Agriculture minister admits problems but says measures are underway

With the farming season approaching, farmers in some dzongkhags are worried that their power tillers might not be ready for action.

At least 16 power tillers in 10 dzongkhags are defunct today, Kuensel has found. Among them, the rate of disrepair is the highest in Trongsa and Lhuentse.

Of the 10, five power tillers are in disrepair in Trongsa and about one in three power tillers in Lhuentse, which has 22, are defunct for lack of spare parts and maintenance.

Of the three power tillers that Kurtoe and Menbi gewogs each have, one power tiller is not working. Metsho and Minje gewogs have three and two power tillers in disrepair either waiting for spares or repair. Metsho has four and Minje has three power tillers.

In Trongsa, two power tillers in Nubi gewog, two in Tangsibji and another one in Langthel remain defunct. Another one needs minor repair.

While a power tiller in Pemathang gewog, Samdrupjongkhar has been defunct and awaiting spare parts since last year, and another two in the dzongkhag have not been used so far. The 11 gewogs in the dzongkhag have 24 power tillers.

In some gewogs of Sarpang and Dagana, power tillers are rendered useless because of narrow terraces, no operators, and farmers purchasing their own private power tillers.

Despite minor technical glitches, 15 power tillers in Samtse dzongkhag are functional.

Of the 19 power tillers in 11 gewogs of Pemagatshel, except in Decheling gewog where they are waiting for a few parts to use one of the two power tillers they received recently, the rest are working.

There are no defunct power tillers in Tsirang, Dagana, Sarpang, and Chukha.

Agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji admitted that at least 15 of the 680 power tillers the government distributed so far since coming to power in 2013 are lying idle.

He said that he had written to the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd (FMCL) about the damaged ones in Trongsa.

The minister clarified that in most of the cases, the problems arise from some communication gaps between the gup and extension officer, and then between them and the FMCL. The corporation was established in March 2016 and is mandated to hire farm machinery, fabricate and sell farm machinery, implements and spare parts, and repair and maintain farm machinery, among other services.

The corporation will soon place a hiring coordinators in every gewog who will coordinate power tiller deployment in the gewogs during farming seasons and look after the repair and maintenance of the machines.

“Most of the problems will be solved with the appointment of this official in the gewogs,” the minister said.

There is lack of awareness on the use of the power tillers the minister added.

“Villagers don’t know well about the use of power tillers in many communities and the absence of extension workers, who have left for higher studies and long leave, has only made matters worse,” the minister said.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said the ministry is reviewing the interim guidelines.

He said that there are numerous changes to the interim guideline. For instance, in the interim guidelines, farmers have to pay for the transportation of the power tiller between the place where it was kept and the farmers’ fields.

On the question of power tillers of the Yanmar brand not being able to perform as other power tillers from Japan, the minister said the power tiller is Japan-made and the accusations of inferior quality do not hold water.

The minister said that the power tiller service comes heavily subsidised. While the actual costs of the power tiller service adds up to Nu 3,200, including the transport of power tillers, operator’s wage,  fuel, the farmers have to pay only Nu 1,400. Of that, Nu 500 is the operator’s wage and the rest is for the fuel.

“If the farmers can operate and fuel themselves, then they can use it for free,” he said.

The FMCL in absence of operators in the locality has to hire one from another place.

The power tillers are meant for ploughing, fetching fire wood, transport of farm produce and patients, among others.

The ministry is expecting a batch of 353 power tillers as a grant from the Japan government soon.

The minister said there are criticisms on this mode of distribution.

“But all of us know that in 2013, 50 gewogs didn’t have any power tillers. Today we continue selling subsidised power tillers in addition to the hiring scheme,” Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji.

Tshering Palden

Additional reporting by Kuensel bureau reporters