Finance ministry could approve pre-financing more projects in the future

Agriculture: The agriculture ministry’s ambitious irrigation programme in the 11th Plan got some boost with funds from international donors.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said the ministry has secured significant funds to begin work on irrigation schemes from next month.

Agriculture officials said that the four major irrigation schemes would be implemented through World Bank’s Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme from July.

Ministry’s irrigation division is finalising some International Food and Agriculture Development-assisted projects in the six eastern dzongkhags.

Most of European Union’s 14 million Euro fund to Bhutan will be invested in irrigation schemes come next fiscal year.

Of the 14 major schemes, irrigation division has completed five so far – two in Samtse, one each in Trashigang, Trashiyangtse, and Mongar.

The division’s chief irrigation engineer, Karma Tshethar, said, “We’ll complete the rest by June. Also, there are many other schemes being constructed by other agencies.”

The ministry has allotted Nu 25 million GoI aid to micro irrigation schemes such drip irrigation, and sprinklers for 300 hectares. The division has awarded works of 11 micro schemes for horticulture crops in the eastern dzongkhags and Dagana.

“This is to promote technology and to increase crop yield and farmers’ income,” Karma Tshethar said. “To minimise expenses for farmers, the division will take water till certain point near the settlement. From where the farmers have to connect water to their individual fields.”

The ministry intends to construct and renovate 108 irrigation canals in the country by 2018.

The division has received and spent Nu 174 million GoI grant as of December last year.

In the mid-term review last year, the ministry proposed reduction of the target of increased paddy field area under improved irrigation system from 79,040 acres to 61,447 acres. It also floated an option to pre-finance some of the projects.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay asked the Gross National Happiness Commission and the finance ministry to discuss the possibility of pre-financing projects for which funds have been secured. Since then, three projects were pre-financed.

The ministry wrote to the finance ministry for pre-financing more projects last month.

Karma Tshethar said this facility is sought mainly when the work progress is quicker than scheduled and the bills remain pending for months.

“It’s on the condition that once the Government of India releases the fund, it is directly given to the finance ministry,” he said.

According to a study conducted by Asian Development Bank consultants Bhutan could increase the acreage of land under irrigation to 91,000 from 64,000.

With annual paddy production of 145,000 metric tonnes, the paddy self-sufficiency rate could increase to 75 percent from prevailing 51 percent.

“Availability of water at district level is not a constraint for developing new irrigation areas if alternative methods such as conveyance or pumping are used,” an Integrated Water resource management expert said.

About 29 percent of existing irrigation canals have shortage or inadequate water supply.

Tshering Palden