Its location in the highlands makes it a daunting challenge for the people of Merak to engage in any sort of agricultural practises.
Being located 3,500 metres above sea level means even small kitchen gardens wither in the biting cold that is accompanied by stormy winds from the snow-capped mountains.
However, fresh cabbage salads and spinach curry is fast becoming a common menu in most of the households in Merak today. The community credits the greenhouse initiative that was launched about four years ago for making green vegetables available to them.
Of the 24 greenhouses in Merak, Aum Ngadan is a proud owner of a green house. “It would be rare to find fresh green vegetables in Merak but we get it throughout the year,” the 56-year-old said with pride.
It’s been about 14 months since Aum Ngadan got her greenhouse and the benefits from it, she said is unlimited. Spinach, cabbages, carrots, beans, broccoli, radish, cucumber and pumpkin are some of the most grown vegetables in these greenhouses.
When she received a good harvest last year with cucumber and pumpkins, she tried her luck with chillies. But to her dismay, the chillies failed to grow fruits. “I’m not giving up on the chillies yet,” she said. “I believe everything is possible in this greenhouse and I’ll plant chillies once again.”
Aum Ngadan who also provides homestay facility in her duplex to tourists and government officials said it has become more convenient to host guests after having a continuous supply of fresh vegetables.
“Most tourists demand fresh vegetables in their meals and it was a big concern when we didn’t have a greenhouse,” she said. “Now I take them on tours around my greenhouse and tell them they can have fresh vegetables anytime they want.”
Initiated in 2013, the greenhouse project was mainly aimed to promote eco-tourism in the highlands according to the park ranger of Merak Park Range office, Dorji. The park office under the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary introduced the project.
He said the project initially received lukewarm response from the community because it was a new technology to them. “Many were doubtful of the greenhouse but since nothing else grew outside, they gave it a try,” Dorji said.
Soon after the construction of a few pilot greenhouses, the results were evident. However, with limited budget, not every household could get a greenhouse. The gewog management had selected the households that would get the greenhouses.
Merak gup Lama Rinchen said that only those individuals who did not migrate with their herds and had a nominal source of income were selected to be the beneficiaries.
He said that with the success of the project and also because of the demand from the community, the gewog would be constructing 15 more greenhouses by June this year at a cost of Nu 1.5 million. “People who are genuinely interested in vegetable growing and who do not own cattle will receive the greenhouse,” the gup said.
Meanwhile, Dorji also pointed out that because it is warmer, they have seen some residents weaving and drying clothes inside the greenhouses.
Younten Tshedup | Merak