Lack of timber and state land, among others has forced the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd (FMCL) to reduce its target of setting up 65 centres to 44 by June 25.

FMCL has completed constructing seven centres while 13 others are complete but not activated. The remaining would be completed this month.

FMCL’s chief executive officer Karma Thinley said that there were numerous practical problems in the field that compelled the corporation to revise the target.

In some areas, FMCL could not get timber for to construct the centres as there are no Natural Resources Development Corporation Ltd outlet that supplies timber, sand and boulders or sawmills.

“This is why we have decided to build them with steel in places timber is difficult to obtain,” Karma Thinley said, adding that a few constructions are underway in Samtse using steel.

Other centres fell close to each other. For instance, he said, that the proposed centres in Phuntshothang and Pemathang gewogs in Samdrupjongkhar were only seven kilometres apart.

In gewogs like Orong and Gomdar in Samdrupjongkhar, FMCL could not get government land and leasing private land for the construction of the centres is expected to take time.

The centre is a one-storey house, which would have an office space and a store that would cater four services: fuel depot, hiring of machines, spare parts sale, and repair and maintenance.

“Most of the gewog power tillers so far have faced fuel shortage problems. That’s why the fuel depot is important,” he said.

Karma Thinley said that while there is a huge demand for the farming machinery in many dzongkhags, the corporation is short of human resources.

To meet the demand, Karma Thinley said the corporation is using more than 3,000 trained farmers on contract.

“But these people cannot take care of the repair and maintenance of the machines and assume long term operation of the machines,” Karma Thinley said.

The FMCL’s plan is to train youth and later hand over the operation and maintenance of the machines to them.

The idea, he said, is to recruit youth as operators initially and then gradually hand over the operation and maintenance to them so that they can become entrepreneurs. However, it has remained a challenge for the corporation to get adequate applicants.

FMCL has recruited more than 90 operators for the machines. “But we still could not recruit youth who have completed at least class 10,” he said.

For instance in Sarpang, the demand for farm machinery has grown manifold. “We’re taking the machines from Zhemgang, Tsirang, Dagana and nearby places to meet the demand in Sarpang,” Karma Thinley said.

FMCL is soon moving more than 35 power tillers to Gelephu.

The agriculture minister, he said, is also aware of the challenges and the progress as a report is shared with him every two weeks.

FMCL, as a state-owned enterprise, was instituted in March 2016 to deliver effective and efficient service and optimal use of farm machinery, meeting demands of the farmers and to encourage commercial agriculture.

The FMCL centre in Paro has 60 power tillers. Of the 353 power tillers that the government of Japan donated to Bhutan last year, more than 230 have been distributed to the gewog centres, Karma Thinley said.

“If the gewogs need more power tillers then they should call us, we will draw them from nearby places wherever possible,” the CEO said.

The CEO said that officials from Siam Kubota, the company that supplied the machines, are in the country to assist in case of any problems.

Agriculture ministry officials said the ministry is expected to take land development as a major activity in the 12th Plan and farm mechanisation would play a critical role for the programme.

With the aid of the KR-II grants from Japan since 1984, more than 13,099 acres of farmland have been mechanised. Each acre of farmland that has been mechanised is equivalent to six people who would have otherwise been required there.

Agriculture officials said it has also led to a 15 percent increase in crop yield and 49 percent reduction in farm production costs.

Tshering Palden