Choki Wangmo

The urban agriculturists under the urban and peri-urban agriculture initiative in Thimphu supplied about 500 kilograms (kg) of vegetables to the Centenary Farmers’ Market during the lockdown.

They collected their second harvest yesterday.

A group harvested 399kg of vegetables from 21 plots of land in Beybena, Changtagang, Kushuchen, and Begana during the lockdown. They earned Nu 18,585. A farmer said the prices were comparatively lesser than the market price but “this is the time for us to help the nation.”

Some of the farmers, however, were upset with the prices they were given. For example, a kg of beans fetched Nu 23 and Nu 19 for cabbage according to the government-fixed price during lockdown. “Such prices might discourage farmers,” one of them said.

Sixty percent of the crops like beans, carrot, pumpkin, coriander, chili, peas, radish, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and spring onion was harvested. The group expects to harvest the remaining crops in the coming days as per the instruction of the agriculture department and the national Covid-19 task force, which allows only one person from the group to visit the field.

“Due to movement restriction and delay in harvest, crops such as spinach, carrot, coriander were damaged by rain, sunshine, and invasive weed,” a farmer said, adding that some of the crops were stolen.

The initiative which rolled out in May as a part of Covid-19 initiative converted 26 acres of fallow land converted to agricultural land in places such as Begana, Bebeyna, Kushuchen, Changtagang and thromde areas in the capital. There are 34 groups, mostly laid-off workers from the hospitality sector. The initiative was funded by Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Now with the nationwide lockdown, the groups said they were worried about self-sufficiency if the lockdown continues. “Our work plan is to continue the agriculture work as before and would like to request the government to allow us to work at the field with few people.”

The coordinator of the initiative, BB Rai, said that although they did not get time for cleaning and weeding due to lockdown, the production was good. He said that the agriculture department had arranged special permit and was taking farmers to the field following proper health protocols. “Except for the harvest, we aren’t allowed to work in the town areas according to the protocols. The permit is for one person and he or she can’t do much.”

“Few of them are disheartened,” he added.

The farmers officially harvested the produce twice before the lockdown.

He, however, said that due to the lockdown they had missed second cropping which starts in August-September and is harvested by the end of October. Crops like turnip, radish peas, and onions are grown in the second cropping season.

He said that the pricing system was fixed by the national task force in collaboration with the agriculture department and included the cost of production and prevailing market price.

Some members proposed door-to-door sale of vegetables in places near their fields.