Nima | Gelephu

Even with improved irrigation facility in Gakidling, Sarpang more farmers are yet to venture into large-scale farming.

The completion of the Laring irrigation project encouraged farmers to grow their own vegetables in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of the land was left fallow before the irrigation project.

Locals from Gakidling use to go to Gelephu and across the border towns to Dathgari to buy vegetables at cheaper rates. However, this has changed with the border gate remaining closed for the past two years, according to the gewog officials.

Gakidling gup, Nim Dorji Sherpa, said there was not enough land for large-scale farming. “We tried to get land on lease but people don’t come together. Earlier, people faced irrigation problems which should not be a problem now,” he said.

He added that it would be easier for the government to invest in and support large-scale farming if there is space for large-scale production.

“Mechanisation would be comfortable. People don’t buy vegetables like in the past. Earlier people travel to Sarpang town and Dathgari. There is no such situation today,” said Nim Dorji Sherpa.

With most of the farmers growing vegetables and crops on a small scale, the support from the agriculture sector gets divided. The gewog started producing winter vegetables from last year.

According to a study conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Bhutan has an estimated 66,587 farms, of which 99 percent are cultivated by smallholders and subsistence farmers. 

“In the wetlands, the main reasons for the high percentage of land under fallow were poor access to irrigation, crop damage due to wildlife, and labour shortages. Low soil fertility, conversion to other land uses, rotation practices, and distance between the land and the home were also cited.”

The report also stated that only 18 percent of arable wetland was irrigated and 61 percent of dry land has no irrigation facilities.

Nim Dorji Sherpa said the gewog planned to encourage paddy cultivation in winter after the completion of Laring irrigation project.

Gewog agriculture extension officer, Tashi Tshomo, said that the irrigation project would benefit more than 80 households in lower Gakidling. “People left the land fallow because of the irrigation water shortages. The vegetable production has improved today.”

Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project (FSAPP) supported the construction of Laring irrigation project, which was completed in 2021. The project was started in 2017.

However, people residing along Singye gewog centre road and Omchuna village continue to face irrigation and drinking water shortages. The gewog plans to include the villages in the project expansion plans.

The project also supported the construction of micro-irrigation facility at Kencholing in Shompangkha. The irrigation facility benefitted close to 20 households and helped take up commercial vegetable farming.

Besides growing vegetables on a commercial scale, the beneficiaries also used the new irrigation line to grow quinoa, mustard, and buckwheat.

The gewog has potential to revive 75 percent of the fallow land in Kencholing, according to the gewog officials.