In a move that will leave no wet land fallow across the country and help realise the national goal of food self-sufficiency, the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd (FMCL) has begun large scale commercial paddy farming.

The agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji inaugurated the large scale commercial paddy farming initiative in Gelephu yesterday.

FMCL has taken over 200 acres of private wet land at the fishery site in Gelephu. In just a day spring paddy was transplanted on about 13 acres with the help of over 230 volunteers from the dzongkhag agriculture sector, Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) and the public of Gelephu.

Another 250 acres of private wet land has been leased by the corporation in Chuzagang, which will soon be cultivated. While the land in Chuzagang was partially cultivated by farmers until now, the land at the Gelephu fishery site was left fallow for more than 15 years because of unavailability of sufficient labour.

In return for the use of private land, which was either left fallow or partially cultivated, the corporation will give 20 percent of the harvest to the land owners.

Seeds are provided by the National Seed Centre, technical support by the Agriculture Research Development Centre, farming is carried out by FMCL, labour is provided by the labour ministry and marketing done by FCB.

FMCL CEO Karma Thinley said that this year paddy will be transplanted manually but from next year transplanting machines will be used. “This commercial large scale farming will be done phase wise across the country.

Wet land with available irrigation will be taken over first.”

He added that FMCL will also grow cash crops and vegetables on large scale in different parts of the country.

Later this week, cultivation will begin in Yoeseltse (Ghumauney) in Samtse and transplantation is scheduled for March 19 in Phuntshothang in Samdrupjongkhar. FMCL has leased 120 acres in Samtse and 200 acres in Samdrupjongkhar.

In later phases of the project, fallow land will be identified and studies will be conducted to determine availability of irrigation water and whether the land is protected from wildlife, among others.

Although the project began last year, paddy was transplanted on a  comparatively small area of 50 acres in Thimphu.

Karma Thinley explained that in the first year, efforts would be made to develop the area and set up farm machinery. In the long run, the corporation aims to farm on all fallow land.

“Our long term goal is to achieve food self sufficiency and provide jobs to our educated youth,” he added.  Currently, at least 134 youths are already employed. This number is expected to cross 200 by the end of this month.

“We’re optimistic that the youth are going back to agriculture,” Karma Thinley added. “However, it might take at least 10 years for the system to stabilise.”

For now three varieties of paddy imported from India have been used. It had to be imported from India because the local variety could not meet the requirement for large scale transplantation. From next year, farmers could also maintain paddy seedbeds and sell seedlings to the corporation.

FMCL has also begun commercial farming of mandarin in Kana gewog and large scale vegetable farming on about 200 acres in Nichula gewog in Dagana.

Karma Thinley said that when the country has all the resources, support and capacity in place food will not have to be imported. He added that the corporation is receiving the full support of various stake holders.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang