Rural to urban migration has evacuated a once thriving farming village

Lifestyle: The rain has stopped.  It is almost noon.  Sixty-year-old Sonam Tobgay quietly sits at the balcony of his old traditional house in Dewung village in Khaling, Trashigang.  His rather peculiarly large head is all grey.  His face is dark and wrinkled.

Metres away from his place, houses are all empty.  There has been movement or migration out of the village for some time now. 

About 15 acres of land has been left fallow in Dewung.  A small number of farmers, who were left behind, are busy growing potatoes and maize.  The interesting thing, however, is that people, who own significant land in the village, are from outside of the village, like Dawazor, Khaling Mongnangkhola, Kholdung, Dengri and Gumchu.

Sonam Tobgay says that about three decades ago, not a patch of land in the village could be seen left fallow.

“We’d cultivate our fields twice a year. Landowners from other villagers would walk miles to carry out cultivation works. The land was very fertile then. It is even today,” said Sonam Tobgay.

People of Dewung started to move out mainly because of human-wild-life conflict. “Young people aren’t keen to take up farming.  Older people are dying. There is a crisis,” said Sonam Tobgay.

In Dewung today, sharecropping is still in practice like in many villages in the country.

Thirty-five-year-old Pema Choden, is a sharecropper, who grows vegetables and maize in a 40 decimal land near her house.  She lives with her mother and a daughter.

“I manage to grow about 50kg of potato every year. But we only share our maize harvest with the landowners,” she said. “Some landowners don’t ask anything in return. It depends on the understanding one has with them.”

Recently, the agriculture department tried reviving the farming culture in the village, by urging villagers to till their barren land with the use of a power tiller provided by the ministry.

Kholdung Tshogpa Dorji said that 10 of the 20 households in Dewung are empty.  Women outnumber men in the village.

“Most of the elders have left the village to live with their children in the urban areas. Some villagers run shops in Khaling town,” he said. “We don’t know why many villagers of Dewung don’t own lands. But this has been the way since the time of our forefathers.”

But Sonam Tobgay is positive. There could be good times ahead.

“Now that the roads have come, I hope economic opportunities will come,” he said.

By Tshering Wangdi,  Trashigang