Neten Dorji

Trashigang— Adverse impact of climate change, harassed by wildlife, and acute labour shortage has led to a decline of maize harvest by more than half in the past 6 years alone. 

The total maize production decreased from 55,259 metric tonnes (MT) in 2018 to 25,981 MT in 2022. 

Mongar produced 5,133 MT of maize, followed by Trashigang with 3,677 MT, and Dagana with 2,332 MT. 

Maize is mostly cultivated in Mongar, Trashigang, Dagana, Samdrupjongkhar, Tsirang, Pemagatshel, and Samtse districts.

According to the Creal and Livestock Report of 2022, maize cultivation covers more than 11,993.03 acres of land in six eastern dzongkhags. 

The number of maize cultivators decreased from 38,397 holders in 2021 to 37,707 holders in 2022, representing a decrease of 2 percent, as farmers increasingly opted for valuable crops, fruits, and vegetables.

Traditionally, maize had been a staple crop in eastern Bhutan, deeply ingrained in the region’s farming practices, with nearly 90 percent of farmers in eastern dzongkhags involved in maize cultivation.

Furthermore, alternative opportunities, shifts in consumption patterns, and the preference for high-value crops, had the farmers moving away from growing maize, according to agricultural officials.

Karma Tenzin, Monger’s dzongkhag agriculture officer, said, besides armyworms, changes in food habits and human-wildlife interaction could have contributed to the loss in production in the dzongkhag. 

“This time, we distributed maize hybrid seeds to increase maize production,” he said. 

Most farmers had stopped cultivating winter maize and had switched to growing beans as it fetched better income, said Trashigang’s agriculture officer, Dorjee. 

“Now farmers are opting for high-yield crops like beans, quinoa, and others, which yield good returns,” he said. 

Maize production losses were attributed to adverse impact of climate change – erratic rainfall, windstorms, droughts, flash floods, and landslides, increased wildlife attacks, pest attacks, and diseases, according to agriculture officials.

Lobzang Norbu, 69, from Shongphu, explains the shift away from maize cultivation, stating that most people are opting for cash crops like cardamom.

“Due to human-wildlife conflict, people no longer cultivate maize as extensively as they did in the past. Instead, many are opting for crops with higher returns,” said Lobzang Norbu. “Furthermore, maize is highly sensitive to climate conditions such as storms and heat waves.”

Maize farmers in Trashigang expressed concerns over unprecedented dry spells, sometimes facing seed shortages. 

“We are witnessing both drought-like conditions and excess rain during the summer cropping season. In the spring season, hot and dry weather make it difficult for normal maize seeds to grow,” explained Tashi, a maize farmer from Bidung.

The Integrated Agriculture and Livestock Census of Bhutan 2022 cited climate change and damage by wild animals as reasons for maize production decline. Erratic weather patterns, untimely and uneven rainfall, and rapidly rising temperatures also affected the production. 

The International Journal of Environment and Climate Change study, volume 4, warned of long-term impacts of climate change on livelihoods and food security of those dependent on maize.

“Most of the livelihood of people in Mongar depends on maize products and considers maize to have the highest production compared to other products. At the same time, Monger has seen a decrease in maize production over time due to climate change and other factors,” it states.

Meanwhile, the country’s largest feed factory, the Karma Feed in Pasakha, used 2600 metric tons of maize to produce feeds for cattle and poultry in a month. 

Marketing officer, Chencho Wangdi, said that a minimum of 650 metric tonnes of maize is required daily to produce animal feed in the factory. 

“We mostly import maize from India since maize producers across the country are not able to meet the demand,” he said. “To encourage our farmers, we offer Nu 25 per kilogram for farmers if the cost of maize per kilogram is Nu 24 in India.”

He said farmers mostly cultivate maize for self-consumption rather than for commercial use. They keep 41,600 MT of imported maize in stock to produce feed.