Civil servants/corporate employees try their green thumbs at agriculture with success

IATF: For almost a year now, Sonam Penjor, a civil servant, has not spent much on vegetables.

After acquiring two plots of land, which spans about 14 decimal at the Integrated Agriculture Technology Farm (IATF) in Wangsisina, Sonam Penjor today grows all kinds of vegetables.

While his job with the livestock department keeps him occupied during weekdays, he spends most of his weekend at Wangsisina.

Last year, Sonam not only managed to harvest enough for his family, but also distributed to his relatives and friends.

“After I started farming, I saved a lot, while my family enjoys fresh organic vegetables,” Sonam Penjor said.

This year, Sonam hopes to reap the benefits of his hard work.

“Last year, I distributed vegetables to my friends and relatives for free but from this year, I want to sell them,” he said, and sardonically adds that he would charge his friends, who were not keen on farming, more.

Like Sonam, 84 civil servants and corporate employees have benefited from IATF, which the Thimphu dzongkhag agriculture sector and the department of agriculture initiated last March.

Spread over 28 acres of reserved forestland that has been leased for 20 years, the area has been divided into 85 plots.  Each plot measures about 10 to 15 decimals.  Since last year, civil servants and corporate employees, who got the plots at the farm, have been growing their own vegetables.

The plots were allocated through a lucky draw, as the dzongkhag agriculture sector received about 150 applicants for the 85 plots. “The response was overwhelming and we still receive many applications,” dzongkhag agriculture officer, Dhodo said.

As part of the project, the agriculture department has also established a cold storage and postharvest facilities.  An Integrated Agriculture Technology Park has also been initiated as part of the project, which aims to assimilate, implement, and display proven technologies in an integrated way to obtain maximum benefit from farming.

Agriculture officials plan to introduce both traditional and improved technologies that provide multiple benefits to the community and enable farmers in mitigating the environmental challenges.

The farm area is protected with electric fencing, while water pipes are connected to every plot.  Plot owners are provided seeds, seedlings, and nurseries, besides farming tools, manure, and technical expertise.

The farm caretaker Katak Bdr. Ghalley, said the electric fencing helped save the harvest from wild boar, porcupine, and langur attacks.

Dhodo said, as a reserve land, they had to clear the whole area for farming, after which the infrastructure was developed. About Nu 5M (million) has been spent on setting up the IATF.

Last year, the 85 plot owners produced about seven metric tonnes of vegetables and 300 bundles of spinach.  The production is expected to double every year as the soil regains fertility.

“The focus isn’t on production alone but self-sufficiency, and the IATF serves as a recreational platform for civil servants, who don’t have much to do during weekends,” Dhodo said.

By Kinga Dema