Improved security and a govt. carrot and stick policy persuades locals to return to the land

Agriculture: Hope and nostalgia is the mood as farmers, young and old, of Bafudar village in Samdrupjongkhar returned to their paddy fields after more than two decades.

The farmers, with the help of the dzongkhag, are trying to revive paddy cultivation on more than 100 acres of land, which was once in abundance in the fertile and vast flatlands of Chokhorling gewog. 

Paddy cultivation was abandoned, following the security problem in the early 1990s, and predation on crops and livestock by wild animals.  But this will change.

 Started about four days ago, about 94 households have already started cultivating paddy, which, they said, was to save their ancestral land from turning into forest, and also make themselves self sufficient.

The villagers requested for support to revive the land, of which 90 acres are private.  The gewog officials then forwarded the request to the dzongkhag tshogdu, which approved it.

Gewog office distributed about 600kg of Kamja and Yusuri map variety of rice seeds, with the help from the dzongkhag agriculture office in Pemagatshel.  Each farmer received a minimum of 10kg.

Villagers said the land was the most fertile and the only wetland in the gewog.  Some recollected that farmers were self-sufficient, as most of them owned land, ranging from 30 decimals to two acres or more.

After the security issue, farmers abandoned the land and depended on maize cultivation on a smaller scale.  Most left the village and settled at the gewog centre.

Located about two hours walk from the gewog, Bafudar is today well equipped with an irrigation channel, which will also be renovated.  Water is not a problem.  They travel to the fields at 7am everyday and return home together after 3pm.

The gewog’s mangmi, Jigme, who is coordinating the work, said this was mainly the dzongkhag agriculture officer’s initiative that made it possible to revive the wetland.

He said the farmers were also promised electric fencing to cover the entire 100 acres of land.

“This is why many villagers agreed to revive the land, since there are no more security issues, but wildlife conflict still prevails,” he said.  Farmers are also convinced of a better market.  The mangmi said that the Food Corporation of Bhutan was buying locally produced rice, which encouraged farmers. “Once Nganglam-Dewathang highway comes through, we’ll have access to better markets.”

This initiative is also expected to extend the settlement and allow people to shift to Bafudar, since the gewog today practises clustered settlements with lack of space for the settlement.

However, gewog officials said that the new lagthram (land ownership) rule also forced people to return to their land. “The new lagthram rule says that, if land is not cultivated for more than three years, it shall be considered as the state land,” mangmi Jigme said. “So villagers didn’t want to lose the land.”

Villagers said electric fencing would protect the crop and encourage more farmers to cultivate rice.  In the meantime, farmers are planning a watchtower to keep an eye on the wild animals.

By Yangchen Choden Rinzin