Chhimi Dema 

The farmers of Zhemgang grow cash crops that provide them with opportunities to earn a steady income even as they are constantly faced with human-wildlife conflict (HWC).

For them, there is no better option.

The major cash crops that the farmers of Zhemgang grow today are mandarin orange, cardamom, turmeric, and ginger.

Leki Zangmo, 36, from Kikhar in Nangkor, said that farmers focus on growing cardamom and mandarin orange because of their export value and lesser harm from wild animals.

She said that wild animals such as monkeys, wild boars, and porcupines love feeding on maize. “That is why some grow maize just enough to make chaantengma (beaten maize) and alcohol.”

Farmers in Kikhar earned Nu 1,150 for a box of mandarin this harvest season. Most farmers earned about Nu 400,000 from the export of mandarin oranges.

As the farmers fetched a low price for cardamom, many did not take it to Gelephu to export.

Leki Zangmo said that the income from the cash crops helps households meet a portion of their expenses.

Kikhar village has 47 households with an estimated population of 400.

Jigme Dorji, a Nangkor farmer, said that growing mandarin orange, cardamom, and avocado are by far more profitable. “Before we can harvest maize, the monkeys would have entered our fields and eaten most of the crops.”

According to the agriculture survey reports from 2016 to 2021, in the past three years, cardamom, ginger, and turmeric production increased in Zhemgang.  The cardamom production in 2019 was 40.58 metric tonnes (MT) which increased to 51.67 MT in 2020 and to 63.73 MT in 2021.

A total of 199.67 MT of ginger was produced in 2019, which increased to 521.94 MT in 2020, and to 526.8 MT in 2021.

Turmeric production in 2019 was 5.27 MT. It increased to 11.75 MT in 2020 and to 26.21 MT in 2021.

Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Jambay Ugyen, said that growing cash crops is gaining popularity in the dzongkhag for steady income.

According to Jambay Ugyen, farmers have been growing mandarin orange as a cash crop for almost five decades.

“Most farmers choose to grow cash crops considering good income opportunities. But this affects the importance of other crops like maize and buckwheat which are essential to ensure food security,” he said.

Jambay Ugyen said that minor cereals such as millet and buckwheat are almost becoming extinct in the dzongkhag. “Another reason for the decline in cereal production, particularly maize, is human-wildlife conflict and preference for rice.”

The survey reports show a declining trend in the production of crops such as maize, wheat, paddy, and barley.

In 2017, the maize production in Zhemgang was 9,283 MT. However, in 2021, it decreased to 1,831.52 MT. Zhemgang in 2017 produced 225 MT of wheat and 110.25 MT in 2021.

The reports stated that during the period of five years from 2018 to 2021, maize harvest fluctuated from 55,259 MT to 30,939 MT. Maize growers decreased from 43,776 holders in 2020 to 38,397 holders in 2021.

“The lower levels of paddy and maize production in 2021 could be attributed to a decrease in cultivated area, crop losses to wild animals, declining soil fertility and other challenges associated with domestic production,” the report stated.

Jambay Ugyen said that the greatest challenge for farmers is HWC.

The dzongkhag’s rich forest coverage is often considered the leading cause of HWC.

Zhemgang has 94.7 percent forest cover in the country today.