Sarpang dzongkhag, in theory, could produce enough vegetables to supply to Thimphu. But despite such potential, farmers today are buying imported vegetables.

Most farmers from four gewogs of Sengye, Shompangkha, Gakiling, and parts of Dekiling go to buy vegetables from Murray, a neighbouring town across the border. On weekends, Bhutanese flock the vegetable market in Dadhgari, next to Gelephu to buy vegetables.

Sarpang dzongdag Karma Galay said the dzongkhag is working to change this practice.

The dzongkhag administration last year mandated all gewogs to grow vegetables. The administration distributed a large number of farm equipment such as water tanks, pipes, mulching plastic, poly house, and fencing materials. The farmers receiving them agreed to grow vegetables at least for three years and beyond or return the materials.

Since then Chuzangang gewog grew vegetables on four acres this winter. Gup Sangay Tshering said the four gewogs of Chuzangang, Umling, Serzhong and Tareythang had severe water shortage that thwarted their efforts.

“There was a strong momentum to grow vegetables in 2006 and 2007, but water issues put a quick end to it,” gup Sangay Tshering said.

But things have improved since then. Two huge irrigation channels were repaired with Japanese aid and some villages like Dawathang, and Karbithang, now have access to irrigation. “Hopefully, these villages would expand the areas next season,” the gup said.

Programme director of agriculture research and development centre in Samtenling, Ngawang said that the place is suitable to grow vegetables in the winter months.

However, dzongkhag agriculture officer Chimi Wangchuk said the cost of production of vegetables locally is much higher than the producers across the border, the source of vegetables in the market.

The cost of production of cabbage in Sarpang is Nu 13.48 while the same vegetable is available across the border at Nu 5. “This is a huge disadvantage for farmers,” he said.

He said that the dzongkhag administration is also working on finding markets for the farmers.

During a festival last year, farmers from various gewogs brought vegetables in tonnes.

“We had trouble selling the leftover cabbages,” he said. This year they would organise better to sell the produce.

Despite the odds, Karma Galay said there are few growers who met success in growing vegetables throughout the year.

“These growers mostly in Samtenling and Gelephu have proven that it can be done,” he said. “We need to show it to others and encourage them to follow.”

A Chuzangang farmer, Hema Devi Rai said growing vegetables need so much effort and care. “The problem with most of us is that we can’t devote so much attention,” she said.

Tshering Palden | Sarpang