The newfound source of income is fast replacing orange as the main cash crop

Agriculture: The festive mood is still on after Dasain, but farmer Kiran Rai from Dunglagang, Tsirang is already out in the field tending to his chili seedlings.  There is no time to waste as he is trying to beat others to produce the first local chilies.

Not long ago, farmers like Kiran Rai would sit back waiting for middlemen to roam their orange orchards. Orange or citrus mandarin was the main cash crop and farmers turned whatever land they owned into orange orchards.

This is changing.

With most of the trees in warmer places dying or dead, Tsirang farmers are slowly but increasingly turning to vegetables. It is a good and reliable source of income.

Tsirang farmers are as busy as bees.

Everyday is important for Kiran. “The first produce fetches the best price,” says Kiran. Last year, he produced about 10 quintals of chilli, which fetched him about Nu 70,000. “Some farmers earn between Nu 100,000 and 150,000 annually from vegetables.”

Farmers also grow potatoes, broccoli and cabbage. Some are into fruits.

Mandarin production, which had been the main source of cash for decades, has been declining. From 9,764MT (metric tonne) in 2012, it reduced to 7,283MT in 2013, according to Renewable Natural Resources statistics 2015. Citrus today grows only in higher regions of the dzongkhag where temperature is cooler.

Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer (DAO) Pema Chofil, who has been in Tsirang for some years, says he has seen a significant change in agriculture dynamics in the dzongkhag. With help from the agriculture sector, he said farmers have taken vegetable farming on a commercial scale.

“The income which they used to earn from citrus in the past, they earn from vegetables today,” Pema Chofil said. “We are doing very well.” For better marketing, farmers have formed many groups.

Farmers, who owned orchards, used to earn about Nu 100,000 to 400,000 from citrus, but many orange orchards today remain only in thrams. This is because land that was registered as orange orchards remain barren with dead orange trees or are used as dry land.

As vegetables are planted on commercial scale, most of what is produced is brought to Thimphu while some are sold in Damphu town. A small portion is supplied to Punatshangchu project, which was earlier thought to be an important market.

Chairman of a farmers’ group, Dilliram said since the project meets most of its vegetable requirement from India, demand for local vegetables is not big.

“The project meets its consumption demand for eggs since they cannot import from India,” he said.

Sergithang-Tsirangtoe MP Novoin Darlami said formation of farmers group has also been very helpful for marketing their vegetables. “Many farmers own utility vehicles, the Bolero pick up being the favourite.”

This has enabled farmers from Tsirang to take their vegetables to bigger markets like Thimphu. The parliamentarian believes that the livelihood of the people in the dzongkhag has changed for better over the years.

However, he said some still faced challenges such as lack of irrigation facility. “In some places we could help, but some places don’t have water sources,” he said.

Officials also attribute the success to road connectivity. In order to fully realize the concept of “Production, Access and Marketing”, the agriculture ministry continues to invest a lot of resources in transforming traditional farming system to mechanized farming system by subsidized distribution of farm machinery and in improving access to markets.

More than 3,143 households in Tsirang benefit from farm roads at present.

“We are advising and training farmers,” the DAO said. Some progressive farmers, he said are sent to Rural Development Training Centre (RDTC), Zhemgang for training.

The emphasis on import substitution by promoting local produce, good income from vegetables and roads reaching villages has encouraged farmers.

The DAO said about 20 to 30 percent of the farmers come forward to seek help from the agriculture sector and the rest have to be fed information by reaching to them. “These days many farmers also listen to or read news for information to improve their crops and availability of new crops,” he said.

The success of farming saw many return to the farms after looking for opportunities outside the dzongkhag, which is also called as the egg capital of Bhutan. “If you are willing to work, everybody can earn and make a good living,” says Passang, a university graduate, who is a farmer now.

MB Subba, Tsirang