What the river gives with one hand (irrigation), it takes away with the other (erosion)

Disaster: When do farmers not welcome monsoon?  Ask the rice-growing farmers of Buna in Trashigang.

The much-needed rains are on its way, but farmers are worried, lest it might take another portion of their paddy fields.  For the last many years, some 27 households of Buna had been literally witnessing their paddy fields washed away by the river Gamri that also help them cultivate paddy.  The river, notorious for flash floods, has been the villagers’ nemesis.

With the shoreline inching towards the fields annually, farmers fear it will not take long before the whole area turns into a river course.  And they are helpless.

Today, farmers claim that the floods, caused by the swollen river, has washed away almost 15 acres of their fields that extends about 1km along the river side from Buna, below the Rangjung technical training institute, till Dopreng.

Once boasting to produce about 2000kg of paddy annually, today, the same farmer can harvest only about 500kg.

One of the affected farmers, Chedup, said that their repeated pleas for the construction of a sizeable retaining wall, or the diversion of the river, fell on deaf ears.  That is despite the gewog having people in powerful positions. 

“In November 2011, we even put up a petition to the dzongkhag administration asking for support, but nothing transpired out of it so far,” Chedup said.

Although most farmers are still into paddy cultivation, despite losing significant portions of their fields, some had to stop the practice as their wetlands are now filled with sand and stones.

“Most of the fields belong to villagers of Galing and about 10 households no longer carry out cultivation,” Sonam Tobgay, another affected farmer said. “It has been almost four years since I last cultivated paddy in my once 57 decimal wetland.”

Farmers also said that it would immensely help if the government could provide them with substitute lands.  However, they are yet to surrender their lands to the government.

The problems started following a major flash flood in 2004.  The coming in of private sand and stone quarries along the riverbanks only worsened the issue.

According to the then dzongkhag engineer, Chador Phuntsho, site inspections were carried out after the public raised concerns.  It was found that the prime cause was erosion of riverbanks triggered by the quarry activities.  Upon recommendation from the dzongkhag administration, quarry activities were suspended.

“The erosions were diverting the course of the river and reports were also generated,” he said.

Shongphu gup, Kinzang Wangdi, said that the reports were presented to the dzongkhag and then forwarded to the ministry of agriculture and forests (MoAF).

“We’d soon carry out a meeting with the affected landowners and see what could be done to curb their problems,” he said.

In 2014, farmers had also raised the issue with the National Council chairperson, Dasho (Dr) Sonam Kinga.  According to the blog of the chairman, the matter was put up to MoAF.

“While the ministry hopes to help affected households to construct sizable wall, it would be difficult without required amount budget. The ministry is exploring for the budgetary support to construct wall,” the blog states. “ Ministry would also like to ensure that the concerns of the affected household are taken into genuine consideration and will work towards finding lasting alternative solution.”

Regarding the substitute lands, the chairman’s blog reads that the ministry would assist farmers to look at the possibility of providing land substitute, provided the affected households approach the ministry after completing formalities through dzongkhag.

The then dzongkhag agriculture officer said that a joint committee was formed and site inspections were carried out to look at the prospects of land substitution.

“Inspections were carried out in about nine gewogs. The reports should be with the dzongkhag agriculture department,” he said.

The dzongkhag land record officer, Gyembo, said that, although they were not aware of the developments pertaining to the case, there are around 100 pending application forms related to land substitution.

Meanwhile, with the monsoon right around the corner, praying is the only solution left for farmers.

Tshering Wangdi, Trashigang