Agriculture: With the support of the UNDP and the National Seed and Soil Centre (NSSC), Thongrong village in Trashigang established a community oil expeller unit on March 9.

The unit, which is a part of the UNDP, GEF-SGP project and about “increasing productivity and rural income through sustainable agriculture landscape management”, will be run by members of Thongrong Sazhing Tshogpa (TST).

Thongrong has for long faced severe issues with soil erosion and loss of fertility owing to farming along steep agriculture fields. Once a thriving area for mustard production, the practice was slowly fading with villagers leaving their land fallow.

Over grazing in the upstream areas, over harvesting of resources towards the mid-stream areas, steep landscape, a growing population and change in climatic conditions resulted in a fragile landscape.

Thongrong also records huge crop damage every year. Recognizing the problems, GEF SGP allocated a budget of USD 48,300 to kick-start the project in December 2014.

Besides the oil expeller unit, the project has established about 70 acres of land with Napier and constructed check dams in identified areas in the village. A 4.5km of solar fencing is also installed.

National Coordinator with GEF-SGP, Singay Dorji said the project would benefit 47 households in the village.

“The project is expected to enhance rural cash income generation, promote sustainable land management practices and protect water sources and catchment areas,” he said. “Besides, we also have plans to renovate irrigation channels.”

Chairman of TST, Sangay Wangchuk said that group members have already started growing mustard in large quantities. The group recorded the first harvest of 4MT mustard last year.

“Members with larger land holdings had cultivated about 3kg of mustard seeds while others cultivated at least about 1kg,” he said. “As production begins, we would be marketing the mustard oil that is left after self consumption.”

With the assistance from GEF-SGP, the group is already working on the labels that will be pasted on bottles.

Encouraging the villagers, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Bhutan, Niamh Collier Smith spoke on the importance of the project and its far-reaching impact on the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The impact of what you can achieve here would go beyond your village, your country and to the world across,” she said. “You all have the opportunity to demonstrate how to protect your land, become self sufficient while successfully fighting human-wildlife conflict at the same time.”

While the oil expeller unit would enhance income generation, members said the solar fencing would immensely benefit them.

“Every year, we lose more than 50 percent of our crops to wild animals. Solar fencing would help us increase crop production in the village,” Jigme Wangchuk, a member said.

Tshering Wangdi,  Trashigang