… due to market situation
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) auction yard in Phuentsholing is struggling to export cabbage because the markets across the border are flooded with cabbage from Shillong and Darjeeling.
There were 1,300 bags of cabbage at the yard yesterday that have been waiting for negotiation since June 21.
FCBL purchased the cabbage from farmers of Chukha, Paro, Haa and Thimphu in a buy-back scheme that the organisation had recently initiated.
The importers from across the border are offering rates that range from Nu 5.5 to Nu 10 per kg. FCBL paid farmers Nu 19 per kg.
The yard’s complex manager, Ugyen Penjor, said the trend could last until mid-July.
“We are still negotiating with Indian importers and trying to sell.”
He said that the regulated market in Silliguri, where more than 60 percent of Bhutanese cabbage is usually traded, could open by July first week. It is one of the largest regulated markets in West Bengal, which is closed at present due to the pandemic.
Starting June 18, FCBL opened an aggregate centre at Damchu, Chukha for the buy-back scheme. Farmers from Chukha, Paro, Haa and Thimphu bring their produce to the centre from where FCBL takes to the auction yard.
The farmers are paid upfront at the centre and the corporation also bears the transportation cost from the centre to the auction yard.
Meanwhile, farmers have already started to complain about the buy-back rates FCBL has fixed under the buy-back scheme. There are 24 agricultural products in the list.
FCBL officials said that most farmers had issues with the rates for potato, which has been fixed at Nu 18 per kg.
Ugyen Penjor said that farmers should understand the difference between retail price and the rate for the bulk production.
“We have also waived the 3.5 percent service charges that farmers paid at the yard,” he said.
FCBL’s director for the department of corporate services, Lhakpa Sherpa, said farmers must understand the current situation. Citing the example of the cabbage bought at Nu 19 per kg and traded at as low as Nu 5.5 per kg, he said that FCBL was bearing the loss.
“If the potato prices increase, FCBL might be able to cover the loss,” he said
FCBL’s only intention was to benefit the farmers, Lhakpa Sherpa said. Farmers can, however, explore the local market for higher rates.
The Phuentsholing auction yard traded 2,497MT metric tonnes (MT) of cabbage and about 27,113MT of potatoes last year.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has recently decided to resume the second round of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifiers matches in October considering the impact of the Covid- 19 pandemic.
These FIFA qualifiers also serve as the second round of 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers.
A total of 40 teams (top 34 teams based on FIFA ranking and six selected from the first round) from eight groups were competing in the second round since September 5, last year. However, the matches were postponed due to Covid-19 since March.
Currently, Syria, Australia, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Japan, Vietnam, and Turkmenistan are the group winners. A total of 16 matches will be played on October 8 in different host countries.
The second round will complete on November 17. The third round will feature 12 teams consisting of eight group winners and four best runners up. All the 46 teams under the AFC took part in the first round of the competition.
2022 FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar featuring 32 teams, and there are five slots for the Asian teams.
2023 AFC Asian Cup in China would feature 24 teams. Those 12 teams who booked the third-round spot in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers will automatically qualify for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup.
A total of 24 teams including 16 teams which advance directly and eight teams which advance from the additional playoff round will participate in the third round of 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualification to decide the remaining 16 teams.
Popular European football league such as English Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, and La Liga have also resumed.
Major women’s sporting events have also started, and some are yet to begin. German’s women’s Bundesliga has already started since May 29.
The National Women’s Soccer League in the United States will start on June 27 without spectators.
After suspending all the sporting events for nearly four months, the Bhutan national football team resume their training yesterday in a closed door. The Bhutan Football Federation also begun ground booking for the local players on June 20, but the players have to follow the precautionary measures.
For more than a decade, Dechen Wangmo, 11, from Tsangkhar village in Phongmey, Trashigang has learned to live on whatever little she had.
After her parents abandoned her at birth, Dechen Wangmo has been living with her grandmother in a relative’s house.
Until recently, education was her only saviour. The closure of schools across the country following the Covid-19 pandemic some four months ago has disrupted her learning.
Electronic items like television and smartphones are a luxury. The current pandemic has turned these items into a necessity, one that the class five student or her grandmother could ill afford.
With the closure of schools, lessons are taught through the national broadcaster and Google Classroom.
Dechen has access to none.
But that has not stopped the 11-year-old from learning. She has a classmate, her neighbour, Pema Tshomo, whose family owns a TV and a smartphone to access Google Classroom. For more than two months, the two have been studying together.
“I miss my school, my teachers and my friends,” says Dechen. “I understand the lessons better in school when our teachers explain; I don’t understand much when I watch it on TV. At school, the teacher explains that until we understand the lessons, but on television, the lessons go very fast, and we can’t catch up.”
Dechen’s story was a case study conducted by UNICEF Bhutan and published in the UNICEF’s new regional report ‘Lives Upended: How Covid-19 threatens the futures of 600 million Asian children’ released yesterday.
There are about 32,135 students like Dechen across the country with limited or no access to TV or the internet.
UNICEF’s report highlighted similar impacts on children from the Covid-19 pandemic in the South Asia region.
According to a press release from UNICEF, the Covid-19 pandemic is unravelling decades of health, education and other advances for children across South Asia, and governments must take urgent action to prevent millions of families from slipping back into poverty.
Food insecurity is growing during the pandemic. A UNICEF survey in Sri Lanka showed that 30 percent of families had reduced their food consumption, and in Bangladesh, some of the most impoverished families are unable to afford three meals a day.
In Bhutan, about 10,000 school children living in remote communities are missing out on school meals.
With schools closed, more than 430 million children have had to rely on remote learning, which has only partially filled the gap.
In Bhutan, according to UNICEF 179,263 school children are affected by Covid-19 school closures. About 32,135 children across the country, who were unable to access e-learning platforms were provided with self- instructional materials (SIM) to ensure education continuity.
UNICEF Bhutan Representative Dr Will Parks said UNICEF is working closely with the government to protect children from the impact of the pandemic.
“Children have to date not been the face of the pandemic, but this report shines a light on the risks to the wellbeing of children in Bhutan and the region,” he said. “It is a call to all of us to recognise the threat of Covid-19 reversing decades of investment made for our children.”
Officials said that phone helplines are reporting a surge in calls from children suffering violence and abuse during confinement at home. Some children are struggling with depression, even resulting in attempts at suicide.
The Sherig Counselling online platform set up to provide counselling and psychosocial support in response to the pandemic has to date recorded 259 children (113 boys and 146 girls) and 108 (48 male and 60 female) adults seeking psychosocial support.
Dr Will Parks said, “UNICEF Bhutan welcomes the government’s decision to reopen schools in a phased manner and the measures that are being put in place to reopen schools for all children.”
The report highlights the importance of scaling up the provision scaling up of low-tech home learning solutions such as using a combination of paper and mobile phone-based materials, especially for vulnerable groups such as girls, children living in remote areas and urban slums, and children with disabilities.
It also recommends reopening of schools as soon as possible while ensuring the safety of students and staff through the provision of adequate hand washing and toilet facilities, including proper physical spacing in classrooms and other school venues.
Meanwhile, with access to SIM, Dechen Wangmo said, “The book is better than TV. I can get help from a neighbour, Tshering Dema if I don’t understand.” Tshering Dema is a class XI student in another school.
Dechen wants to go back to school. “I don’t like staying at home. At school, we play and study. At home, we cannot go anywhere.”
Monks worried with the increasing number
Yangchen C Rinzin
Up above the blue pine forest in Thimphu, the Phajoding monastery is no more secluded. With increasing people visiting the monastery, those at the monastery are worried about the never-ending visitors from the city.
Most visitors are youth and the monks have to bear with the nuisance they create, according to monks and lopens (teachers) at the monastery. The monastery’s principal, Namgay said that visitors have increased instead of decreasing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The young people drink, smoke and make loud noises disturbing our monks,” one of the lopens said. “If they can do this near the monastery then we’re not sure what they must be doing at the lakes and campsites.” The lakes above the monastery are considered sacred and cannot be disturbed.
The principal also said that there were several incidences where youth are drenched in the rain at night without extra clothes. “They come knocking on our doors and ask us to give them food or shelter,” he added.
Phajoding, a three-kilometre trek from upper Motithang used to receive about 15 hikers in a week before the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has now started receiving more than 20 hikers a day. Almost 400 hikers, especially youth, visit the monastery during the weekends, according to monks. The hikers hike till Dungtsho from Phajoding, almost five hours walk on an average.
It is not only the disturbances caused to the monks. Garbage has become another concern for the monks.
From plastic bottles to wrappers of junk food, snacks, alcohol bottles, rags, and broken umbrellas are dumped at the lake site, a campsite at Labana and on the ridge above Thujidrak.
Monks also shared that although people come to visit the monastery and lakes to accumulate good merit, it was sad to see that many youth bring alcohol, tobacco products and abuses near the monastery or the lake.
“We used to welcome visitors with tea and biscuits, but now some days we can’t even attend to visitors, as it has increased in last three months,” a lopen said. “We’re also worried about the increasing number of Covid-19 cases, many visitors are also those who have come out of quarantine.”
Although the monastery has put up signboards on the timing to visit the monastery, many visitors have also started visiting the monastery after 5pm. A group of youth a few weeks back had reached Thujidrak around 10pm and asked for food and shelter from the caretaker. When the caretaker could not provide, they got into an argument.
Some have also reportedly manhandled monks when they could not get a place to camp, according to the monks. Monks also shared incidents like a group of youth disturbing nuns who were practising fasting ritual at Thujidrak by making noises.
Kuensel also learnt that there were incidences where police and DeSuup had to rescue some youth after they suffered from altitude sickness. Some were injured, and some had travelled despite DeSuups who keep a record of the visitors warning them not to.
Monks feel that there should be some restrictions from the government or dzongkhag to control visitors camping near the monastery. “We cannot stop them. But we’re worried about an increasing number of visitors although police and DeSuups help us to monitor,” a lopen said.
DeSuups also volunteer to patrol the area whenever there are increasing numbers of visitors along the Dungtsho trail. They also clean the areas and pick up wastes.
One visitor shared that it was disheartening to find hookah (pipe used for smoking marijuana) at the campsite when he was picking up wastes left behind by some youth the night before.
“Despite requesting them not to smoke, they continued. It was sad to see how they refused to wear gho and kira while visiting temples and dancing to loud music near the temple,” he said. Another visitor said such an act would upset the local deity and disturbing the lakes could spell disasters with heavy rain ad storm.
However, the monastery has not yet reported the case to anyone. “We’re hoping that people will realise the importance and the sanctity of the monastery,” said a lopen.
Phajoding monastery has 38 monks at the dratshang and 50 monks at the Shedra. The monks try to practice physical distance as much as possible without interacting with the visitors.
With business hit-hard by the Covid-19 pandemic, Scan Café, located at the Thimphu Tech Park in Serbithang, has laid off 29 employees who were on probation period on June 17.
This is the second time the company has laid off employees.
Scan Café is a US based company, which design photo books for customers of Shutterfly Company in the USA. With USA hardest hit by the pandemic, Scan Café is facing serious business challenges.
The Chief Executive Officer of Thimphu Tech Park, Tshering Cigay Dorji said that Scan café management had been trying not to send off any employees despite pressure from falling business orders. However, since the Covid-19 situation had been worsening in the US, the situation became too difficult for the company, he said.
Scan Café’s Deputy Manager of Operations Jaget Adhikari said that orders for photo books decreased by 40 percent from May and the company had tried to keep all its employees, but the situation was not getting better.
“We informed the labour ministry and decided to relieve 29 people recruited in April,” he said. Between March and April around 70 people were recruited in batches. Jaget Adhikari said that due to high demand in business, they recruited new employees. “The business world is unstable,” he said.
In 2018, Scan Café relieved 67 employees when the company lost its European Union clients. Employees signed a petition to the labour ministry. Labour ministry studied the case and found out that Scan Café had followed labour regulations. The company had assured that preference would be given to the laid off employees if any job opportunities arose in future.
Some of the employees who got relieved again were the ones who were relieved in 2018. One of them said that she had a stable job when the company called her back. “I left my job after Scan Cafe assured me the job on a permanent basis,” she said.
As per the Labour Act 2007, a contract of employment of one year or more may contain a period of probation of a maximum of 180 days within which period either party may terminate the contract by giving the other party notice of seven days.
Jaget Adhikari said that although labour law doesn’t mandate compensation during probation, the employees were paid one month extra salary. He also said the business depended on demand and supply, if the business got better, these employees would be again given first priority.
One of the relieved employees said that if the company was hit by the pandemic, the company could have kept us with half salary when the business was down.
The CEO said that it was not fair to blame the businesses for letting people go if the companies were not able to sustain. “This is no different from the hotels that laid off their employees after Covid-19,” he said. Scan Café used to employ over 700 people in the past few years. Now, it employs about 250 people.
The CEO said that due to advancement in Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation of work was getting better. The number of required jobs in this field would see a gradual decrease over the years and it must be the reason why number of people working at Scan Café came down, he said. “This time, however, the reason is solely because of impact of Covid-19 situation in the US,” he said.
“When we talk about certain jobs being affected by AI, we should also remember new jobs are being created because of AI,” the CEO said. He said that, for instance, Imerit Technologies, also located at the Tech Park, specialising in annotating data (text, images, video) for machine learning, could increase the requirement of man power as AI gains momentum in the country.
Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa
Monks and agriculture. It is a sweet combination and a lesson on sustainability.
In Gasa rabdey, the monks, their robed folded high up, are preparing mushroom cultivation. Fifteen monks even underwent a two-day training on fungiculture.
The training, Umzey Tshering Dhendup said, came after the agriculture officials came to enquire if the monks would be interested in growing their own food.
“After Covid-19, we had to think about the importance of agriculture,” he said. “Monks also need such skills.”
Gasa dratshang spends about Nu 70,000 to buy vegetables every month. The expenditure is covered from the stipends the monks receive. From Nu 1,400 that each monk receives, Nu 1,000 is set aside to procure vegetables.
In a corner of the dratshang’s storehouse are 60 bags of oyster mushroom seeds. In five weeks, the dratshang can harvest at least 60kg mushroom.
A kg of oyster mushroom sells for Nu 200 in market.
“This is going to be the dratshang’s long-term project. Monk can also save a lot this way,” Tshering Dhendup said.
“Because we are studying most times, agriculture work is doable and fun. It doesn’t require a lot of hard work,” monk Tshewang Dorji said.
The dratshang has also cultivated 25-decimal land to grow radish, spinach, and beans. This is expected to help the dratshang have a fresh supply of vegetables almost all year round.
Gasa’s agriculture officer, Karma Wangchuk, said that the dzongkhag provided technical support and seeds. “Our aim is to achieve self-sufficiency.”
The dzongkhag also provided similar training to police and their families.
The Dzongkha Development Commission (DDC) had made several attempts to promote the national language, Dzongkha. The latest initiative, the Dzongkha Standard Testing System, Dzongjug, the commission is trying out could provide a solution.
Dzongjug is a simple assessment tool to test speaking, writing, listening and reading Dzongkha skills. In short, it is like the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) that tests language proficiency and is popular among Bhutanese. If the system proves successful, it will take over a lot of work from the commission besides having a formal system to test Dzongkha competency.
How will a testing system help promote Dzongkha?
The DDC is suggesting using the testing tool in areas where Dzongkha competency is required. It is a good idea, but it could expand beyond institutions or organisations that need to assess Dzongkha competencies.
As the national language, competency in the four skills identified is a minimum requirement. The perception that Dzongkha is a difficult language to learn is because we are complicating it. In our effort to promote the national language, there is more confusion created than clarity. In trying to standardise or professionalise Dzongkha, the key objective of making it practical and simple is lost. Language experts say that there is no headway so far because in trying to standardise or professionalise, experts are themselves in disagreement.
The idea is not to master the language. That can be left to individual interests. Keeping it simple and practical would be easier to fulfil the intentions and reaching out to the young who are increasingly getting detached from Dzongkha.
What is important is the ability to read, write and speak Dzongkha especially with the focus of communication more in Dzongkha than English. From our experience with promoting Dzongkha, nothing seems to be working. There had been several initiatives, including signing annual performance agreements, issuing orders and circulars to promote the national language. Some orders date back to the 7th Plan. We are still talking about the same issue.
Becoming reasonably proficient in Dzongkha alone could be a huge success. Like the IELTS that many Bhutanese try hard to get through, making Dzongjug an equivalent to IELTS for job seekers, whether in government or private, entry into higher secondary schools could encourage people to hone their Dzongkha skills.
Dzongkha, especially spoken, has already made great progress. The major boost it got was not from making correspondence mandatory in Dzongkha, one of the many initiatives, but from the film industry, the parliament deliberations and dzongkhag and gewog forums. We are not talking about Dzongkha proverbs and terminologies that are being used or misused in such forums, but we are talking about simple Dzongkha and the ability to read, write and speak.
Dzongkha is a beautiful language if we can master it, but the idea here is keeping it simple and interesting to learn. We need a standard to even go into the Dzongjug to assess the ability. Keeping it simple and practical could generate interest among the young who are finding Dzongkha too difficult and picking up other languages through films, television and the internet.
Tashiling block is cleared
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
The old Bhutanese saying, “too many frogs can kill a tiger,” indicating coordination and cooperation came alive at Tashiling, Trongsa when a 40 feet temporary bailey bridge was readied in a record time, nine hours.
After the swelling Shawachu washed away the reinforced cement concrete(RCC) bridge, regional office of department of roads (DoR) officials have constructed a temporary bridge using hume pipes.
The temporary bridge too was washed away on June 20. It was then when DoR, DeSuups, foresters, gewog officials and volunteers from the community started launching the bailey bridge. Dressed in a black gho was the works and human settlement minister, Dorji Tshering, lending a helping hand.
Works started at 8am, when most people were readying to go to office and by 5pm, the bridge was up and opened to traffic, around the same time when people returned home from office. DoR planned the work a day before. On June 21, the team with volunteers constructed the base wall and made a wooden bridge to transport materials and tranship passengers.
On the morning of June 22, DoR officials moved to Tashilang around 5:30am. However, they could start the work only around 8am.
While about 20 people were fully engaged, there were no machineries used. Other volunteers helped stranded commuters to cross the stretch and tranship their goods.
Officiating Chief engineer of DoR, Kingzang Chophel said that left alone to DoR officials, the bridge would not have completed. “It is with the help of the DeSuups, forester, gewog officials that the bridge was completed in a day,” he said.
He added that it was also possible because the bridge span was shorter and materials were available.
They used emergency bridge parts, which the DoR office has already readied.
Tashiling is 22km drive from Trongsa town.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar
The lone medical shop in Samdrupjongkhar thromde often remains empty and closed these days.
Lhaki Pharmacy proprietor had difficulty in importing medicines since the border gates were closed in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
The shop’s owner, HK Ghalay, said he keeps it closed most of the time because there is nothing left to sell in the shop.
“I sent back the consignments worth Nu 33,000 from the border gate as the customs officials did not allow me to bring in last month.”
He said that doctors sent patients to buy medicines from the shop, but he didn’t have them.
However, Ghalay said about 22 medicinal items would reach within one or two days from the Phuentsholing medical store. “I have never been through such a situation in the 29 years of my career.”
A resident, Sonam Choden, 32, said she went to buy medicine as she had earache but there was no medicine in the shop. She said that the shop had been running out of the medical items since the closure of the border gates in March.
“We do not understand why the shopkeeper could not import the medicinal items when the vegetables and grocery items, among others are allowed to import at least three to four times a week,” Sonam Choden said.
Another resident, Dendup, 75, was frustrated as he had to return empty handed.
“Tobacco products import is allowed by paying 100 percent sales tax, but we don’t understand why the medicines are not allowed. It is important for health during such situations,” Dendup said. “We sometimes feel there is no free and fair, and check and balance in the system.”
Residents said it would help if the concerned authorities could facilitate and allow the import of medicines. “We should have at least two or three medical shops in the thromde so that they could easily avail the services,” a resident said.
Customs officials said the consignment was sent back to the suppliers because the importer failed to provide the permit issued by the Drug Regulatory Authority (DRA).
“We don’t restrict the import of any medicines approved by the DRA,” a customs official said.
DRA’s officials said that an import authorisation from the DRA should be obtained before importing any medicine while the authorisation is generally issued to the registered medical drugs, and the DRA facilitates the import of other drugs during emergencies.
They said an import authorisation is issued after verifying the medicine list and the importer, adding that the expiry dates are also verified, among others.
“Medicines which are banned in the country and irrational combinations are not allowed.”
“It is important to process import authorisation from DRA as the concerned importers would be accountable should there be a failure in quality and any serious reactions, among others,” an official said.
Solid Waste Management has become the most challenging issue to every country in the world from developed nations to developing ones. The total solid waste generation in the world amounts approximately 2.01 billion metric tonnes (MT) annually (World Bank, Solid Waste Management study) with an estimated increase of 3.40 billion MT by 2050.
Waste management today being one the most complex subjects considering the vagaries of material possessed in the waste stream, the approaches have to be in bits and pieces identifying the chemical properties in the waste. Bhutan’s recent Waste Inventory Report exhibits that the total waste generation in Bhutan is 172 tonnes daily with medical waste amounting to 996 kilograms approximately. The figures are alarming and call for all stakeholders’ involvement in exploring alternatives for handling and managing waste.
There is ground-swelling support from the government and the general populace to curb the waste management issue, therefore it merits detailed planning as laid out in the National Waste Management Strategy. However, with sudden uncertain cases, we should not resort to any ad hoc decision that has potential to jeopardize any long-term sustainable solutions. With the ongoing discussions in the National Environment Commission, incineration of waste seems appealing, but it however seems to overlook many of the considerations.
We must take note that incineration has always been a subject of controversy from environmental perspectives to the extent of threatening economic models.
Incineration is nothing but burning of everything with oxygen and fuel in a closed chamber. The social costs of incineration are staggering especially in developing countries. The huge amount of capital spent on incineration goes into complicated machinery (over half the capital cost is needed for air pollution control) and most of it leaves the country in the pockets of the multinational companies that build these monsters.
However, with the alternatives of recycling most of the money goes into creating local jobs and local businesses, thereby staying in the community and the country. In Brescia, Italy, they spent about USD 4 million in building an incinerator and have created just 80 full-time jobs. While Nova Scotia, a province of Canada, after rejecting an incinerator, has created over 3,000 jobs in the handling of the discarded resources and in the industries using these secondary materials (https://noharm-global.org).
Therefore, incineration is not ideal and not the solution to the burgeoning waste problem. It is neither sound for the planet environmentally or for the local or national economies. Incinerating four tonnes of waste will reportedly leave at least one tonne of ash: 90 percent is called bottom ash (ash collected from furnace) and 10 percent is the very toxic fly ash. The incinerating approach is now being scrapped off by many countries (European Union) and even the installed incineration plants are capping the limit of waste to be handled.
In Bhutan, the Linear (extraction- manufacture-consumption-waste) to Circular Economy (extraction- manufacture-consumption-waste-recycle) was in operations since the 90’s and its only improving with iterate approaches for creating public awareness, collection of municipal waste to recovery of secondary raw materials and then the disposal of the residual. In the early 90’s, when the only considered recoverable waste from the waste stream were tins and small metal pieces, Bhutan saw small time scrappers and rag pickers enterprising in such a market. But in the following 10 years, there was an increase in many recyclables such as cardboards, papers, and brewery bottles with increased individuals even venturing out as scrap traders. Today, there are more than 250 plus scrappers in the country with 12 registered Municipal Solid Waste Collection (small initiatives). This unorganised sector employs more than 700 Bhutanese workforces.
The Waste Management Flagship Programme is most timely and we as waste handlers (Waste Collection Service Providers) would like to offer our gratitude to the far-sighted vision of our Monarch and the government of the day for prioritising waste management and its issues considering our existence in the economy.
We have to choose and in this case for solid waste management, we cannot afford to make mistakes with such huge social costs at stake.
On Behalf of Waste
Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Farmers of Singeygang (Hangay) village in Tashichholing, Samtse have been spending sleepless nights guarding their fields these past few days.
With the village thriving with crops, elephants are back devastating acres of maize fields, areca nut and banana trees.
About 21 areca nut trees have been completely broken, while many have been partially damaged with their barks stripped. At least 18 households have reported of losses.
Singeygang tshogpa Ram Prashad Sharma said that more than 40 areca nut trees have been damaged from his field alone.
“However, not all the trees were rendered completely useless. Some would grow back,” he said.
The village’s elephant tshogpa, KN Sharma said that there are four to six elephants frequenting the village these days. He said there are four hiding in the coffee plantation.
“Three elephants are seen more regularly. Two are male.”
Day before yesterday, the elephants, KN Sharma said, were seen near Sipsuchhu bridge. They have appeared several times that day.
“Yesterday, we didn’t sleep for the whole night. What to say? Who to blame?”
Among the villages in Tashichholing, Singeygang suffers the most from this pachyderm menace.
Elephants follow the 14 elephant corridors to enter the village. Every year, people get frustrated as their paddy and areca nut trees are trampled.
Due to this, many people of Singeygang have left their fields fallow.
In 2017, the gewog office with support from the government had blocked all the corridors with boulders. This worked and villagers had a bountiful paddy harvest that year.
However, blockades were compromised due to heavy rain and didn’t last. The elephants returned the following year.
Tashichholing gup Samir Giri said that farmers didn’t get to harvest corn this season.
“Most cornfields and areca nut trees are damaged,” he said.
Initially, the elephants, according to the gup started at the lower parts of Singeygang, but now they have reached the upper regions.
Gup Samir Giri said that now people are worried about their paddy. The gup also said that the only means to stop the marauding elephants was by blocking the entry points.
“Our only expectation is to continue this project of blocking the entry points,” he said.
“Until and unless the government does something to help, Singeygang farmers will not harvest what they cultivate.”
Gup Samir Giri also said that if the trial project of the previous government, which was to block the 14 corridors had continued in Singeygang, farmers would have had agricultural activities at full swing.
“However, we are hopeful because we heard that the ministry of agriculture has allocated a lion’s share for human wildlife conflict,” the gup said.
“We are keeping our fingers crossed.”
Forest officials are currently assessing the damages, a forester said.
“We are also on night duty and go to the fields time and again along with the villagers,” he said, adding that they were trying their best to protect the fields.
Compared to the methods used in chasing the elephants across the border, with guns and firecrackers, elephants are safer in Bhutan because such methods are not applied here.
“And this makes the animals switch their grazing grounds to the Bhutanese lands,” he said.
More than 50 years after traditional medicine was first integrated into the formal system of health care, the country still lacks a database of its rich medicinal plants and herbs available in the wild.
Experts do not know what medicinal plants are grown and in what quantity in the country, according to Director General Kuenga Tshering of the Department of Traditional Medicine Services (DTMS).
He said that unlike in other countries where inventory of such resources were scientifically and periodically recorded, Bhutan did not have any such system of keeping the records. “Although we have some books on the high altitude plants, we don’t have a proper database.”
In an effort to build a medicinal plants and herbs inventory, the department has initiated a resource mapping of the high-altitude medicinal species.
Using global positioning system (GPS) the department has completed mapping Bumthang. More than 350 species of medical plants and herbs grow in the dzongkhag.
Kuenga Tshering said that the mapping of all the high-altitude regions would be completed by the end of the 12th Plan. “Once completed, we would classify the species into endangered and endemic groups and accordingly work to promote and protect those species.”
Traditional pharmacists say that the increasing demand for traditional medicines can lead to threats in the sustainability of raw materials.
Officials said that high altitude plants such as Byed-Rgyad-Spoe (delphinium), Ud-pal (meconopsis) and Dom-nag Dom-khris, which are commonly used to produce traditional medicines, could go extinct if not used sustainably.
Kuenga Tshering said that the department had plans to patent the medicinal plants after creating the inventory and give the ownership to respective communities where the species are found. “The idea is to use the resources sustainably and, at the same time, provide the communities an avenue to make some income.”
He said that traditional medicine in Bhutan had great potential, including the possibility of promoting medicinal tourism. “Presently, we refer our patients outside for allopathic treatments. Same thing can be done for tourists using our rich traditional medicine services.”
Kuenga Tshering said that traditional medicine was popular among the Indian tourists. “If we can specialise and focus more on our therapy sessions, we have a very big opportunity. Traditional medicine could become more popular than the allopathic medicine.”
For this to happen though, he said that the research division must be strengthened. More importantly, he said that allopathic and traditional medicine services in the country must complement each other.
The integration of the two – allopathic and traditional services – so far has been only to the extent that both are placed under one hospital. “There is not much of an interaction otherwise.”
A coordination committee has been formed which is studying the cross-referrals of patients.
Kuenga Tshering said that for now it was the patients’ personal choice to opt either of the two treatments with no clinical advisories from the experts. “We want a system wherein based on the coordination committees’ findings, patients will be referred to either of the services based on the effectiveness of the treatment.”
On an average, over 300,000 people avail themselves the traditional medicine services annually which includes medicine and other therapeutic facilities.
Phub Dem | Haa
Many a major activity in the country has been cancelled due to Covid-19 threats but, even so, the Royal Flower Exhibition in Haa is preparing the event in August. It is going to be a virtual treat.
Haa Dzongdag Kinzang Dorji said that the event would be designed to reduce overcrowding. “People can watch the exhibition live .”
The event is being planned with Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) and IT experts for social media coverage.
Kinzang Dorji said that the event would be the beginning of the major social event in the wake of the pandemic. “The event will be a new normal.”
The pandemic, Kinzang Dorji said, expanded the size and scope of exhibition sites.
Initially, the dzongkhag administration had planned the main event site near the dzongkhag administration office. Due to pandemic, however, Kinzang Dorji said that multiple exhibition sites were identified to avoid congestion.
The main exhibition sites include Lhakhang Karpo, Sombaykha Drungkhag, and dzongkhag administration office and herbal garden at old BHU besides school, institution and monasteries compounds.
The celebration will be an annual event in the dzongkhag.
Kinzang Dorji said that the exhibition’s unique feature of developing permanent infrastructures could promote ecotourism.
The event preparation is 85 percent complete.
Blacktopping of roads from Paro to Haa via Chelela, Lhakhang Karpo to the Haa town and Damthang has begun.
There will be health teams for the exhibition, flu screening points, and crowd management teams to ensure safety.
Neten Dorji | Trashigang
The teachers of Melongkhar Primary School in Trashiyangtse, led by officiating principal, Leki Gyeltshen have developed a learning model—a wooden rocket—for the students.
The rocket measures 3 metres high and 0.3 metres wide. It has four propellants, carries the national flag and named JNW after His Royal Highness the Gyalsey.
He said that the model was designed to inspire the younger generation to take interest in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).
“The rocket is also dedicated to our selfless and compassionate King for protecting the nation and the people from Covid-19,” said Leki Gyeltshen.
Leki Gyeltshen said: “I designed the rocket using my skills thinking that it would benefit students in remote school who don’t have television and internets facilities.”
The dream of a teacher doesn’t stop there. Leki Gyeltshen said that the idea was to encourage students to build their own spaceships to explore the space and do research on the moon and the other planets.
“Students are learning about rocket and spaceship only in textbooks. Now they can see how a rocket looks and what uses it can be put to,” Leki Gyeltshen said.
A teacher said that one of the main reasons why children, particularly in the remote parts of the country did not show interest in STEM subjects was because of lack of facilities and technologies.
“Even otherwise, such models would help the school create child-friendly and conducive learning environment,” said Leki Gyeltshen.
Monsoon has arrived. It has been more than generous with heavy rains since June 10. And like every monsoon, we are having the year’s share of woes. Roads are getting blocked or washed away. Landslides have become very common, reportedly on a daily basis.
However, most commuters would agree that there is a change, a change that should be appreciated and welcomed. Roadblocks this year are not hindering the traffic for long. With men and machinery placed at all critical places, blocks are cleared, temporary bridges are assembled and installed within a day if not in a few hours. Road officials and volunteers in Trongsa constructed a 40-feet long bailey bridge within a day easing traffic on the east-west lateral highway.
With the border sealed since March, a priority of the government is to keep the national highways open. So far, besides small inconveniences, commuters are not stranded on the roads for more than a few hours. It seems like the era of serious monsoon uncertainties are behind us.
Located in the young Himalayas, our roads are prone to landslides, mudslides, and falling boulders and in some cases, heavy rain triggered flooding that washes away bridges or an entire stretch of the road. With the widening of the east-west highway, there are several areas that are freshly cut and therefore prone to slides. However, the days of transhipping people and goods and travellers getting struck between slides for days are gone.
Another positive change is the information disseminated through all platforms. While roadblocks during summer are inevitable, the information shared hourly through social media has helped people plan their journey. The road department’s Facebook page is the most updated page with images and videos of blocks or workers clearing them. This is then shared to a wider audience.
There are many roads completed in the last few years. It used to be the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway with Sorchen and Jumbja as the weak point, but the amount of work has increased as more blocks have to be cleared. The Gyalpoizhing-Nganglam highway and the Gelephu-Trongsa highway have several notorious stretches that are prone to the slightest rainfall. However, it is good to see that men and machines are working round the clock to ensure the road is kept open for traffic.
What we can derive from this success is that our people can do the job if they have the right mentality, support and equipment. A bridge washed away would take a few days to ready a replacement. Today, not only are bridges and roads restored, we can watch, from the comforts of our home and office, what is being done at the block sites, including models of a bridge being assembled.
As a landlocked country, the highways are our lifeline. This has become more relevant in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. With import restricted, farmers across the country need to bring their produce to feed those in the towns. There are hundreds of people who have returned to farming after they lost their jobs. Soon, they would need markets for their produce. And very soon, cash crops like potatoes from Bumthang, Trashigang, Phobjikha would have to be transported to the border towns.
From the current experience, we can be confident that there will be no more roadblocks for days. It would be worth sparing a thought to the hundreds of engineers and workers out on the roads. Some of them work round the clock, in bad weather, and some are camped in unfriendly environments, to keep our roads open.
Nim Dorji | Trongsa
Worried that a lockdown would cause food shortage, farmers in Baling, Langthel gewog have started to grow more maize this year.
They grow maize every year but this year the farmers have not spared even the steep slopes with plenty of stones. The barren areas, that have been neglected so far, are now dug and prepared for maize cultivation.
Farmers said due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they are worried that they might run out of essential food items.
A villager, Namgay Lhamo said that she hired more than 20 people to clear two acres of land and prepare it for maize cultivation.
“The field has lots of stones so it takes longer to prepare.”
She has grown additional maize on a one-acre field near her house.
“If the country comes under lockdown due to the current pandemic, I want to make sure that my family has enough food,” Namgay said.
Farmers make kharang and sip (flattened corn) both for self-consumption and commercial purpose.
Farmers at the same time are worried about armyworms attacking the young shoots.
Another villager Sangay said that since the fields are located far from their homes, once the plants grow, they have to guard round the clock from monkeys and wild boars.
“Although we have electric fencing, which has benefited us a lot, we still have to guard the field as it cannot stop some animals,” he added.
With the schools in the country closed, the students are back in the village and helping their parents in farm work.
A class 12 student, Sangay Lham is busy these days in the fields. She studies in the morning and evening attending lessons on television and online.
“I am happy that I can help my parents and also at the same time learn new things about farming.”
The dzongkhag and gewog administrations have helped the villagers with electric fencing equipment.
Baling is located 15km away from Langthel towards Zhemgang. The area is suitable to cultivate all kinds of cereals and vegetables.
Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa
Over 70 monks of the Gasa Dratshang, some of whom are sleeping under the ladders, are looking forward to the completion of their residence near the dzong.
Today, around 15 monks live crammed in a single room inside the dzong. Others share rooms with their teachers. Around 15 teachers resides outside the dzong.
Gasa Dratshang Umzey Tshering Dhendup shares a small room with three students.
“While it isn’t allowed, some of the students have made rooms under the ladder to sleep in the dzong,” he said.
He said that the lack of rooms would not be an issue once the new drasha or residence is complete.
While the construction work executed by the Department of Culture (DoC) will complete this month, clearing the site and laying slabs will take another two months.
After the completed structure is handed over to the dratshang, apart from a few rooms, two monks are expected to receive one room.
The Umzey and the Lam Neten will also receive a separate office space, which is today accommodated within their rooms in the dzong.
Today, apart from a couple of monks who share rooms with their teachers, the monks have to use a common toilet outside the dzong.
“The toilet is also used by dzongkhag administration staff during the day and the distance is also quite far,” Tshering Dhendup said.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also agreed to fund a geyser for the new drasha. Today, monks collect firewood from the nearby areas to heat water for bathing.
“We have requested for another geyser in the new drasha but it hasn’t been approved yet. We have washing machines but the students have to heat water to take bath,” Tshering Dhendup said.
The new residence will also have separate rooms for each class and a library.
The dratshang received Nu 1.2 million (M) from a tourist couple to establish a library. While the dratshang has already bought Nu 400,000 worth of books, the remaining fund will be used to buy furniture for the library.
Today, the dratshang is seeking additional budget for furniture such as beds for the monks.
Work to construct the residence began in 2016 with a budget of Nu 126M.
According to the project manager, Sonam Tobgay, retaining labourers as the project came to an end was a major challenge.
“Because the dzongkhag is small, it is difficult to retain workers and the pay is also less. We have proposed to the culture department to increase the wage for the workers—both skilled and unskilled.”
Seating arrangement of students left to individual schools
Yangchen C Rinzin
With the government announcing reopening of schools for class X and XII from July 1, schools are left with only a week to prepare or put Covid-19 preventive measures in place.
Various measures are being explored in schools like making hand sanitisers available in schools, procuring infrared gun thermometers, make hand washing facilities available and bleaching powder for disinfection.
But a majority of schools are yet to decide on the seating arrangement of students to practice physical distance, the most important preventive measures schools must follow.
While some schools have decided to conduct classes in shifts by dividing the students, some are exploring ideas to allocate students in three different classes. For instance, Yangchephug Higher Secondary School has 650 students and the school has planned to have classes in shifts with 325 students in each shift. Some of the boarding schools are also planning to keep day scholar students in hostels to minimise movement.
School officials, Kuensel talked to, said that they are yet to sit together and decide on a seating arrangement and how to conduct classes.
However, in terms of physical preparedness, education minister Jai Bir Rai said that the education ministry has instructed all the schools to ensure that water, sanitisation and hygiene (WASH) facilities are put in place by May 31.
“In terms of WASH facilities, we’re confident, as this was one of the provisions the health ministry had kept if we were to reopen schools,” the minister said. The ministry used the fund from the student’s stipend.
However, lyonpo said that for schools in the four thromdes, preparation for WASH facility is still on, as the thromde had to propose a budget to the finance ministry. The budget was approved and the schools are supposed to complete the work by June 30. Lyonpo added that the need for WASH facilities was also instructed to all private schools.
“We’ve also looked into schools to ensure bleaching powders and sanitisers are in stock. The security guards at the gate will check if students are wearing face masks and check the temperature of each student,” Lyonpo said. “Department of school and education with the health ministry will finalise the decision of identifying health coordinators to respond in case of a local transmission.”
Lyonpo said that the government has made it mandatory for students to wear face masks all the time in the school. Schools would notify all the students to ensure they buy face masks before returning to schools.
On the seating and teaching arrangement, lyonpo said that different schools could devise their own idea, but schools must make sure that all the students are not kept in one classroom. Most schools have at least 40 students on average in a class.
The school planning and coordination division is expected to work and sort the issue of teacher shortage, according to lyonpo.
It was decided that while classes from pre-primary to Class XI would continue to follow the adapted curriculum, Classes X and XII will follow a prioritised curriculum.
The adapted curriculum is a thematic curriculum or different stages based on the Education in Emergency (EIE) I that have engaged students through television, radio and Self Instructional Materials while schools remained closed.
A prioritised curriculum based on EIE II which will be implemented from July 1, is a distilled curriculum that will comprise procedural knowledge, skills, values, strategies and processes.
The prioritised curriculum developed by the Royal Education Council will assess both learning improvement and promotion to the next higher class. It also means teaching-learning will take place face-face.
The curriculum will comprise 65-70 percent of the actual curriculum content based on the remaining instructional time left for the academic year 2020.
“However, this time we expect teachers to put in extra effort to visit students and be available anytime for other classes that will remain close,” lyonpo said. “They can also find ways to call students in a group and help them learn face-face.”
Meanwhile, many principals said that they are still waiting for directives from the education ministry on the curriculum arrangement and reopening of schools.
There are 123 public schools with 80 boarding schools with about 20,000 students. There are 22 private schools (17 boarding schools) with 6,058 students in class X and XII.
Unlike in the past, farmers need not travel to the border towns to auction their vegetables. They can sell their produce at an identified area closer to their homes.
Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) has started buying farm produce since June 18.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and given the difficulties faced in exporting farm produce, the government provided financial support to FCBL to buy from farmers.
FCBL will buy 24 agriculture produce from farmers at government-approved rates ranging between Nu 4 and Nu 48. FCBL will make instant payment to sellers at the collection point.
However, the approved rates have already drawn criticism on social media. Most farmers are unhappy about it. Some said that it was convenient. “It (the price offered) is a joke,” said a retired civil servant who went to organic farming.
A farmer from Haa said that he could sell his large red potato for Nu 40 at the local markets but the approved rate was only Nu 18.
Another farmer from Punakha said that the buy-back rate was low, but it was convenient since she did not have to struggle to sell her product.
FCBL’s Agricultural Marketing Service Division head, Sangay Choeda, said that the approved government rate was an average auction rate of past five years which was inclusive of transportation charges from the collection point till the border.
“Unlike in the past, farmers need not wait for weeks at border towns to auction and wait for more days to receive payment. Farmers will directly benefit and the approved rates are reasonable considering the situation,” he said.
On the first day of procurement, at the collection point in Damchu, Chukha, FCBL bought 275 bags of cabbage from six farmers and 271 kilogrammes of radish from a farmer.
The buying takes place over a new online system, Online Farmers’ Market System, an extension of the existing Bhutan Commodities Market Initiative by FCBL with Royal Security Exchange of Bhutan ( RSEB) launched on May 15.
There are 58 registered clients using BCMI.
One of the farmers, who used the system, said he couldn’t negotiate the price with the buyer. Another farmer said that no one called after uploading the details of her produce.
The system requires farmers to upload the details of their produce with contact information. The expected rate by the seller is subject to negotiation with the buyer.
A farmer said that they should be allowed to upload more pictures.
Sangay Choeda said that since it was a new system, they were focusing on creating more awareness about the system to make it successful.
He said that a user manual on the system was circulated to local governments and relevant sectors. Local government officials are expected to disseminate information to farmers.
A team from FCBL and RSEB is visiting dzongkhags to create awareness on the system and buy-back scheme.
The system is expected to improve the ease of doing business.
The government issued an order on June 2 to temporarily control the import of commonly grown vegetables and fruits in the country to help farmers sell their produce.
Farmers said that due to poor market linkages, selling their farm produce has become difficult.
FCBL official said that the new system would improve the ease of doing business in the country which has remained a major challenge. “The system will bridge that gap,” he said.
Chimi Dema | Tsirang
To prevent land degradation and to implement sustainable land management, the agriculture sector in Tsirang initiated a project to grow Napier grass on about 40-acre land belonging to 52 households in Pantghang under Patshaling gewog.
Napier grass is one of the important perennial tropical forage crop belong to family Poaceae.
Supported by the Green Climate Fund and National Soil Service Centre, the six-year project is expected to stabilise soil on steep slopes and rehabilitate degraded land.
The gewog’s agriculture extension officer, Sangay Dorji, said that currently the sloppy cropland was vulnerable to soil erosion and leaching hinders farmers to grow crops.
Besides retaining the soil nutrients, he said that the plant could also protect crops from wind and create microclimate conditions.
Sangay Dorji said that through the project the farmers would focus on sustainable land management.
The initiative is first of its kind in the gewog.
Sangay Dorji said that if farmers embrace the intervention and proves successful, the project would be introduced in other areas as well.
“It is expected to enhance the long-term productivity of the cropland which is currently being threatened by increasing soil degradation and water scarcity,” Sangay Dorji said.