It is business as usual in Gelephu town. But for Jambay Wangdi, it is spring and time to grow paddy.
Five minutes from the town towards the Mou River, the air is filled with the grunts of a tractor that’s preparing the fields for paddy transplantation.
The Farm Machinery Corporation’s (FMC) farm manager in Gelephu is busy hopping from one field to another, in the hot afternoon sun, that altogether measure 75 acres in Sonagatshel.
These fields remained fallow for more than six years and turned into a pasture for cattle until the agriculture ministry used it for its spring paddy initiative and reserved it for three years.
The initiative faced numerous problems of irrigation water shortage and late transplantation.
The ministry transplanted paddy in the beginning of March last year and the harvest coincided with monsoon. The FMC planned to transplant paddy early this spring from February to harvest before the monsoon, but the seedlings failed.
FMC’s regional manager, Kinley Zangmo, said that work began on time to raise nursery in trays from December last year but most of the seedlings failed.
Gelephu farm manager, Jambay Wangdi, said, “Expecting such a situation, we had raised an alternative nursery.”
However, the seedlings from the conventional nursery take longer as they have to pluck and transplant them manually. As if that was not enough, the farm came across another hiccup.
There is a channel construction that is affecting supply of irrigation to certain parts of the fields.
“We have come to an agreement with the contactor who is constructing the channel and has been cooperative to allow us to draw water from time to time,” Kinley Zangmo said.
There are 20 women from the neighbouring border town Dadhgari transplanting paddy today.
Local labourer is hard to come by, say farm officials. “Except for the students who worked on raising the nursery, finding locals for paddy work has been a cumbersome task,” farm manager Jambay Wangdi said.
In Chuzangang, the corporation reduced the cultivation area to 45 acres this year.
While the target is to grow spring paddy on 75 acres, the manager expects to cover 100 acres this year.
Spring paddy was grown on 533 acres in Gelephu (136 acres) and Chuzergang (185) in Sarpang dzongkhag, Yoeseltse (118) in Samtse and Khamethang (94) in Samdrupjongkhar.
Spring paddy cultivation, which the agriculture ministry tried on a commercial scale last year, produced more than 77 metric tonnes (MT) of paddy, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji said.
Kinley Zangmo said when farmers grow paddy only once a year, the land remains fallow for a long time.
“The Spring paddy is harvested right before the transplantation of the regular paddy which helps farmers produce more besides keep the land occupied,” the regional manager said.
She said the Gelephu farm produced 17MT, Chuzangang farm produced 19MT.
“The yield rate of paddy is low but our objective is to show that double cropping can be done and also contribute towards import substitution,” Kinley Zangmo said.
The farms last year planted Ananda and GB-1 varieties but experts recommended to grow only GB-1 this year.
The FMC made huge investments and incurred huge loss, but officials said that given the long-term benefits to farmers and students, especially in Chuzangang, it is justified.
Tshering Palden | Gelephu