The vast and fertile flatland of Paro makes farmers from other dzongkhags envious. They see potential not only in growing varieties of crops, but also the prospects of farm mechanisation. As hired hands become rare and expensive, mechanisation, they know, is the only solution.
Terrain is an obstacle to mechanisation. Apart from the power tillers, not many farmers use machines. Paro is better. We see water pumps, rice transplanters, harvesters and bolero pick- up trucks in the middle of rice fields. Farming is by far easier in Paro, and to an extent, in the Punakha- Wangdue valley.
That representatives of farmers in Paro are calling for the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd. to streamline its services after the recent damage to paddy comes as a surprise. Local leaders are blaming the inefficiency of FMCL for the damage. We can understand the frustrations of the farmers. Combined harvester and paddy threshers saves time. Had they been up and running, more farmers would have reaped their harvest.
What the rain exposed too was the shortcomings of the FMCL, a state-owned enterprise that was set up to maintain, hire, sell and repair farm machinery in the wake of farm labour shortages and threat to food self-sufficiency. Farm mechanisation, when the company was incorporated, was seen as a sustainable tool for future agriculture. To be fair on the FMCL, if the assets or machinery worth millions handed over to them were not functioning, the government should look into investing or relook into its mandate.
The machine hiring charges are highly subsidised by the government. This is not sustainable. If we cannot mechanise farming in Paro, it will be difficult in others. Parops take pride in their land. Most farmers are also well-to-do and could invest in machinery. Some have and it has reduced farm drudgery. It also means keeping our land tilled when the pressure is to convert them into buildings.
No matter the size or terrain of our farmlands, mechanisation is the way forward. There is pressure on farmers to leave their land and move to urban centres. Labour shortage is one. It is only the elderly that are left back in the farms. When labour becomes expensive, farming is not profitable and sustainable. In Paro, the daily wage during busy seasons like Changla (transplantation) is Nu 700 a day. Farmers are lucky if they can find one for that rate.
It was a bad coincidence in Paro this year where the FMCL is located. It rained and the machines broke down or there were not enough, including operators. The machines FMCL hired, in the past, had made farming easy in Paro. Farmers agree. The recent incident serves as a good reminder that mechanisation is the answer and that we should not depend on the government to do everything.
The need is interventions like research and development in agriculture technology. This could provide solutions to farmers and the sustainability of the FMCL. Technology is making agriculture attractive and profitable. We should embrace it.