More than 200 acres have been reclaimed by the agriculture ministry so far

Agriculture: The agriculture ministry planted paddy in three acres of fallow land below Dechenphug monastery on May 28. This was part of the national programme to develop fallow land for crop cultivation.

It took them about a month to prepare the land for plantation under the land development programme (LDP).

The ministry is preparing another 17 acres in Dechenphug for paddy cultivation. The fields, agriculture officials said, were left fallow likely due to wild animals destroying the crops and lack of support among others. The ministry will grow paddy next year.

The LDP programme is aimed at recovering paddy fields lost to urban development in Thimphu.

Chief agriculture officer Chimi Rinzin said the initiative at Dechenphug would produce at least three tonnes of rice.

Chimi Rinzin said that fruit trees and other crops would be grown in the developed areas considering the topography of the fields.

“For the start we are going with paddy and we’ll gradually grow other crops as well,” he said.

He said the programme has been implemented in other areas.

In the first activity under this programme, the ministry brought 662 acres of government fallow land in Phuntshothang gewog, Samdrupjongkhar under the LDP for maize cultivation last year.

The ministry is also developing terraces to grow paddy in the area. The project is expected to produce about 1,300 tonnes of rice.

Around 200 acres have been cleared, Chimi Rinzin said.

The land has remained fallow for decades because of security issues and wildlife conflict in three villages of Phuntshothang gewog. The land will now be arable with an agriculture rehabilitation project underway in the gewog.

A feasibility study found that acres of potential farming and fertile soil have been left unattended and that the forest had not served any purpose.

The project, which began in 2014, has cleared the forest to construct paddy fields and work on the terraces is still on-going for large-scale rice farming.

The project cultivated maize on 100 acres of land. The project has already invested Nu 39 million and has proposed for another Nu 36 million for the current financial year.

The project has a 30km electric fencing around the land, to keep elephants, boars and monkeys away.

The total rice area in the country is estimated to be around 22,550 hectares. The most important growing areas are in Samtse, which has the highest rice growing area in Bhutan with 2,889 hectares, followed by Sarpang with 2,839 hectares. With 1,971 hectares, production is highest in Punakha with 6,274 tonnes a year.

The average national rice yield is about 3.18 tonnes per hectare. The overall self-sufficiency in domestic rice production is only about 48 percent.

Rice is the most important food crop of the country and it is grown from tropical lowlands in the south up to elevations as high as 2,700 metres in the north.

Tshering Palden