The project is designed to produce about two tons of paddy and 1,300 tons of rice
Agriculture: The 662 acres of government land that has remained fallow for decades because of security issues and wildlife conflict in three villages of Phuntshothang gewog will now be arable with an agriculture rehabilitation project underway in the gewog.
The project, which began last year, has cleared the forest to construct paddy fields and work on the terraces is still on going for a large-scale rice farming.
Project director Chetem Wangchen said a feasibility study found that acres of potential and fertile soil have been left unattended and that the forest had not served any purpose.
It was also found that following a high security threat in the 90s, Bangtar town which was then located in this area had to be moved. Since then land had remained abandoned.
“With the agriculture minister’s initiative and order, we managed to come up with this project,” he said.
The project funded by the government is designed to produce about two tons of paddy and 1,300 tons of rice. The project is planning to market at home as well as export to India to control the huge import of rice. The rice would be marketed through the food corporation of Bhutan.
However, they are yet to decide on the varieties of rice the project would be growing.
“At the rate we’re working now, we are quite confident to start paddy cultivation by the next season,” he said. “We’ll have to make sure the irrigation channel is in place and water available.”
He said since it would take time to make terraces and start the paddy cultivation, they have cultivated maize on 100 acres of land today. The villagers, who helped in the maize planation, were paid Nu 165 a day.
The project has already invested Nu 39 million and has proposed for Nu 36 million for the current financial year. A budget proposal for irrigation channel is yet to be prepared.
This project comes at a time when the villagers have left most of their land alongside the government land fallow. The villagers, who have been living in temporary houses today at Bangtar town are thrilled about the project for it would make their land arable and also address the wildlife issue.
It’s also expected to lure the farmers back to the villages of Mindupling, Zomlathang and Tshochung. At least ten or more of the households have left the place except for two households in Zomlathang, who have been living there but without cultivating the land.
The project has also begun installing a 30km electric fencing around the land, to keep the elephants, boars and monkeys away. Youth who are working on the fencing are paid Nu 200 a day.
“Since the project is highly mechanised, it would require operators, which we can employ from these villages, the project director said.  “Villagers could be also employed during the rice transplantation and harvesting season.”
By Yangchen C Rinzin,  Samdrupcholing