Wangmo is one of the last to harvest potato in Changka village, some kilometres away from Bondey farm towards Thimphu.

Fields nearby hers are transplanting paddy and almost completed.

But Wangmo is least worried.

“I can finish harvesting potato in about two days,” Wangmo said scanning over the potato fields expanding more than an acre that lay ready for harvest.

Her confidence comes from the potato digger she has hired from the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd.

“With this machine, potato harvesting has become much easier and what took a week is done in matter of three days at the most,” she said. “I just have to pay for the fuel.”

The Kubota power tiller draws close thundering. More than a dozen men and women hurry after the tiller with buckets.

Residents in Paro harvest potato before it is fully matured so that they can cultivate paddy on time.

The potato digger machine has saved farmers like Wangmo the drudgery of having to harvest potato with hoes.

“Those days when we used to dig potato with hands our hands hurt and most of us got cramps at the end of the day,” she said.

The potato digger machine is one of the three agriculture technologies the Agriculture Machinery Centre (AMC) in Bondey, Paro developed and released in the 11th Plan.

Besides the potato digger, AMC developed a hedge cutter and a cardamom dryer, AMC’s programme director Kinga Norbu said during a field day organised to familirise farmers with the various technology.

The hedge cutter is used for paddy and wheat harvesting and the cardamom dryer has been able to improve the quality of the produce for export and efficiency of the process, an official said.

AMC officials said that the technology has been borrowed from imported ones but modified to suit local conditions.

This has reduced the cost of the machines by manifolds. For instance, the potato digger costs Nu 5,000. It is attached to the power tiller.

Department of Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives’ (DAMC) study last year found local cardamom inferior to those produced in India and Nepal because of poorer drying practices.

“Poor drying practices is known to result in further quality deterioration during storage and transportation, inferior colour and other sensory characteristics of the produce,” the report stated.

The government continues to make technology interventions predominantly to improve the drying technology.

More than 60 improved cardamom dryers, fueled by wood have been established on a cost – sharing basis with beneficiaries in Dagana, Tsirang, Samtse, Sarpang, Zhemgang, Chukha and Pemagatshel. Each of these dryers costs Nu 30,000.

Prices for the spice this season slumped between Nu 500 to Nu 800 a kilogramme against the price of Nu 700 and Nu 1,400 last year.

AMC programme director Kinga Norbu said that officials from the centre helped establish 69 cardamom dryers so far.  “ Among the technology we have released so far there seems to be a strong demand for this technology,” he said.

AMC’s assistant engineer Tshering Dorji said not having full-fledged engineers was a disadvantage.

“Our work involves so much research, report writing, and most of us are only diploma holders,” Tshering Dorji said. However, the programme has five Japanese experts to help with quality, safety and design aspects, he said.  “They’ve been very helpful and we have learnt a lot.”

The AMC has met its target for the 11th Plan. “We’ve trained about 3,500 people against the target of 3,200,” Prabhu Narayan Pradhan said. “The participants have been trained in operating the power tillers and in minor repairs and maintenance.”

AMC also certifies machines that private distributors and FMCL want to distribute.

AMC principal engineer Sangay Lhendup said that it has certified six machines and also developed standards and codes for them.

“These standards are needed to ensure quality, and safety,” he said. “We’re working on several such standards and codes to be released in the 12th Plan.”

AMC was established in 1983. The centre’s mandate of supplying machines to farmers was handed over to Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd in 2016. The centre today develops technology, standards, and trains farmers.

More than 70 farmers attended the field day, including agriculture extension officials and private machinery distributors.

Khandu Wangchuk from Dotay said that the farmers hire machines. “It was a good opportunity to see other machines and learn about new developments,” he said.

Back in the field, Wangmo once done with her potato harvest will need the rice planting machines.

“Life has become easy thanks to the centre and their work,” she said. “Field work is not as back breaking.”

Tshering Palden | Paro