Agriculture: The joint coordinating committee (JCC) of the three-year farm mechanisation strengthening project phase II, agreed to extend the project by a year.

The committee comprising members from the Gross National Happiness Commission, agriculture and finance ministries, and Japan International Cooperation Agency based in Thimphu accepted the proposal from the project management made during the second JCC meeting yesterday.

Project officials said that the extension was needed as the processes of testing machines and standards require more time. With activities being season-based the project during its short duration, has to try out machines and approve them for public use, officials said.

“Prototypes developed in the laboratory don’t make sense unless we have feedback from the farmers on implementing them in the fields,” JICA expert for the project, Oishi Tsuneo said.

The other proposal was to include newly established Farm Machinery Corporation as one of its counterparts as it has taken over the hiring machinery component of the project.

The decisions will be referred to the JICA headquarters in Tokyo. The project began in August 2014.

Agriculture secretary Rinzin Dorji said that farm productivity is still low and that much work to improve it remains.

“With nearly 60 percent of our population depending on agriculture for livelihood, it is very crucial,” he said. “Farm mechanisation is one of the initiatives besides others, to ease the lives of the farmers.”

The agriculture sector contributes 16 percent of the GDP of the country.

JICA Chief Representative Koji Yamada said that the project has to consider the options after completing the project.

One of the most important aspects of the project was developing human resources in the Agriculture Machinery Centre (AMC), a portion of which has been formed as the Farm Machinery Corporation recently.

While the project could have easily completed its targets with available qualified employees, considering sustainability challenges and the lack of qualified employees, it chose to train employees giving them skills in developing farm machines and developing standard codes.

Twenty employees have been trained in Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and Sri Lanka. The project imported machines worth Yen 8.13M from Japan and Nu 1.806M worth of bikes, computers, and servers, among others locally.

The project is expected to increase the farm mechanisation area ratio to 17.8 percent, an increase of 10 points.

It has four components:  introducing farm machinery selection, submitting draft test codes and standards to Bhutan Standards Bureau, improving machine performance and operation patterns, and improving service provision model of farm machines proposed.

Of the six farm machines’ test codes and standards, the project has completed one on power tiller that has been endorsed by the BSB. Codes and standards for rice mill and power reaper have been drafted and submitted to BSB, while the documents for oil mill, mini tiller, and corn flake machines are under review by the internal committee of AMC.

Eight of the 12 items have been tested for power tillers, while the rest are in pipeline. The project has identified seven farm machines modification and application including potato digger, hedge harvester, and plough.

Former project manager Karma Thinley said that three machine-hiring models were drafted and tried. The project tried mobile hiring in Paro and Sarpang. The models of group farmers hiring services will be piloted in the field, while it is exploring the contract leasing of the power tillers.

To improve the use and acceptance of the new technologies and machines developed by the project, creating awareness to farmers and relevant stakeholders is critical.

Besides these challenges, inadequate qualified staff and transitional challenges post bifurcation of the agriculture machinery centre into the Farm Machinery Corporation needs a longer time to complete the targets of the project, officials said.

Tshering Palden