Choki Wangmo | Sarpang  

Pema Letro and his wife Tshering Zangmo’s house at Jigmeling, Gelephu is located on the way that elephants use to cross.

With increasing conflicts with the tusker, Pema and his neighbours live in constant fear of the animal. Pema has started a hydroponics or deep flow technique farm on his one-acre land.

Protected farming, Pema, says is the way forward.

After completing high school, Pema worked at a sawmill for two years. It was there that his skills were honed. In 2014, he returned from Thimphu to his village and started a farm. He cultivated areca nuts but the venture was a failure. His wife resigned from her job in Thimphu to help him on the farm.

Pema Letro is a diligent young man. Most of his learnings are from the internet.

In March this year, as part of the Desuung Skilling Programme, he attended a hydroponics training and attended a week-long training in Thailand to produce organic fertilisers. For three months, he trained in Bajo Agriculture Research and Development Centre (ARDC).

“Hydroponics is a new skill for me,” he said.

The nutrient solution flows through the pipe with the help of a water pump. An air pump feeds oxygen to the plants. The system can grow plants and vegetables much faster than in the conventional setting and needs much smaller space.

With the fund support of Nu 600,000 he received from PRuDent grant, he set up the farm which uses the Dutch Bucket System, the deep-water culture (DWC) and the nutrient film technique (NFT).

The Dutch Bucket System connects two or more growing containers to the same irrigation and drainage lines. It is known to be an incredibly water-and-nutrient-efficient method that uses heavy-feeding plants.

Currently, Pema grows chillies. “Even fruit trees can be grown in this system,” he added.

He uses the NFT to grow leafy vegetables that can be harvested within 21 days.

The self-sustaining farm is simple, cost-and time-efficient. He uses manure from his poultry farm.

He knows how to produce organic fertilisers by mixing soil, sand, biochar, and bokashi. He raises the seedlings in the potting trays on the farm.

Pema and Tshering invested about Nu 65,000 in the bamboo poles and other local materials. “We are trying to build sheds locally. If we use international-standard equipment, it will cost about millions.”

The couple imports nutrients which costs Nu 1,350 per kg.

This winter, with the fund support from Food Security and Agriculture Productivity and ARDC Samtenling, he plans to modify the heights of the shed. He has six greenhouses on his farm. He grows beans and chillies.

In the future, he plans to expand the farm. In the southern foothills, it is challenging to grow crops or vegetables in monsoon. Farmers have to fight rampant human-wildlife conflict, erratic rainfall, humidity, and heat, he said.

“We do not have an irrigation canal in our chiwog,” Pema said.

The young couple works late into the night. The heat, they said, was intense during the day. They are currently focused on producing off-season vegetables. As the first such farm in the dzongkhag, the couple plans to train young people in hydroponics in the future.

The system is also water-efficient. The water passes through in rotation and the couple just needs to monitor the pH, temperature, and nutrient level.

Bhutan today has about eight percent or 277,000 acres of arable land.  Of this total, only 23 percent is being cultivated.