Choki Wangmo 

While farmers across the country are facing difficulties to find a market for their agricultural products, members of the urban and peri-urban agriculture initiative in Thimphu are confident in marketing their products.

Some of the groups have already started selling vegetables in their locality, DeSuup training programme and dratshangs, among others.

The initiative which rolled out in May has 26 acres of fallow land converted to agricultural land across different areas like Begana, Bebeyna, Kushuchen, Changtagang and thromde areas in the capital. There are 34 groups, mostly laid-off workers from the hospitality sector due to Covid-19.

Jinpa Phuntsho and his group have cultivated more than an acre of land in Begana, from which 18 kilogrammes of cabbage, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, and other crops were sold last month. He said that they grew more varieties to reduce the risk of market non-availability.

Due to newly developed land, he said that the group faced challenges with uncontrolled weed. However, mulching methods helped. “Out of 10 plots of land, six percent wasn’t mulched. The crops which were mulched didn’t need intensive care.”

Jinpa Phuntsho said, “But we did not face a problem with the market. Often, buyers came to the garden.”

Pema Dorji has a tour company and a restaurant in Thimphu. After the pandemic, he cultivated 65 decimals in Begana. Eight of his workers take turns to run the restaurant and work in the garden.

He plans to use his product in the restaurant. 

The chillies and cabbages, however, were attacked by pest and diseases. The agriculture ministry provided natural neem oil to contain the disease outbreak.

Chief coordinator of urban agriculture initiative, BB Rai, said that marketing was at the centre of the initiative. He said that growers were encouraged to cultivate marketable crops with longer shelf life and those which can be processed into byproducts.

Most of the members cultivated chilli, which has commercial value and can be processed into pickles or dried.

The groups were also trained in post-harvest technology in collaboration with National Post-harvest Centre. 

BB Rai said the unsold products could be processed into kimchi, gundurug, carrot candy and other delicacies.

“We also encouraged them to sell the products as they harvest instead of waiting for bulk sales and also keep records,” he said.

The diversity of crops, according to him would ensure nutrition and food security within the family and country at large.

Chilli, cabbage and carrot are major crops grown.

As a part of Covid-19 contingency plan, the initiative was funded by Food and Agriculture Organisation.  The agriculture department is working with dzongkhag officials in Punakha, Bumthang and Sarpang to roll out similar peri-urban agriculture projects in these dzongkhags.

The programme, however, is not without challenges. Few groups have abandoned their plots. The initiative is a new concept in the country which is why it was difficult to reach people.

BB Rai said that the country had no demarcated area for urban agriculture and in the future there was a need for the thromde to identify government and private fallow lands.

Once the impact of the pandemic improves, there is a fear of how the initiative would sustain.

“Conflict with stray animals is rampant even in urban areas,” he said.

“But we are hopeful that the initiative would teach our youths that agriculture is a viable profession,” he added.