Choki Wangmo 

Ten groups of 60 people who were laid off from the tourism sector received 6.58 acres of land at Bebena, north Thimphu to try their hands at agriculture.

The land which belongs to the dratsang lhentshog was developed and is used for vegetable cultivation under the agriculture department’s urban and peri-urban agriculture initiative. Director of agriculture department, Kinley Tshering, said that if the initiative proves successful in Thimphu, it would roll out to all the dzongkhags in the country.

As of now, the department has identified 13.54 acres of private fallow land in Boegana, Changtagang and Kabesa in Thimphu, involving 139 youth.

The initiative is expected to address the current unemployment challenges in the country due to Covid-19 while achieving food security goals.

“All sectors must come together and ensure food and nutrient security at an individual and national level,” Kinley Tshering said, adding that there are acres of uncultivated land, while the nation is facing food insecurity issues.

In the future, the department plans to encourage cereal cultivation.

She said that with favourable policies, budgetary and technological support and ready market for the products, the initiative has no place for failure. The department provides land development support, fencing, irrigation and training to participants.

However, she said that, for the venture to be successful, growers should be fully committed.

Director General of Tourism Council of Bhutan, Dorji Dradhul urged the members to take the initiative seriously as the impact of the pandemic is not to cool off any sooner.

“As the global pandemic situation plummets, it would be hard for the tourism sector to pick up even in the next two years. We have projected that in 2021, we would have 30 percent and 50 percent in 2022 of visitors compared to past years.”

“Agriculture is the future now. It can be a commercial venture too. The prospect is open to all of us, and we will be meaningfully contributing to the country,” he added.

A manager of tour company, Tshewang Dorji and his 10 members received 60 decimal of land. They can cultivate it for the next four years.  This year, the team would try growing all types of vegetables. He said that according to the result, they would grow vegetables that have market value. Most of the members are inexperienced, but Tshewang Dorji said he is hopeful. “We can contribute to our country by being sufficient and reducing the burden.”

Tshering Dorji, who worked in a spa, said that although he was brought up in a farming family, he didn’t know how to cultivate but now he was learning. “I want to start commercial farming in the future. It is becoming exciting by the day,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Japan International Cooperation Agency has provided basic vegetable cultivation knowledge based on the practical experiences achieved from the trials conducted at the agriculture research centre in Wangdue.

Agriculture experts from the agency also demonstrated sweet potato plantation, first of its kind in the dzongkhag.