Mechanising more Bhutanese farms

A target to increase the mechanisation percentage of arable land from two to 20 percent is being pursued 

Agriculture: The Agriculture Machinery Centre (AMC) is targeting a 20 percent increase in farm mechanisation.

Currently, only around two percent of arable land or around 65,000 acres is considered partially mechanised.

This percentage and definition of farm mechanisation only takes into account land preparation achieved using power tillers.

Given that more than 3,000 power tillers have been provided by Japan so far, a two percent rate seems relatively low.

AMC programme director, Karma Thinlay said that if farm mechanisation encompasses the full process from land preparation, which includes ploughing and transplanting, among others, to processing post-harvest, then the percentage achieved would be over 90 percent.

He said that every chiwog had at least one processing machine. There are 1,044 chiwogs in Bhutan.

He added that for milling, almost all farmers now did not use traditional water mills or pounding. He pointed out that even for those farmers who still use water mills, like in Bumthang, the AMC has intervened to partially mechanise the process.

However, he said that the post-harvest aspect is not included.

On how AMC would achieve a target of mechanising 20 percent of arable land with the Japanese KR-II grant discontinued and further Japanese assistance possibly providing only another 1,450 power tillers, Karma Thinlay said that achieving the objective would not be entirely dependent on Japanese support.

“It’s about how we’re doing our work,” he said. He pointed out that earlier power tillers received under Japanese support were distributed to individual households and that the machines were usually used only by the particular household. “So efficiency of the machine was very low,” he said.

There are two ways to meet the target. One is to depend on donor support for more power tillers and the other is to use power tillers already possessed more efficiently through the hiring system.

Karma Thinlay said the approach being pursued currently is a parallel one with both ways being adopted.

Eight hiring centres have been established in the past two years. Karma Thinlay said that by pooling the machines, a single power tiller can now be used for up to 100 days a year instead of just a few days when it was distributed to a single household.

The government has also requested the Japanese government for 1,450 power tillers, which the Japanese government has approved in principle.

The AMC also sees the hiring service being corporatised or privatised as the way forward.

Karma Thinlay said that since the hiring service is a business, the government should rather focus on the policy, planning and coordination aspect of it, and play an advisory role rather than an investment one.

On corporatising the service, he said that if the motive is a social mandate than it could become a state owned enterprise, but if the objective is profit, then the Druk Holding and Investments could take ownership.

The concept is being discussed at the AMC level. Karma Thinlay said that to be determining the future concept is already late as the hiring services begun as early as 2006.

Another way forward is to phase out subsidies to farmers gradually. “The reason is because we need to change the mindset of the farmers to be independent of the government instead of the government doing everything for the farmers,” Karma Thinlay said. While acknowledging that areas with high poverty would still require subsidies, he added that more affluent areas like Paro and Punakha could have certain subsidies removed.

On whether having subsidies removed might negatively impact mechanisation and development of agriculture, Karma Thinlay said that only if support is withdrawn abruptly. He pointed out that a gradual phase wise removal would be the best strategy.

Meanwhile, the AMC met with donor agencies in Paro last week to obtain feedback on activities and also brief participants about how the Japan International Cooperation Agency has been supporting Bhutan.

It was pointed out during the presentation that Japan has provided more than 3,000 power tillers, 20,600 other farm equipment, and trained at least 30,000 Bhutanese farmers, students, and mechanics since 1964.

By Gyalsten K Dorji, Paro

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