Acute water shortage has pushed a group of farmers to grow cypress for incense production 

Forest: After failing to cultivate maize and chilli due to acute water scarcity, Tshering, 38, from Kumchi village found a solution to make a living by planting cypress on his six-acre land.

The father of four said the water shortage pushed him to leave his land fallow and leave his village for few years. “I used to grow maize and chili for more than 10 years,” said Tshering. “I returned in 2007 to start a small incense (sang) manufacturing business.”

But it was in 2011, when Tshering learnt about the concept of cultivating a private forest. He applied to start a cypress plantation on his land since the trees do not require water and costs less. The only investment was labour charges for its plantation.

Since then Tshering has planted more than 6,000 cypress saplings. About 1,000 saplings grown six-12 feet tall, leaves of which will be used to make incense.  “I am yet to plant 3,000 more,” he said.

Tshering exports incense to Thimphu, Wangdue, Paro, Punakha, Dagana, Gelephu and Phuentsholing.  He earns around Nu 1.2 million a year and spends around Nu 600,000 on labour and transportation among others.

While the incense’s main ingredient is cypress leaves, he also add other ingredients purchased from Baylangdra, Laya, Lingzhi and some imported scents from Phuentsholing town.

Tshering has four permanent staff and also recruits around 12 part time workers in winter to cut and dry the leaves and pack incense.

Phangyul gewog forest extension officer, Yeshi Namgyel said they encourage people to take up such initiative especially on fallow lands. “We support interested farmers with saplings and technical assistance for plantation,” he said.

Cypress trees would not just help farmers earn additional income but could also be used for firewood and timber in future without having to avail forestry approval, the forester said. In private forest, trees will be marked for record but owners do not have to undergo long forestry procedures to cut down the trees.

There are about six farmers who have started growing cypress in their private forest in Phangyul, said Yeshi Namgyel. “We have received few more applications and would soon distribute saplings to them.”

Dawa Gyelmo, Wangdue