Agriculture: The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests handed over 28 power tillers to the dzongkhags of Wangdue, Punakha and Trongsa, at Bajo yesterday.

This is the second phase of power-tiller distribution. During the first phase a power tiller each was distributed to 205 gewogs across the country.

Agriculture Machinery Centre (AMC) in Paro, programme director Karma Thinley said following high demand from the gewogs, the government has started distributing additional power tillers after giving one each to all the 205 gewogs last year.

“For the second phase, we have completed distributing to 18 gewogs in the east, three gewogs in Zhemgang, and three in Trongsa,” he said.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said they have found that of 205 gewogs only around 12 gewog’s power tillers were found to have been left idle. Lyonpo said this was in response to the recent allegations raised by the opposition party on power tillers remaining idle in most gewogs.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said the clarification was necessary as gewog extension officers have been taking on extra responsibilities to make use of the power tillers, and such an allegation would hurt them.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said that both the power tillers would be used in the gewog and would not be distributed to individual chiwogs until the government can provide every chiwog with one.

Programme director Karma Thinley said although distributing one power tiller each to every chiwog might take time, other activities are in the pipe-line. Around 144 units have been procured from the Japanese government and are on the way.

He said by February 2017, the ministry is expecting 400 power tillers under a Japanese grant. A team from Japan is expected in Bhutan for the finalising of the agreement on May 8.

Karma Thinley said the main issue with regard to power tillers is local power tiller operators not willing to work as operators despite being trained. He said this is because the operators are not employed full time but are only hired when required. They were paid Nu 500/day when hired.

Karma Thinley said this is because the operators are also farmers and they prefer working in their fields rather than as operators. However the issue could be resolved following discussions with the local government.

The AMC trained one operator for each gewog. “Our next step is to provide them with more advance training, look into what the operators should take up during emergencies from the health aspect and also insurance,” he said.

He added that AMC and the agriculture ministry is exploring how to provide the operators with permanent employment.

One of the objectives of providing power tillers to each chiwog is to encourage youth to find employment in agriculture. While it is happening, there are some issues.

However he said that the positive impact of the power tillers outweighed the issues.

Karma Thinley said up to six-seven power tillers would be required in some gewogs according to some gewog extension officials. This he attributed to the government’s initiative of subsidising the hiring rate.

He said the market rate during peak season shoots up to Nu 3,000-4,000 per day, while the government charges only Nu 1,400 per day. The hiring charge includes: fuel (Nu 500), operator’s payment (Nu 500) and maintenance (Nu 400).

Another issue is on who gets to use the power tiller first. To avoid such situations, a guideline has been prepared. Gewog extension officials currently are responsible for management.

While the management cost is borne by the government, maintenance cost is acquired from the hiring charge for now, said Karma Thinley.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue