Lhakpa Quendren | Sarpang

GAKILING — Along the Gelephu-Sarpang highway lies a vestige of Bhutan’s past agricultural prowess – the national integrated breeding programmes for poultry farming, fishery, and piggery. However, since its closure in the 1990s, these once-thriving facilities have fallen into disuse, becoming mere relics of their former significance.

A few metres below the highway, a cluster of 15 structures, including two-storey buildings, now languish amid overgrown shrubs and concealed by the embrace of nature. In their prime, these structures played a dual role, providing both office spaces and living quarters for the dedicated staff toiling on the farm.

Though relatively unknown to many, 82-year-old Icha Ram Raika from Gakiling remembers a time when these farms were indispensable sources of bird and piglet supplies for the villages.

“They used to supply eggs and meats to the nearby shops,” he recalls. “Back then, private farms were rare, and only a handful of households raised livestock for self-consumption.”

Raika, who moved from Tsirang to Gakiling in 1962, attests that the farm was already operational when he arrived, but its decline began with disruptions in 1989, eventually leading to a complete halt in operations by 1992.

In an effort to breathe life back into this agricultural heritage, the National Poultry Development Centre (NPDC) took steps to rejuvenate the structures. Initially operated under the livestock department, the facilities were transferred to the Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited a year ago. This move aimed to introduce new programmes and initiatives, infusing hope into the once-vital farming landscape.

Interestingly, the structures also experienced a temporary change of hands, being transferred to the Regional Livestock Development Centre in Zhemgang in 2014 before eventually returning to the NPDC in 2019.

Though almost two decades elapsed before the integrated breeding farm resumed operations in 2009, it had to relocate to Gelephu. However, the poultry farm made its way back to Gakiling in 2010, with the relocation being attributed to site expansion and safety concerns. The previous location had been plagued by frequent flooding, endangering the farm’s viability.

Elaborating on the strategic importance of the site, Arjun Gurung, the officiating programme director of NPDC, emphasised the potential for profitable poultry business due to its favorable location and abundant water resources, including fishery tanks. Reactivating operations here could be instrumental in achieving the country’s self-sufficiency goals. While initial plans included conducting research on native poultry, these ambitions were later redirected to Sersam.

In 2010, the structures were leased to a few private poultry firm operators. However, due to substantial losses incurred in the poultry business, the firm operator returned the leased property in 2014.

Following the transfer of the structures to the Bhutan Livestock Development Corporation Limited, renewed interest has emerged from private firm operators seeking to lease the facilities. The Sarpang livestock sector has reported an influx of applications, suggesting a newfound optimism for reviving these once-thriving integrated breeding programmes.

As Bhutan looks to its past achievements in agriculture and aims for self-sufficiency, the revival of these dormant facilities stands as a beacon of hope for the future of poultry farming, fishery, and piggery in the region. With eager private operators expressing interest and strategic planning from NPDC, the stage is set for a potential resurgence of these historically significant farms in Gakiling gewog.