Phurpa Lhamo  | Punakha

Come July, farmers in Guma could opt to either have machine-pumped water from the Mochhu or wait 10 days for their turn to get their share of irrigation water from Nyakhulum. If luck favours there will be rainfall to feed the stream.

In Punakha, paddy cultivation has become an expensive business.

Namgay Tshering paid Nu 450 an hour to use his neighbour’s water pump to water his paddy field. It took two hours to adequately fill two langdos (25 decimals each) of land. Namgay Tshering has two acres of land. “We do not have water. Even the water from Nyakhulum, we cannot have it as it is quite far. We have to resort to bringing water from the river. We borrow the pump from our neighbours.”

Only 4km away in Bjimthang, Dzomi gewog, farmers are forced to drink from ponds. At least three spring water sources in the village have dried. Rashes, and cough and cold have become common health issues.

A study by the Watershed Management Division of the forest department has shown that of Bhutan’s 6,555 water sources, 2,317 (35 percent) are drying up; 147 have dried up.

Drying water sources, which once fed households in rural areas and their fields, have left many farmers distressed.

A Wangdue and Punakha-centric research titled ‘Farmers’ vulnerability to climate variability in Bhutan’ found that Guma and Kabisa gewogs in Punakha were most vulnerable to climate variability.    

One of the researchers, dean of College of Natural Resources, Om Katel (Phd), said that after studying data from 2015, 2016 and 2017, the researchers studied exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity.

Researchers, he said, studied how often the gewog was exposed to extreme climate variability such as heat waves, drought, hailstorms and windstorms, among others.

Further, adaptive capacity to understand as to whether the villagers had other alternatives in case crops failed due to extreme climate variability, was also studied. “For example, a village or household may be exposed to so many disaster like storms, snowfall, heavy rainfall and drought. But if they have resources like money, that is the adaptive capacity.”

The research concluded that for the short term (5-10 years), Guma and Kabisa gewogs were most vulnerable among the gewogs in Punakha and Wangdue.

Farmers complain of overflowing Nyakhulum stream and drying of water sources.

In Changyul village, Lhamo’s irrigation canal was damaged due to the overflowing stream.

The traditional irrigation canal served to four households. “In Changyul, we have serious issue. We have too much water if there is rain. If there is no rain then there is no water and it wouldn’t even fill a paddy field.”

Many in Guma sharecrop. Despite the challenges, farmers are forced to cultivate, as they have to provide a certain share of the rice to the owner of the land.

“Last year, my fields remained almost fallow. There were others who also had similar issues and we shared it with the land owners as well,” Lhamo said. “It is so difficult for farmers. If we seek other’s machine (to pump water) then the price is really high. And if we want to buy it ourselves, then we need loan, which we don’t get easily.”

A few months ago, Lhamo bought a water pump paying Nu 56,000. She borrowed money from her neighbours. She still has Nu 30,000 to repay.

“There is no one else who worries like farmers when it comes to repaying their loans. But when it comes to getting the loan, it is so difficult,” Lhamo said.

Drying spring water and extreme weathers are attributed to climate change.

Om Katel (PhD) said that after studying past data, research found that the intensity of rainfall had increased, while duration of rainfall had decreased. “Which means it rains for short period but it rains too much, and the duration of the rainfall has decreased compared to the last 10 to 20 years.”

Intense rainfall for shorter duration is worrying, as seepage into the ground to increase the water table is low, which comes out as spring water.

“People say that the spring water has dried up and people blame on climate change. It is, of course, partly true,” Om Katel (PhD) said.

The Gross National Happiness Survey Report 2015 found that farmers were found to be least happy. Only 33 percent of the farmers were classified as happy, which

is worrying, as farmers make one of the biggest occupational groups in Bhutan.

The labour force survey report of 2016 showed that 57.2 percent of people were involved in agriculture.

Nevertheless, the De-Suung water project and gewog water project activities are helping address the issues.

In Guma, while irrigation water scarcity issues remain, work to bring drinking water has begun.

Likewise in Dzomi, drinking water is expected to arrive by end of July this year.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk