Tshering Namgyal | Lhuentse

Seven months ago, Karma joined the Land Use Certificate (LUC) programme in Gulibi in Minjey gewog, Lhuentse along with two other farmers.

The programme was initially operated by 17 youth and dropped to three when Karma and two more members joined in December. However, today Karma is the lone farmer running the programme at the 15-acre farm after his colleagues left two months ago. His wife who works at a dairy processing unit assists the 40-year-old.

With 15 cows, the couple has started a commercial dairy farm. There are five milking cows that produce around 45 litres of milk a day. With no direct market for their produce, the couple sells the milk at the Lhamo Norguenma milk-processing unit run in Minjey gewog.

Development of the LUC programme was introduced in Minjey gewog in 2018 shortly after launching similar programmes in Jarey and Maedtsho gewogs. Initially, the farm at Gulibi had 17 members of which majority were out of school youth.

In the beginning, members cultivated potatoes and highland paddy including some vegetables. By midway last year, dairy farming was also introduced.

However, there was a problem. Members started dropping out of the programme.

Sonam Dorji, a former member said that although the land was fertile and there were no major challenges associated with the work in the programme, he had to leave as there was no one to stay back at home.

Other reasons for leaving the programme are other job opportunities and leaving the village with spouses after marriage and family issues among others. Some of the members blamed poor leadership and lack of accountability and management of the group leader for leaving the programme.

Karma, however, wanted to continue and he wanted to take up both agriculture and dairy production. “I requested my friends to stay back but they left. So it was difficult for me to take up both the activities and decided to dedicate commercial farming,” he said.

Clearing the thick undergrowth at the site, he has now turned a major portion of the land into pastureland. He has also planted chillies, beans and broccoli for self-consumption.

“The government support has been very helpful. Even parents can’t afford to provide similar support to their own children. I am not leaving this at any cost,” Karma said.

Construction of a dairy processing unit is underway at the site. The dzongkhag assistant livestock officer, Phurpa Tshering, who is the LUC programme coordinator said the equipment for the unit has been ordered.

In the long run, Phurpa Tshering said that the dzongkhag would include additional members. “However, we need to make them sign formal and strict undertakings if they want to become members.”

Meanwhile, the two LUC programmes with 10-acre fields each in Jarey and Maedtsho gewogs have taken up poultry farming with 300 birds each. In Jarey gewog, two youth operate the programme in Thonglingbi, while a lone member runs the LUC farming in Jagarbi, Maedtsho gewog.

The youth groups started poultry farming for immediate income generation, and also carried out protected vegetable cultivation inside greenhouses as they waited for the fertility of soil to improve.

The two LUC programmes in Mongar are also doing well. The programme at Thangbrang in Silambi gewog has eight youth farms on the 10-acres land.  They grow vegetables and rear poultry. They had their first harvest in April this year.

Beginning this year, the group also started shiitake mushroom farming with the inoculation of 2,500 billets. They grow commercial vegetables like chilies, fruit nursery and poultry. The group also takes up contractual farming with other farmers for rajma beans and sweet buckwheat.

The programme in Thangbrang is one of the potential commercial organic farming sites in Mongar led by a youth group. The programme is linked with schools under the school and hospital feeding programme.

Another LUC programme with 16 acres at Nyamey in Ngatshang gewog that started in April 2018 has expanded their area from cultivation of vegetables like chillies, cabbage, garlic, spinach and potatoes in small scale last year to around 10 acres (eight acres peas and two acres of potatoes) this year.

The group also runs a poultry farm with 700 birds. The group plans to further expand their business with 6,000 chicks and start a dairy farm with four jersey cows. They are also planning to start fishery with two ponds.