Nima | Sarpang

The number of people taking up commercial farming in Sarpang is increasing annually. However, easy access to Indian vegetables and illegal import of banned vegetables is a big concern among farmers.

Sangay Choda and his brother who started to grow chilies on a commercial scale had to explore markets in Paro, Thimphu, and Punakha to sell their produce last year.

The 23-year-old class twelve graduate is planning commercial farming. He has been helping his elder brother for almost a year. “Farming could contribute to making the country food self-sufficient. The opportunities are good,” he said.

Sangay Choda said that most youth getting into agriculture projects choose mechanised farming for better production. “This would also solve one of the biggest problems faced by farmers growing vegetables at the commercial level today.”

The support from the concerned sector, Sangay Choda said, was essential in the beginning.

Sangay Choda and his brothers earn at least Nu 125,000 annually by selling chilies. They also grow other vegetables and mushrooms.

Soon, the duo will have their farm expanded with a nursery.

Sarpang agriculture sector received over 100 applications from individuals and groups interested in commercial farming this year.

The sector has identified over 670 acres of fallow land for commercial farming; 645 acres of dry land and 25 acres of wetland (subjected to the inputs and mechanization support from the government).

Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Deki Lhamo, said that the farmers struggled to sell their produce in the local market. “Indian vegetables are available at a cheaper rate. Illegal import of banned crops is a deterrent factor,” she said.

Kamana Gurung from Bhur temporarily employs youth to earn and learn in her organic farming. She said there is a need to stabilize the vegetable prices.

“Labour shortages and illegal import of vegetables make it difficult to standardise the vegetable prices in the market. But, there is also a need to monitor prices among the vendors,” she said.

The local produces are expensive in the market because of several vendors getting in between farmers and the vendors selling the produce in the market.

Areca nut plantation overshadows vegetable farming

In Umling gewog, over 40 households are engaged in semi-commercial and commercial farming, individually and in groups. The farmers mostly focus on growing chilies.

The gewog is seeing an increasing number of people taking up commercial farming and two new groups—youth and all women group—have started growing vegetables on a commercial scale.

The gewog produced over 5 MT of chillies last year.

However, the gewog is losing cultivable land to areca nut plantation as it is easy to grow and it requires only one-time investment.

The gewog extension officials said the increasing number of people getting into areca nut cultivation was not encouraging.

The dzongkhag has 354.67 acres of land under vegetable cultivation, according to the dzongkhag agriculture sector.

The dzongkhag produced over 4200 MT of areca nut but only 1288 MT of vegetables last year

Assistant dzongkhag agriculture officer, Chimi Wangchuk, in an earlier interview with Kuensel said the sector was not sure whether the market within the country would be able to absorb the production in the future if the export to India stopped.

Sarpang is the largest producer of areca nut in the country but only 38 percent of households in the dzongkhag are self-sufficient for six months or more, according to the dzongkhag agriculture sector.

Irrigation problems and human-wildlife conflicts are the pertinent issues facing commercial farming today.