With rice blast affecting atleast 25 percent of paddy in Chudzom gewog’s 513 households in Sarpang, farmers are worried that they may not be able to even harvest seeds for next year.

Farmer Shanti Ram Adhikari, 40, cultivated rice on about two acres of land. Almost all his crop is damaged. He said that it has been almost two weeks since the disease began spreading and damaging rice. “The neck of the plant becomes black, like its burnt, then the panicle bends and falls later,” he said. “We’re seeing such rice disease for the first time here.”

He said he is confused whether to begin harvesting or to wait until it ripens. If the crop is harvested right away, farmers fear bad weather will affect or decay the rice and if left in the field, their worry the disease will wipe out the entire field.

According to agriculture officials, rice blast is one of the most destructive rice diseases. It is a fungal infestation that occurs in all rice growing areas. The disease attacks all parts of the crop growing above the soil.

Another affected farmer, Bhagirati Chapagai said, it’s been few days that the weather in Chudzom has remained gloomy. She has been waiting for a bright sunny day to start harvesting rice. She fears the rain would be disastrous if she starts harvesting soon.

More than half of her rice planted on about three-acre land has been affected.

She said while several terraces were already destroyed by heavy rain and wind, the disease has been damaging the rest. “It is spreading rapidly, it began two weeks ago and half of my rice field is already infected,” she said.

Farmers are worried about seeds for the next cultivation. “I’m hopeful that I would be able to sort out uninfected rice for seeds,” Bhagirati said. “Otherwise we may have to buy new seeds next year.”

To plant paddy on a three acre land, at least 300kg of seeds is required.

Ganapati Suberi harvested about1500kg of rice from his 2.5acre land last year. He sold some and kept the rest for consumption. For the last two days, he has been thinking of harvesting early this year instead of letting it die from the disease. “But I’ve cattle to feed in winter, so I need good hay (not decayed) even if I may not be able to harvest rice,” he said.

Agriculture officials said the immediate measure taken to avoid further damage of crop was to advice farmers for immediate harvest.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang