Over 12 commercial farming projects have begun in the eastern region of the country today with technical support from the Agriculture Research and Development Centre (ARDC), Wengkhar in Mongar.

The centre that began as a five-year Horticulture Research and Development Project (HRDP)- Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Bhutan has proven beneficial for the farmers of the six eastern dzongkhags.

HRDP-JICA was a technical cooperation project between the agriculture ministry and JICA to make horticulture more popular as a source of income in the east. The five-year project term ended in 2015.

Project director at ARDC in Wengkhar, Lhap Dorji, said that agro-processing and commercial farming were some of the major activities that were expanded after the project. “We are currently providing technical assistance to 14 youth commercial farms.”

About a dozen of the youth commercial farming projects have begun.

Since the end of the project in 2015, ARDC, Wengkhar has developed about 150 demonstration orchards through lead farmer groups every year. The centre has also worked on over 32,000 acres of land on the production of grafted seedlings.

ARDC’s deputy chief horticulture officer, Sonam Gyeltshen, said that according to an impact survey, the income of farmers has improved drastically. “The nursery growers are also doing well. We have about six major nurseries today and we also buy saplings from them.”

Since the end of the project term, Bhutanese have replaced the expertise from JICA at the centre today.

Lhap Dorji said that with the experience in the project, providing technical assistance wasn’t an issue.

But human resource and mobility are some of the major challenges facing ARDC.

While ARDC sustains on donor funds today, the fund isn’t an issue.

Lhap Dorji said that service requests were increasing and delivery remains a challenge. “We are still working with JICA funded vehicles. Gradually all the vehicles would be returned when they reach 15 years.”

Replicating the project, an Integrated Horticulture Promotion Project (IHPP) was also introduced in Wangdue, Punakha, Tsirang and Dagana. The JICA-funded project began in 2016.

Programme director with Renewable Natural Resources Research Development Center (RNR RDC)-Bajo, Pema Chofil, said that today the project had about six nurseries, and had over 350kg of seed production.

He added that the third batch of farmers has been selected for the outreach programme. The farmers receive thorough training in horticulture starting from pit digging to post-harvest techniques.

Pema Chofil said the project was aimed at generating appropriate horticulture technology, building capacity in quality seed production, and strengthening research and extension system.

“The capacity development and the input support have never gone hand-in-hand. This project makes sure the capacity is built so that the output is solid.”

The outreach programme spends over Nu 17,000 on each farmer through the project.

Chief advisor of the project, Yuichi Tomiyasu, said that compared to the east, the farmers in the central-west region were forthcoming for the project. However, farmers charging high price for the products was a major issue, he said.

Phurpa Lhamo