Agriculture: Bhutan will receive 353 power tillers from Japan next February, the first lot under the general grant assistance after the long-standing KR-II grant scheme ended last April.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) officials said this may not be the last batch to come in.

“The last group from Japan wanted to see how the 353 power tillers are used and their impact before making any decisions,” the Chief Representative of JICA Bhutan office, Koji Yamada said.

Normally the general grant aid for the provision of power tillers is subject to the outcome of the previous batch.

“If the Japan government finds the power tillers are used properly by the Bhutanese and are having the expected impact then it would be a convincing reason to dispatch another batch,” he said.

JICA officials both in Thimphu and Tokyo said that the dispatch of the next lot of power tillers under this grant scheme depends on how this batch of power tillers is used.

“It’s up to the Bhutanese government,” a JICA official in Tokyo said.

JICA officials said that it is becoming increasingly challenging to convince their government to give more grants as Bhutan has developed and the general economic conditions have improved.

However, they said that development needs remain despite progress in gross domestic product or the per capita income of the people.

“What we need to emphasise is sustainability of the activities carried out by the projects,” Koji Yamada said.

Usually the general grant schemes take time to assess the impact of the previous batch of machinery.

In case of Bhutan, there is a possibility of expediting the process. A technical cooperation project JICA has with the agriculture ministry has the potential to convince the Japan government to decide on the next batch sooner.

The three-year technical project is likely to be extended by a year till August 2018. A component of this project is the Farm Machinery Corporation’s hiring services and capacity development of power tiller users, through which the power tillers could be provided.

In the final KR-II grant assistance, Japan handed over 239 power tillers worth approximately Nu 65 million in April last year. Bhutan has received KR-II grant assistance since 1984 and since then, Bhutanese farmers received around 3,186 power tillers. The government completed distributing power tillers to all gewogs in April last year.

Farm machanisation has been instrumental in enabling Bhutanese farmers to increase their production of staple food crops mainly rice, wheat and maize.

Farm machanisation had helped solve the issue of labour shortage and farm drudgery in rural areas. It was also highlighted that the utility of power tillers is further optimised with its additional use for transportation.

With the use of power tillers there has been a 15 percent increase in the rice yield and 48.8 percent reduction in the cost of production. Such inputs could enable the country to increase food production and meet its goal of food security and to sustain overall economic growth.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay last year said that the Japan government gave a positive response to the request of 1,450 power tillers to Bhutan during his visit to Japan in June 2014.

One of the pledges of this government has been giving a power tiller to each chiwog or cluster of villages within this Plan.

Earlier the government said that all the power tillers would be distributed by the fourth year of the Plan.

The government piloted with hiring services for farm machinery including power tillers, which has generated a lot of interest among farmers as the service was cheaper.

The government hires out power tillers from regional centres in Paro, Bajo in Wangdue, Samtenling in Gelephu, and Khangma in Trashigang.

Tshering Palden