Trongsa farmers unable to meet MHPA vegetable demand

As a result almost all of its needs are met through imports from India

Agriculture: With vegetable production in Trongsa unable to meet the demand, Mangdechu hydropower project authority (MHPA) meets almost 97 percent of its vegetable requirement through imports.

The project requires 1,567MT (metric tonnes) of vegetables every year, and about 130MT a month, while the dzongkhag’s vegetable production in 2014 was only 57MT.  It is estimated that on an average, the project’s mess requires 250kg of vegetable for each meal.

Trongsa has over 128ha (hectares) of arable land, including wetland and dry land, of which 48.33ha remain fallow.  Efforts to upscale vegetable production since 2012, and to supply local vegetables for four-five months annually, have not yet worked.

“Poor rainfall, erratic weather conditions and poor seed quality affected production,” assistant dzongkhag agriculture officer (ADAO), Karma Wangdi, said.

Recently, to boost production, the dzongkhag distributed free seeds, sprinklers, flexible pipe and seven greenhouses.  However, it’s proving to be an uphill task.  According to the dzongkhag administration, mixed farming is one of the serious limitations in vegetable production.

“Since wetlands are used to grow paddy for over eight months, vegetable cultivation is feasible only for a couple of months, and some vegetables couldn’t be grown in winters,” Karma Wangdi said, adding that, in the absence of irrigation channels, growing vegetables on dry land was not feasible. “Also, farmers are reluctant to focus just on vegetable, because of the risk of poor harvest.”

Dzongkhag agriculture officer (DAO), Karma Tshewang, said price was another deterring factor for homegrown vegetables. “Local produce can’t compete with the imported vegetables because of the huge difference in cost of production,” he said.

For instance, the cost of production of vegetable in Bhutan is about Nu 12.5 a kg, while in India it is around Nu 5.  It was found that importing vegetable was far cheaper than buying local produce, even after paying transportation costs.

Drakteng’s agriculture extension agent (AEA), Jambay Wangmo, attributed the gewog’s inability to upscale vegetable production to labour shortage and small land holdings.

“Going commercial demands an economically viable land holding, but most land in Drakteng belongs to the people of Bumthang,” she said.

Despite these constraints, the dzongkhag is targeting to supply vegetables from June-November, when there is limited production from India. “To increase production, farmers’ groups have been formed, so that increased production can reduce the prices,” Karma Tshewang said.

Meanwhile, leasing the fallow land, training farmers in growing foreign vegetables, constructions of irrigation channels in wetland are some of the activities the dzongkhag is exploring to upscale vegetable production.

By Tempa Wangdi, Langthel

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