another source from Pangza chhu in Khotokha has also been identified to help water issues in Ruebisa and Bjena gewog.
The project has secured a fund of Nu 50M from the Small Development Projects and another Nu 67.65M from GCF. Work will begin in 2021 and will be completed by 2023.
Tshering Namgyal | Lhuentse
Seven months ago, Karma joined the Land Use Certificate (LUC) programme in Gulibi in Minjey gewog, Lhuentse along with two other farmers.
The programme was initially operated by 17 youth and dropped to three when Karma and two more members joined in December. However, today Karma is the lone farmer running the programme at the 15-acre farm after his colleagues left two months ago. His wife who works at a dairy processing unit assists the 40-year-old.
With 15 cows, the couple has started a commercial dairy farm. There are five milking cows that produce around 45 litres of milk a day. With no direct market for their produce, the couple sells the milk at the Lhamo Norguenma milk-processing unit run in Minjey gewog.
Development of the LUC programme was introduced in Minjey gewog in 2018 shortly after launching similar programmes in Jarey and Maedtsho gewogs. Initially, the farm at Gulibi had 17 members of which majority were out of school youth.
In the beginning, members cultivated potatoes and highland paddy including some vegetables. By midway last year, dairy farming was also introduced.
However, there was a problem. Members started dropping out of the programme.
Sonam Dorji, a former member said that although the land was fertile and there were no major challenges associated with the work in the programme, he had to leave as there was no one to stay back at home.
Other reasons for leaving the programme are other job opportunities and leaving the village with spouses after marriage and family issues among others. Some of the members blamed poor leadership and lack of accountability and management of the group leader for leaving the programme.
Karma, however, wanted to continue and he wanted to take up both agriculture and dairy production. “I requested my friends to stay back but they left. So it was difficult for me to take up both the activities and decided to dedicate commercial farming,” he said.
Clearing the thick undergrowth at the site, he has now turned a major portion of the land into pastureland. He has also planted chillies, beans and broccoli for self-consumption.
“The government support has been very helpful. Even parents can’t afford to provide similar support to their own children. I am not leaving this at any cost,” Karma said.
Construction of a dairy processing unit is underway at the site. The dzongkhag assistant livestock officer, Phurpa Tshering, who is the LUC programme coordinator said the equipment for the unit has been ordered.
In the long run, Phurpa Tshering said that the dzongkhag would include additional members. “However, we need to make them sign formal and strict undertakings if they want to become members.”
Meanwhile, the two LUC programmes with 10-acre fields each in Jarey and Maedtsho gewogs have taken up poultry farming with 300 birds each. In Jarey gewog, two youth operate the programme in Thonglingbi, while a lone member runs the LUC farming in Jagarbi, Maedtsho gewog.
The youth groups started poultry farming for immediate income generation, and also carried out protected vegetable cultivation inside greenhouses as they waited for the fertility of soil to improve.
The two LUC programmes in Mongar are also doing well. The programme at Thangbrang in Silambi gewog has eight youth farms on the 10-acres land. They grow vegetables and rear poultry. They had their first harvest in April this year.
Beginning this year, the group also started shiitake mushroom farming with the inoculation of 2,500 billets. They grow commercial vegetables like chilies, fruit nursery and poultry. The group also takes up contractual farming with other farmers for rajma beans and sweet buckwheat.
The programme in Thangbrang is one of the potential commercial organic farming sites in Mongar led by a youth group. The programme is linked with schools under the school and hospital feeding programme.
Another LUC programme with 16 acres at Nyamey in Ngatshang gewog that started in April 2018 has expanded their area from cultivation of vegetables like chillies, cabbage, garlic, spinach and potatoes in small scale last year to around 10 acres (eight acres peas and two acres of potatoes) this year.
The group also runs a poultry farm with 700 birds. The group plans to further expand their business with 6,000 chicks and start a dairy farm with four jersey cows. They are also planning to start fishery with two ponds.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Pemagatshel
Members of Nazhoen Sanam Sazhi Chey-chong Tshogpa (NSSCT), an agriculture group in Norbugang gewog, Pemagatshel are desperate. After successfully running the group for three years, the business is at risk of closing today.
In 2017, seven school dropout girls started mass agriculture farming in Tanzama village after leasing a private land. With the expiry of the three-year lease agreement on May 10 this year, the group currently does not have land to continue their business.
One of the members, Kunzang Cheki, said that the group earned about Nu 250,000 so far from growing paddy, chillies, beans and cabbages, among others.
“The business was very helpful for poor families like ours. However, with the landlord refusing to extend the lease agreement, we cannot continue doing this,” said Kunzang Cheki.
The members have written to the Nganglam drungkhag administration seeking support.
Kunzang Cheki said that they have requested agriculture officials to help them obtain government land on lease. “We are interested in agricultural farming and there is government land in Tanzama.”
For the time being, the group has cultivated chillies, beans, cabbages and nuts in a 30 decimal wetland that belongs to one of the group members.
The group recently sold more than 60 kilogrammes of chillies and would be soon taking the other vegetables to the market. A kilogramme of chilli was sold between Nu 200 to Nu 350.
“We started the group to achieve self-sufficiency in agricultural products and also to market in other dzongkhags. But today, we are left without land. We are all passionate about farming but sometimes it’s demotivating when there are issues like this,” said Sonam Norzom, another member of the group.
Other members said that since the private landlords do not lease out their land for more than three years, they are looking for government support.
Nganglam drungpa, Sherab Zangpo, said that a team consisting of land record and agriculture officers, among others led by the dzongdag visited a site and carried out verification. “But for now we cannot say whether the group would get the land.”