Agriculture: After more than a decade of leaving their fields fallow, farmers of Rekhey chiwog in Dewathang gewog are cultivating paddy again.

The farmers of Rekhey are today busy tilling their wet and dry lands, which were left uncultivated for more than a decade as a result of human-wildlife conflict, particularly elephants.

This has become possible because of a newly installed 8.5km electric fence that covers more than a thousand acres of land.

Farmers and residents of Rekhey said they had to give up paddy cultivation because the area was highly vulnerable and prone to elephant attacks.

They turned to growing maize as a cash crop, and working as labourers along highways or working for private companies. A few also chose to leave their villages.

Tshogpa Sangay Dorji said Rekhey once used to produce a lot of rice but with the rampant elephant attacks more than 80 percent of their crops were lost each year. He said that the attacks caused many sleepless nights for the residents of Rekhey. He added that  sometimes the elephants even attacked houses.

As a result, the farmers decided to leave their fields fallow. The paddy fields slowly turned into forests.

But with the coming of the electric fence, villagers were surprised when they were able to harvest all of their maize crops unlike before. Each household produced almost 40 sacks of corn that was sold in local markets in the gewog.

Villagers said that the electric fence benefitted them greatly last year. As a result, they decided to cultivate paddy this year.

“We were surprised when almost 30 households came forward this year to reuse their paddy fields,” Sangay Dorji said, adding that he is confident all the chiwog’s 64 households will also return to paddy cultivation. “We’re really determined that we’ll reap what we sow and we thank the government for giving us the electric fence after requesting for so long.”

The tshogpa said a few of the villagers who left the village have also returned to clear the forests that had claimed their fields with the intention of cultivating paddy. Those living outside Samdrupjongkhar, unable to contribute labour during the fence’s construction, contributed money instead as the fences benefit their lands as well.

Sangay Dorji added that the electric fence has revived about 200 acres of wetland that had remained fallow.

‘We decided to utilise the land and we’ve already started clearing the land,” the tshogpa said. “Now our only concern is that the elephants don’t damage the wooden poles that hold the electric wires,” he added. He said that for now the elephants run away as soon as they come into contact with the wires.

Meanwhile, a few farmers said they would wait until next year to see if the fence is effective. If it is, they too will return to cultivating their paddy fields.

Yangchen C Rinzin |  Samdrupjongkhar