Clouds have cleared. It’s a bright, sunny day.
It is a busy ahead for Aum Tshedon and her nine friends. They have visitors to be shown around their farm, and two consecutive meetings to attend in the gewog.
Their farm attracts many high-level officials, foreign guests visiting Tsirang, and even farmer from other dzongkhags. These women are popular for doing something that others haven’t done in other parts of the country. Their large field has varieties of colorful organic vegetables that every Bhutanese wishes to see on their plate. They have turned their dry and barren field into a heavenly garden.
It all started in 2014 when the government began encouraging farmers to form agriculture cooperatives to take up large-scale vegetable farming to reduce import from India. For these women, who did not even grow vegetables for personal consumption, large-scale vegetable production wasn’t their cup of tea.
Initially, they began from a greenhouse where they learnt the basics of growing organic vegetables. Later, with material support from the government, each of them built their own greenhouse, which houses the luxurious greens. Name any vegetable and they have it in there, including potato, chilli, radish, spinach, ginger, garlic, onion, lettuce, coriander, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and tomato among others.
The women have set examples of how to become independent.
Time is changing and so is the tradition. Women in the rural areas refuse to remain doing their traditional role. While they certainly have not given up household chores, they are bold in other matters as well. From attending all meetings in the gewog to taking major decision at home, more women are seen coming forward than men.
Tshedon, who is the chairman of the group says that it is a totally different feeling when Tsesoe Gaki Detshuen can handle cash and does not have to rely on husband for money. Before this, she depended on her husband for money even to buy doma.
“Instead, our husbands often come to us for cash these days,” she says. “I feel proud when I’m able to give him some.”
These women earn between Nu 3,000 and Nu 6,000 a week selling vegetables at the Sunday market. They grow in their own land but help each other by way of labour contribution and marketing.
Among them 41-year-old Pema Lhaki is the highest grower. She grows vegetable in almost about an acre land. She also rears pigs for additional income. She says women are far better in farming, especially growing vegetables, because they need nurturing like a baby. While hard work is must, water and adequate manure is the key to growing lush green vegetables.
“More than anything, dedication and determination to succeed is essential in doing farming,” she says. “If you love what you do, you won’t feel it’s arduous.”
She is in hurry. Two women from neighborhood are waiting for her to weed. Soon after the visitors have completed the touring of the field, she changes into gumboots, half pant and a sun protection hat and rushes into the garden. She has no time to waste.
“Time is money and I love money,” she tells her group, who burst into laughter.
Another woman, Kadom, has a slightly different thought. She says no matter how successful, independent or responsible a woman is, she is nothing without education. So she is determined to complete three levels of Non-Formal Education. She is more interested in learning mathematics and English. English because it’s a must second language and math because she needs to do calculations.
“Without education, we’ll always remain backward and run our vegetable business in loss,” she says. Pulling the black and white handset from her purse, she jokes that she desires for a smart phone but has not bought one so far thinking that she might not be able to operate it.
Kadom has made her mind to give her two children the best education, no matter how expensive it is. She is determined to work harder to earn more and educate her kids. “Uneducated person is always handicapped.”
For Jigme Yangzom, 30, although she is doing far better in bringing home cash income, which is an important thing, she doesn’t want to feel powerful in the family. Being independent or being empowered does not mean a woman has to become superior to their man.
“Both can be independent to shoulder responsibilities equally,” she says.
The women say that growing organic and variety alone is not enough. The vegetable has to be attractive and lush green.
For example, Pema Lhaki took some vegetables to the market unwashed. Buyers looked at it, asked the price and left them. She then tried to sell it at a lower price but still could not lure customers. Later she brought them back home and fed her cattle.
“People go for attractive ones,” she says.
Although the group has been doing well and are stable now, they are quite slow saver. When they began the cooperative, in a saving account maintained with Bhutan Development Bank Ltd, they deposited Nu 100 every month. Since January 2017 they doubled the saving amount.
Recently, the Agriculture Minister Yeshey Dorji visited their farm. While the group had planned to propose the minister for a mini power tiller, but did not due minister’s tight schedule.
They say that to grow vegetables in large scale, a power tiller is necessary. Hiring from the gewog turned expensive.
“If we’re given one, we could diversify our cooperative and expand our project,” the chairman Tshedon says.
The group’s long-term target is to capture a permanent market like schools and dratshang for their produce.
Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang