Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

The third Foothills Festival in Gelephu began with much excitement and vigour to celebrate Sarpang dzongkhag’s yearlong achievements especially in the agriculture and livestock sectors.

Agriculture minister, Yeshey Penjor, officially opened the festival yesterday, for which preparations started months ago.

Started as a daylong celebration to celebrate the bountiful harvests in 2018, the Foothills Festival has today grown into a mega event in the dzongkhag.

Sarpang dzongdag, Karma Galay, said that the event was started to provide farmers with a platform to market their local produce. He said that in the first year, the 12 gewogs combined could earn about Nu 4 million (M) from the sale of agricultural and livestock products including other wood base and forest products.

“This was quite encouraging for the dzongkhag as well as the farmers which is why we decided to do it for two days the following year,” he said. “We managed to earn close to Nu 8M in the second year, which further encouraged us to do it in a bigger and better manner this year.”

Following the successful festival, he said that many farmers took up vegetable farming and livestock rearing across all gewogs. The festival is extended to three days this year given its potential to generate income for farmers and interest they have shown, the dzongdag said.

What’s new at the festival this year?

The festival boasts more participants this year with farmer groups from Samdrupjongkhar, Bumthang and Gasa displaying their produce.

To encourage effective and meaningful participation, the Dzongkhag Tshogdu and the dzongkhag administration beginning this year have decided to declare public holiday during the festival.

One of the main reasons to organise and expand the festival is to discourage people from importing food items especially agricultural and livestock products in the dzongkhag.

“In our own small ways this is an effort to curtail the import of vegetables and meat items from across the border and fulfil the national policy of self-reliance and self-sufficiency by encouraging farmers to grow locally for our people,” the dzongdag said.

Residents in the dzongkhag are often seen visiting the local markets across the border in Dadgari, Assam to buy agricultural produce and other goods. “People import a lot of food items when most of their fields are left fallow,” dzongdag Karma Galay said.

The festival is also to celebrate the diverse culture in the dzongkhag. “People from all parts of the country have settled here,” he said. “This is a platform where we celebrate our diversity and come together as a country to promote the rich and unique tradition and culture, thereby promoting community vitality.”

The festival is also an effort to bridge the current missing link between the rural producers and urban markets. “We hope the youth in the villages would see the opportunities and bridge this gap.”

To promote Gelephu as a sporting hub, several sporting events like cross-country bicycle race, marathon and walkathon are also organised besides archery, khuru and strongmen competition (nyagyoe dendur).