Yangyel Lhaden

When Gaselo Primary School in Wangduephodrang lost its gardening space to construction of a new school building, a new idea struck its agriculture coordinator, Rabgay.

The school today grows vegetables on water inside a greenhouse. Hydroponics – a subset of hydroculture is growing plants without soil by using a mineral nutrient solution in water.

Rabgay was intrigued to start modern farming which took less space. He proposed his hydroponics plan for a budget through the school to the dzongkhag agriculture office and promptly received Nu 123,000.

Rabgay said it was an opportunity for the school to groom young students in hydroponics as students were taught about the technology from class IX. “In small ways with hydroponics farming in school, we can reduce import of vegetables.”

Last month, in Thimphu, Dorji Tshering set up his hydroponics farm with 54 planters on his balcony. He planted beans, strawberries, garlic leaves, and lettuce.

He said within a month he harvested beans and garlic leaves. He harvested plenty of lettuce regularly.  “The yield is high and hydroponics is a one-time investment.”

Both the men attribute their success to one single source of inspiration, the proprietor of Bhutan Hydroponics, Kinley Wangmo.

Kinley Wangmo said that hydroponics was expensive if Bhutanese imported the system from outside. She studied extensively from international experts on hydroponics and constructed the system.

She was a contractor and currently runs a hardware shop. She knows to plumb and is an experienced self-taught electrician. Building a system was not hard for her.

She used pipes to build a hydroponics system called deep flow technique (DFT) with more than 588 planters where nutrient solution flows through the pipe with the help of a water pump. An air pump feeds oxygen to the plants.

She spends less than Nu 200 a month on electricity to run the entire farm. This winter she plans to use solar energy.

She imported accessories such as portrays, pH meters, and net cups. Her complete system was constructed at a cost of Nu 360,000. She said with an improvised design she could reduce the cost by manifolds.

Kinley Wangmo wants to share her knowledge. She said that only by sharing can the Bhutanese realise the long-held dream of self-sufficiency. “The pandemic made it so clear how important self-sufficiency is.”

The main advantage of hydroponics is that the system can grow plants and vegetables much faster than on the conventional setting in soil and needs much smaller space.

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

“Bhutan’s agriculture is dependent on monsoon rain and with changing climatic conditions, water shortage is a major issue,” Kinley Wangmo said.

Her hydroponics system uses about 150 litres of water and she changes the water once every 15 days.

She said she wanted to help youth embrace hydroponics as youths were not interested in the nature of traditional farming. “In hydroponics, you only need to monitor pH, temperature, and nutrient level every three days.”

She currently provides free consultancy services for a year and sells a complete system with 54 planters and accessories for Nu 17,800. An imported system with 20 planters without accessories costs Nu 17,110.

Yam Bdr Gurung, who is a farmer in Chokhorling, Sarpang, wants to start hydroponics. He has a Master degree in agriculture.

He said, “It is hard to get a loan for hydroponics as it is a new technology in the country.”

Yam Bdr Gurung received a hydroponics kit from Kinley Wangmo as a gift for hands-on experience on hydroponics. He said he needed at least Nu 500,000 to start hydroponics on small scale commercialisation.

Rinzin Dorji, an agriculture teacher with Nagor Middle Secondary School in Mongar also wants to start hydroponics in the school. “The curriculum mandates the teaching of hydroponics.”

He said he wanted to introduce hydroponics as an educational model. “I am working on a proposal for a budget to submit to the dzongkhag administration to start hydroponics in school.”

Meanwhile, Kinley Wangmo remains open for conversation with anyone interested in the technology. She wants to open a hydroponics training centre one day.

Edited by Tshering Palden