Choki Wangmo

Dagana, a dzongkhag located in western Bhutan, was once known for having the highest poverty rate in the country. But things have changed in recent years, and the dzongkhag has seen a remarkable reduction in poverty levels.

According to the latest quinquennial poverty analysis report, the dzongkhag’s poverty rate dropped to 9.9 percent in 2022, a drastic decrease from the 33.3 percent rate recorded in 2017. This puts Dagana in the eighth position among the 20 dzongkhags in Bhutan, a significant improvement from its last-place ranking in 2017.

The increase in average annual household income from agriculture, non-agriculture, and wages per household has played a crucial role in the dzongkhag’s improvement.

Dagana Dzongdag Tashi Tobgay believes that improved connectivity has played a significant role in the dzongkhag’s development.

He acknowledges that although Dagana was centrally located, it remained isolated in the past due to a lack of connectivity roads with other dzongkhags, which had impeded the growth of the local economy and plunged the dzongkhag further into poverty.

The dzongkhag is now connected with Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag and Chukha by the 80-km Dagapela-Dalbari secondary national highway, and with Wangdue by the Peling-Kamichu bypass. Dagana has 17.6km of primary national highways, 173.77km of secondary national highways, and 120.8km of gewog centre road.

There are still some connectivity issues to be addressed, however. Without a motorable bridge, residents of Nichula in the drungkhag must travel through India to reach the gewog. All the 70 chiwogs in the dzongkhag are connected by 183 farm roads, amounting to more than 670km.

 While six chiwog connectivity roads were constructed within the current Plan, residents complain that the quality of farm roads is poor during the monsoon season, often leaving villages cut off from other towns for weeks.

Despite having 183 farm roads connecting all 70 chiwogs in the dzongkhag, residents have reported poor road conditions during the monsoon season, often leaving villages cut off from other towns for weeks. However, these farm roads have still helped boost the local economy, with many people venturing into commercial-level agricultural production, according to the dzongdag.

With the majority of the dzongkhag’s population engaged in agriculture, the annual average household income from the sector is Nu 73,040. Cottage and small industries also contribute significantly to the economy, with 508 such businesses involved in production, manufacturing, contract services, and other services.

Given the high poverty rate, national and international agencies, non-profit organisations, and civil society organisations have funded various development projects in the dzongkhag. For instance, agricultural projects funded by Food Security and Agriculture Productivity have been implemented in six of the 14 gewogs, enhancing agricultural production and resilience to climate change. Major projects have been funded by the Green Climate Fund and Small Development Project.

Dagana is a pilot dzongkhag for various agriculture and livestock programs, such as winter chilli farming, which has seen a manifold increase in production. The dzongkhag also has 69 farmers groups consisting of 44 vegetable groups, four beekeeping groups, and 21 livestock production groups. Mandarin, maize, paddy, and areca nuts are major crops grown in the dzongkhag, with a record production of mandarin at 2,791 metric tonnes in 2022. Additionally, there are 120 poultry farms, 341 pig farms, 162 fish farms, 253 goat farms, and 523 dairy farms in the dzongkhag.

However, farmers report a break in the supply chain during peak harvest season due to a lack of market for their produce.

Tashi Tobgay has identified income and employment-generating activities as the next focus of development. Dagana has an unemployment rate of 1.8 percent, with 8.6 percent of young people unemployed. To boost the economy, tourism development plans are being considered to attract domestic and international visitors. The Bara Gumti area along the Sunkosh River in Samarchhu, Tsendagang gewog, is being developed as an eco-tourist spot. Dagana also has cultural and naturally occurring pilgrimage sites.

Furthermore, the opening of the Kulkuli trade route from Lhamoidizngkha to India provides hope for improving trade and providing business opportunities for local traders. Tashi Tobgay also suggests that road connectivity between Dagana and Chukha will enhance mobility and economic activities, such as surface dredging in Lhamoidzingkha, which currently has no bidders due to the lack of a proper route.