While promises of connecting villages with irrigation water are gushing this election period, the lack of water has forced farmers in several dzongkhags to leave their fields fallow.
In Dagana, at least 100 acres of paddy field in Drukjyegang’s Yongsibji village have been left fallow this year after the water source dried up.
The land belongs to about 22 households. While part of the field remains in overgrown bush, people have sowed lentils and pulses in some terraces. Few terraces also have seedbed that has now yellowed.
Ap Tashi is one of the farmers who own wetland here. The field that should otherwise be lush green is a grazing land. As he shifts his cow from one terrace to another, he says it is painful to see the field barren. He owns about two acres of wetland.
Sometime in July, he hired a power tiller for two days for Nu 7,500 and readied his field for plantation. He was hopeful that there would be rain and irrigation water. “It did not rain enough and no water flowed from the source.”
He said he had sowed in the largest terrace to transplant paddy in at least few terraces. The seedbed has almost dried up today.
Until last year, Yongsibji village drew irrigation water from a stream about two kilometers away from the field. It had two sources. One has dried up and the other was used to supply drinking water for the villagers of Pangserpo, located on the other side of Yongsibji.
Another landowner, Pema Tshewang, 62 owns more than 24 terraces of wetland. He said the villagers had never expected their field to remain barren this year. All were prepared to transplant paddy and had cleared the bush around the irrigation channel and pipelines checked. “It was all a waste. We’re compelled to leave our fields fallow,” he said.
Huge empty water pipes run through the fields. The lentils and pulses planted in place of paddy have also started drying because of lack of water.
Another farmer Pem Zangmo, 43 and her siblings own over three acres of wetland. She said that although they could not plant paddy, to earn some cash income for rice, they planted lentils and pulses on about an acre of land. “I feel like crying seeing my field fallow.”
Although the farmers were unable to cultivate this year, they are hopeful they may not have to leave it fallow next year onwards. They are looking forward to the pledges of the two parties and their candidates.
According to Pema Dorji, both the parties are pledging, to make irrigation and drinking water available. It is the most important requirement in the villages today and if water couldn’t be made available, farmers appeal to convert the land should be considered.
The situation is similar in Samdrupjongkhar.
Langchenphu gewog in Jomotshangkha drungkhag, is a plain area filled with paddy fields. But most paddy fields are fallow because of lack of irrigation water.
The farmers of upper Dawathang village in Agurthang chiwog have been waiting for irrigation water to start paddy cultivation for the last five years.
Pema Choezom, 73, from upper Dawathang, has grown some vegetables in the garden below her house.
She said she earned Nu 10,000 to 20,000 from selling about 30kgs of chillies and flattened maize last year.
Pema Choezom said the vegetables are dying because of lack of water. “We can cultivate any type of crops if there is water and earn about Nu 30,000 to 40,000 annually from selling vegetables.”
She said she waters the vegetables three to four times a day.
Another resident, Aitaraj Rai, 42, said he has planted mango, avocado, litchi and areca nut and few vegetables but it’s challenging for him, as he has to water the crops.
He said that he has kept more than 50 decimal of land for paddy cultivation and waiting for irrigation water in the village. “The gewog officials have been informing us they will construct irrigation canal but nothing has been done until now.”
However, the farmers of lower Dawathang depend on rainwater to cultivate paddy.
Pema yangzom, 29, said they cultivate paddy every year from rainwater. “But we feel we have to stop paddy cultivation, as weeds grow in the field because of lack of water. It’s challenging for us to uproot those weeds.”
She said it would help farmers if the gewog administration and other concerned authorities could construct irrigation canal as many farmers left their paddy fields fallow. “I think I should also leave my field fallow if the problem continues.”
Another villager, Hosh Bahadhur Batarai, 45, said he used to cultivate paddy before but had to leave his 1.5 acres of paddy field fallow for the last three years. “I used to sell rice before but now I have to buy from others.”
Gewog officials, however, said there is no water source.
Langchenphu mangmi, Wangdi Gyeltshen, said the gewog is also concerned, as the farmers of upper Dawathang and upper Langchenphu villages have left their paddy fields fallow.
“The gewog has a plan to construct an irrigation channel from Tokaphu by pumping water from Jomori but we could not construct because it requires huge budget. “The gewog is exploring budget.”
Both the political parties have, however, pledged to construct irrigation canal in the gewog during the common forums.
Nirmala Pokhrel | Dagana & Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar