Three years after the construction of an irrigation canal began, and many days of free labour contribution, more than 40 farming households in Tsamang, Mongar, with over 80 acres of farmland, are waiting for water to reach their fields.
The irrigation project has been delayed with irregularities and inefficiencies. The Royal Audit Authority has issued numerous audit memos for lapses in the budget and management of the construction.
The sad thing is that the farmers of Tsamang are not alone in their wait for abundant irrigation water.
Thirty households in Geserling chiwog of Dagana witnessed their village turning into almost a ghost village over time with a growing number of goongtongs (empty homes). Without adequate water, farmers cannot do much on their farms. Therefore, the men from the village have been forced to look for work in other areas. Most men today work as workers at construction sites and as daily wage workers for others.
The scarcity of irrigation water is as old as the villages themselves in some cases. We had neighbouring villages fighting court cases and witnessed annual fights among villagers during paddy cultivation season – all for want water.
As traditional sources of water dry up and drawing water from other areas are beyond the farmers, they rely on the government to help with modern irrigation schemes.
But the problem gets worse when the new schemes or the maintenance of the old canals fail because of improper execution.
In 2016, at least 50 farmers in Meretsemo of Bongo gewog in Chukha did not benefit from the new Nu 1.6 million irrigation channel owing to the poor quality. The pipes broke down easily because of water pressure.
An irrigation scheme worth Nu 53 million in Wangchang, Paro remains idle, leaving more than 200 households of Nakha-Mendi and Chankar-Jangtena chiwogs high and dry.
We have similar issues with mega irrigation canal projects in Samtse as well.
The ramifications of such failed projects in the villages are many. One cannot fathom the extent of hardships farmers experience. Many are falling into poverty, running out of options.
Given our small population, food self-sufficiency in Bhutan is well within reach. Our development focus may need to be irrigation and agricultural techniques.
We saw that since the start of planned development; many countries have neglected agriculture. Sooner or later they all regretted it.
Our authorities in the capital may have the strongest will, but if projects at the local level continue to fail, our national dream of having enough to eat may well remain a dream.