The Regional Farm Machinery Corporation (RFMCL) in Gelephu lost more than 90 percent of its paddy harvest to elephants this year.

Harvesting has just begun but there is barely anything to collect, officials said.

The RFMCL this year planted paddy on about 50 acres of wetland in the fishery area in Gelephu. Elephants trampled over and crushed almost all the plantation leaving behind large depressions in the terraces.

Regional Manger Kinley Zangmo said the harvest was good and expected production was estimated at 40metric ton (MT). “After the elephant rampage we are hopeless and don’t expect to collect even 1,000kg,” she said.

The FMCL cultivated Phuntshothang khamtae variety, one of the popular rice varieties grown in Samdrupjongkhar. It is known for its taste and aroma. However, it was for because of its aroma and taste that elephants kept returning to the fields, Kinley Zangmo said.

“Once they get the taste of it, elephants come back to finish the whole plantation,” she said. A small thatched roof shed beside the field that served as an office for field staff was damaged thrice.

The regional manager said that at this rate of damage, the office might give a second thought before cultivating paddy next year. 

Unless the corporation receives support from the government, the next cultivation could also be a disaster.

But giving up paddy cultivation has a huge impact on employment. RFMCL today has 30 employees in Gelephu alone. The employees include operators, farm managers, drivers and farm assistants. “More than anyone the crop damage is discouraging the many hardworking employees,” the regional manager said.

To protect the crop from elephants, electric fencing was installed as soon as the crop started fruiting. The fencing was destroyed three days after installation. RFMCL’s agriculture supervisor Rinzin Jamtsho said the fencing was repaired several times.

He said that at least 12 laborers are engaged in harvesting the remaining standing crop today. “If not rice, we expect to at least collect some truckloads of hay,” he said. There is a huge demand for hay from farmers rearing cattle in Gelephu.

Last year, it sold hay worth Nu 12,000 to the farmers.

Besides paddy, elephants also completely damage a chilli plantation. At least 45 decimal of land was prepared for chilli plantation and the terraces readied with polythene mulching. Transplantation was completed halfway when the elephants rampaged it.

“With the chilli damage we lost over Nu 30,000,” Rinzin Jamtso said.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Gelephu