Yield is expected to drop by up to 70 percent 

Disaster: With almost no rainfall in the past few months food and cash crops are drying up in Tsirang.

The dry spell has left farmers worried, with some even beginning to panic.

Norjangsha tshogpa Gopal Gurung said that almost all of Kilkorthang gewog’s maize fields are drying up. Although the maize crops have not completely turned yellow, leaves have withered. By this time of the year, the maize plants produce fruits or ears.

Gopal Gurung explained that if maize plants are not able to bear fruits at this time of the year, it will not happen later. While some maize plants have borne fruit, the fruit is not fully developed.

“It so dry that it can’t be used as fodder,” he said. He added that while Tsirang has received some light rainfalls, the sun and hot temperatures the following day negated any effect.

The situation is worse in Semjong gewog.

Tshogpa Deo Bahadur said that fields today are dry and dusty when they should be filled with green vegetables and other crops. While some maize did sprout, he said, they have almost dried up. “We’ve not witnessed such a dry spell in previous years,” he said. “This is worrying.”

It is not just drying maize that has frustrated farmers. Farmers are even more worried about their highly priced cash crop cardamom. Cardamom plants have just begun flowering, during which time adequate rain is required to form fruit buds, but lack of rainfall has caused the flowers to droop.

Deo Bahadur said that drooping flowers is a sign of a bad fruit. At least a week of heavy rain is required to have a good cardamom harvest, he added. “Cardamom is one cash crop that we rely on for a year’s livelihood,” he said. “If this doesn’t grow well I’ll be worried how fellow farmers will make a living.”

He added that this dry spell has not just hit farmers’ incomes hard, but will affect the country in terms of  food self-sufficiency as well. After paddy, corn is the staple food for most gewogs in Tsirang.

Yet another worry for farmers is the lengthening time for keeping their paddy seedbeds. While farmers should have already begun keeping seedbeds, they are not able to plough their fields yet. Lack of rainfall has hardened the soil making it difficult to plough using oxen.

Let alone plough with oxen, villagers said it is difficult to till the soil even using power tillers.  Some farmers have already reported broken power tiller blades.

A farmer KB Subba said that now it will be difficult for the dried crops to be revived even if it rains. “Things will get worse if we miss the paddy plantation season,” he said. “Farmers are so desperate not to lose crops that we wanted to water crops manually but it is not possible.”

While there is an irrigation channel shared by four gewogs, the source of water for the channel has shrunk and cannot be used.

While there is a river located in the area, there is no motor road that will allow easy transportation of water to the farms.

It is estimated that this year yield from both cash and food crops is likely to drop by 60-70 percent.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang