Chhimi Dema 

The urban agriculture initiative that struggled to retain growers in the past has received a major boost with a record number of residents joining this year.

This year, there are 351 beneficiaries altogether working on 97 acres of land in Thimphu, Punakha, Bumthang, and Sarpang.  In Thimphu, there are 10 groups with 241 beneficiaries.

Records with the agriculture department (DoA) show that there were 266 and 277 beneficiaries in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

Project coordinator BB Rai said that many left for other opportunities to earn. “We allowed beneficiaries to go for other opportunities.”

The initiative produced 95.8 metric tonnes (MT) of vegetables last year and engaged about 300 individuals each year.

The production in 2020 was 33.86 MT, and the year 2021 saw an increase of 62.04 percent. This year’s production target is 100MT.

The DoA provides technical support such as the construction of electric fencing, greenhouse, irrigation canals, and distribution of seeds.

The initiative allows the beneficiaries to produce sufficient vegetables for consumption, BB Rai said. “However, some groups had made income from selling the surplus produce.”

The urban growers are focusing on producing tomato, eggplant, chilli, and a few other vegetables this year.

Sangay Dendup, a beneficiary, said that the initiative has allowed him to teach those interested in farming.

He said that when they began working, they didn’t know farming basics such as the planting season for different vegetables. “We were taught basics of farming and construction of greenhouses as well.”

“I was engaged productively, and despite not having a formal job, I could rely on the farm for a whole year and share the produce with others,” Sangay Dendup added.

Another beneficiary, Dechen Zangmo, 41, said that the initiative allowed her to be self-sufficient. “I don’t have to buy vegetables from the market.”

She said that the government’s support helped her be financially independent.

The initiative was started in 2020 under the Department of Agriculture (DoA), which was initiated with the support of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation as part of Covid-19 contingency plan. It ends this year.

BB Rai said that those who are interested to grow could continue so long the landowners and Zhung Dratshang allow.