With the introduction of new farming technologies, the villages of Barshong are becoming more climate resilient 

The idea of climate smart villages is fast picking up in the development world. These villages are often used as benchmarks in an increasingly hostile farming environment where farmers are fast hanging up their ploughs. In short, climate smart villages demonstrate how farming can still be continued in the face of changing climate.

Barshong gewog in Tsirang might not exactly fit the bill of being climate smart in absolute term, but its villages are fast becoming models of improved farming even when rains are erratic and the heat seemingly damaging. Thanks to the rural livelihoods and climate change adaptation pilot project in the gewog, the farmers of Barshong have embraced climate resilient agriculture.

Sustainable land management

A baseline survey of the gewog, conducted in 2015 by the College of Natural Resources, found that erosion and runoff affected about 48 percent of people in Barshong. This means farmers not only battle increasing soil infertility, but also land degradation. In the long run, for the villages along the slopes, this could mean a question of survival.

Led by the district agriculture officials, a team of soil evaluators and researchers visited the gewog in 2016, to conduct a technical assessment of sustainable land management practices. The team identified areas in each village where sustainable land management was required for remedial measures and also to prevent land degradation in the future.

It was learnt that several farmers had already taken up measures like planting trees, making terraces and gullies, and adding more manure to the soil. The team, therefore, conducted one-day awareness training on scientific soil management for 92 farmers. Subsequently, the project introduced Napier and Guatemala grass variety to stablise soil on steep and exposed slopes. These grass slips can also be used as fodder for animals.

The focus, according to Gup Santa Lal Powdel, has been on land management practices that prevent land degradation and those that rehabilitate degraded lands. He added that the gewog has also identified early and good adopters of sustainable land management practices. Three of them were awarded prizes on World Soil Day in 2016.

Barshong’s sloppy cropland is mainly rain fed and is primarily used to cultivate field and cash crops. However, long-term productivity is threatened by increasing soil degradation and water scarcity. Moreover, increasing runoff from the loss of vegetation means depletion of soil nutrients through soil transport and leaching. That’s why farmers have readily embraced the pilot interventions.

One such proactive farmer is RB Subba. A part of his sloppy land was de-stabilised when the gewog road was constructed, and he immediately planted Napier plant on the barren slope. Today, the area has stabilised considerably, and RB Rai is advocating sustainable land management to his neighbours.

Bio-digester for organic manure

One conspicuous development in Barshong is the improved concrete cattle shed. These sheds have a sloppy gradient so that the cattle urine instantly flows into the gutter that is connected to a concrete collection tank. The urine, after diluting with water at a ratio of 1:10, can be directly used as manure. Otherwise, the highly concentrated urine can be used to decompose green leafy materials to produce organic fertiliser.

Officials say this intervention is expected to improve the availability of organic manure and ingredients for formulation of bio-pesticides. This would also encourage farmers to stall-feed domestic animals for better management and production.

Initially, eight interested farmers were selected for construction of the bio-digester package. The package consists of an improved cowshed and the bio-digester unit. Seeing its usefulness and effectiveness, more farmers showed interest. Subsequently, six more farmers constructed the bio-digester package. Another 33 bio-digesters are being established this year.

Krishna Tamang, a 31-year-old farmer from Chunikhang village, says that more farmers are now taking up vegetable production because of the pilot interventions. “We lacked knowledge in the past, and even if we had the knowledge, we lacked resources,” he says. “We could not collect cattle urine in our traditional sheds.”

Growing vegies in plastic houses

As part of the integrated approach to farming promoted by the pilot, one new technology introduced was the poly-house. In the initial phase, 44 farmers were selected to install the poly-houses. A demonstration was done in Chunikhang.

Farmers say the impact of poly-houses was visible immediately. The favourable growing conditions inside the poly-house enabled raising of quality seedlings and growing of off-season vegetables. In fact, the environmental conditions in a poly-house are so conducive that farmers now grow vegetables anytime.

Farmer Tandin Dorji, 22, says he is able to raise disease-free nursery plants in this protected structure. “Seeds germinate quickly and seedlings grow quicker inside the poly-house,” he says. “I also grow a mix of vegetables like spinach, beans, tomato, chili, etc.”

As of March 2017, 45 walk-in poly-houses were constructed in Barshong. Another 76 are being constructed. This is expected to enhance farmers’ income and ensure nutritional security.

Officials say these technologies were introduced as part of integrated farm management support. The piloted technologies are also demonstrated at the Gewog Centre for capacity building purpose. The next step, they say, would be to find ways to scale up the success to other gewogs in the dzongkhag.

Gopilal Acharya is an independent consultant and freelance journalist. 

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