Thirty years of Japanese assistance winds up with last consignment of 239 power tillers

AID: Bringing an end to more than three decades of assistance provided to Bhutan under the KR-II grant scheme, a last batch of 239 power tillers worth Nu 63.5M (million) or USD 1.1M was handed over by Japan, in Paro, yesterday.

Started in 1984, Bhutan has in total received 3,186 power tillers worth Nu 1.8 billion, and other various farm equipment, under the KR-II scheme, since then.  KR-II was initiated by Japan in 1977 to help developing countries experiencing food shortages.

The assistance has and continues to be a major reason for achievements made in farm mechanisation in Bhutan.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, in his address, provided an example of how there has been a 15 percent increase in rice yield as a result of power tillers replacing manual ploughs, and rice production costs being reduced by almost 50 percent.

Besides increasing yields in rice, wheat and maize, power tillers have also reduced the drudgery of farming, especially with villages facing increasing labour shortages, lyonchoen pointed out.

“These incremental gains would go a long way in enabling the royal government to increase food production in Bhutan and meet its goal of food security and to sustain overall economic growth,” he said.  He added that KR-II assistance had the potential of changing and uplifting the lives of more than half of Bhutan’s population.

The ending of KR-II will not mean that Japanese assistance in the agricultural sector will stop.

The chargé d’affaires of the Japanese embassy in New Delhi, Kikuta Yutaka, also speaking at yesterday’s hand-over event, said Japan would continue to support farm mechanisation in Bhutan but under the grant aid scheme.  He said Japan was aware of an urgent need to address labour shortages and agricultural productivity in the rural areas of Bhutan.

He added that the Japanese government was considering Bhutan’s request for 1,450 power tillers, made during lyonchoen’s visit to the island state last year, in a “positive manner”.  He also said that a cooperation preparation survey would be conducted towards this purpose.

Following the hand-over ceremony, lyonchoen then handed over a power tiller each to representatives of 135 gewogs of 14 dzongkhags.  Earlier this year, 70 gewogs of seven eastern dzongkhags got a power tiller each.

This means all 205 gewogs will now have a power tiller each to hire out as part of the gewog level farm machinery hiring service.  Farmers will be able to hire a power tiller for Nu 1,400 a day, which includes the operator, fuel and basic maintenance.

Speaking to the dzongdas and dzongkhag tshogdu thrizins, who received the power tillers, lyonchoen said that this pilot project must succeed.

Lyonchoen said that, on paper, Bhutan had received 3,186 power tillers under KR-II, which meant there was adequate coverage by the machines.  But in reality, he said, many gewogs, including his own, still did not have a power tiller.

He explained that, prior to the hiring system, power tillers were distributed on a lottery basis, and as some farmers could not afford to buy it, it was also sold to business people, which did not utilise it adequately.  Lyonchoen said that he had even seen power tillers simply parked in garages, not reaching those who really needed it.

With the hiring system being put in place, lyonchoen urged that they be utilised optimally. If the pilot phase fails, the project will be ended, he said.

Lyonchoen also pointed out that, by next year, the government hoped to provide every one of the 1,044 chiwogs in the country with a power tiller each.  But to ensure this happened, the power tillers that were being provided to the gewogs have to be utilised, he reiterated.

Agriculture Machinery Centre programme director Karma Thinlay said that, with this last batch of 239 power tillers, there would now be almost 300 of the machines available for hire. Of these, 205 will be managed by gewog extension officers, while the remaining managed by AMC’s four regional offices.

He added that the next consignment from Japan, under the new grant aid scheme, was tentatively scheduled for arrival in 2017.

On behalf of the people and government of Bhutan, lyonchoen thanked the people and government of Japan for the assistance, not just for KR-II, but the other areas it has also diversified into.

“Despite the economic difficulties and development imperatives that it faces domestically, Japan continues to remain Bhutan’s second largest development partner for which we remain extremely grateful,” he said. “Bhutan on its part has deep admiration for the leadership role Japan is playing in promoting international peace and security through, among others, its ODA (official development assistance) programs.”

By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro