Increasing number of farmland being left fallow

Agriculture: With increasing wild life attacks on their crops, the villagers of Umsang in Chumey, Bumthang have been turning away from farming.

Wild life attacks on crops is a major cause for giving up farming according to the villagers.

“Cultivation is difficult for women, who make up most of the population is the village and wild life attacks on crops made farming worse for us,” Namgang Dema from Umsang said.

Therefore, the village moved to yathra weaving for income.

“As an alternative source of income, the villagers here are also trying to adopt modern dairy farming,” Namgang Dema said.

According to Phurjoen tshogpa, Phunstho Wangchuk, over 40 acres of farmland in Umsang has been fallow for years.

“Even here in Thromed, over 40-50 acres of farmland is left fallow,” Phuntsho Wangchuk said, adding that only the lands around the settlement are cultivated while the far-flung ones are left barren today.

Thromed might be cultivating only around 15 acres, he said. “Similarly, most farmlands in other villages in Phurjoen are also fallow because of wild life attacks on crops,” Phuntsho Wangchuk said.

Farm lands in other chiwogs in Chumey like Chungphel have also been fallow for years now.

“Over 60 percent of the farm lands are being left fallow even in Chungphel,” Chungphel tshogpa, Phuntsho said.

Only around 10 households of the total 40 actually cultivate over two acres of their land holding of five-six acres he said. The remaining households weave yathra and maintain kitchen gardens, the tshogpa said.

According to Chumey gup, Tandin Phurba only 40 percent of the farmland in the gewog is cultivated while most remain fallow every year.

Save for Chokhor gewog where over 80 percent of the farmland is cultivated, even in Ura and Tang, majority of the farmlands are left fallow.

“While other factors like labour shortage is one reason for increasing fallow land, damage on crops from the wild life is the bigger cause,” Ura mangmi, Karma Wangdi said, adding only around 40-45 percent of the landholdings are cultivated today. Only around 30-40 percent of the farmland is cultivated every year in Tang, according to Khangrub tshogpa, Tshering Dorji.

“Let alone crops like potato, wheat and buckwheat, it is hard to even scramble fodders from the fields because of wildlife,” Tshering Dorji said.

As a result, cultivation in Tang has dropped by double, he said.

Phuntsho Wangchuk said that without a proper solution to the human wildlife conflict, Bhutan’s trade deficit would keep widening.

“Since fallow lands are increasing by the year, it will only push Bhutan’s import bar higher,” Phuntsho Wangchuk said, adding that Bhutan’s national pursuit of self-reliance might slip away unless a solution is found.

The dzongkhag is also working on resolving the issue of fallow land caused by wildlife damage. Dzongkhag agriculture officer (DAO), Gaylong said the dzongkhag is promoting electric fencing.

“Electric fencing must be able to resolve the human wildlife conflict to a certain degree since it is effective and affordable,” Gaylong said.

Around 156 acres of farmland of 60 households in Ura were given electric fencing recently. Six acres of farmland in Tangsibi was also enclosed with electric fence.

The DAO however said that farmers might have to buy the electric fence since the government cannot finance it.

“The dzongkhag will provide technical back up for budget layout, estimate and installation of the electric fence if farmers are interested,” Gaylong said.

To encourage more cultivation, gewogs like Chokhor and Ura are also considering supplying electric fencing to the villages. “The gewog is collecting a report to assess on the number of villagers interested to install electric fencing around their farmlands,” Chokhor gup, Sangla said.

By Tempa Wangdi, Chumey

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