When residents in other areas opt for imported vegetables, residents in Samtenling have a rich variety of local and organic produce to choose from.

And it is cheap.

A truck driver turned farmer, Deepak Chhetri has been growing vegetables for the past four years. He has become organic for three years now and grows all vegetables throughout the year using poly house sheds to protect crops from heavy rain in summer.

The most expensive vegetable, chili costs Nu 100 a kilogram. He has cultivated chili on an acre of leased land. “My neighbours are happy to allow me to use their land for free as it does not remain fallow,” Deepak said.

Deepak’s vegetables are supplied to Wangdue and Thimphu with customers ordering vegetables on his phone through messages.

The 41-year-old farmer from Samtenling in Sarpang also supplies seedlings and liquid nutrients for plants and pesticides.

He has a 500-litre tank filled with a mixture of cattle urine and dung, sugar, and plants as nutrients.

The self-trained farmer has learnt most of his solutions and skills from YouTube. He pollinates the vegetables and prepares the mushroom farm himself, which earned him Nu 0.1 million last year.

“I go to YouTube to learn about better farming tools from successful farms elsewhere,” he said.

Sarpang agriculture officer Chimi Wangchuk said there are few farmers like Deepak Chhetri in the dzongkhag. “We want to promote at least four or five such model farmers in every gewog,” he said.

Except for Jigmecholing and Chhudzom gewogs, that are located in higher elevations, the other 10 gewogs have large areas suitable for vegetable cultivation.

“I’ve received many farm equipment from the dzongkhag administration that has helped me in working on my farm,” he said.

Farmers such as Deepak Chhetri contribute to the national objective of increasing vegetable sufficiency by 2018.

The agriculture ministry has a plan to increase vegetable production to 65,200 metric tonnes (MT) this year. The production in 2012 was 43,025 MT. The country’s self-sufficiency in vegetable production increased to 85 percent in 2015 compared with 75 percent in 2012 when the ministry launched the commercial vegetable programme.

Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) temporarily banned cauliflowers and beans in May 2016. Following this, green chilies were also temporarily banned due to high pesticide content.

More than 78 metric tons (MT) of banned vegetables worth Nu 7.9 million (M) were seized following the ban of green chilli, cauliflower and beans in the country since 2016. BAFRA collected Nu 1.1M from Gelephu as penalty for illegal vegetable imports.

Deepak Chhetri has helped five other young farmers establish their farms in Sarpang. Dzongkhag authorities and officials of the regional agriculture research centre in Samtenling call him an independent successful farmer.

“I go to schools nearby to share my experience with children few times a year,” he said.

His father worked at the erstwhile Druk Seed Corporation in Paro for two decades and retired a few months ago to occasionally guide him. Deepak Chhetri stayed home after completing fifth grade. But today, he regrets dropping out of school.

“My two children are designated duties to take care of the farm so that they could take my place and not look for a job later,” he said.

He has added papaya to his list from this year. The fields today have watermelon, chili, onion, tomato, beans, and bitter guard. A small shed besides his house below the Gelephu-Thimphu highway has numerous trays with vegetable seedlings ready to be transplanted.

Tshering Palden | Gelephu