In 2004, farmers of four villages in Choekhor and Tang gewogs in Bumthang who volunteered to cultivate paddy broke down with happiness after reaping their first harvest.
Paddy cultivation was expanded and by 2016, more than 155 acres of land were brought under paddy cultivation in Bumthang. Tang gewog officials said that different varieties were tested and Jakar Rey Naap is the most suitable for cultivation above 2,600 – 2,700 meters above sea level.
While more farmers aspire to take up paddy cultivation in Tang, shortage of irrigation facilities and wildlife threat has dissuaded them.
Sonam Phuntsho, a 56-year-old farmer in Nimlung village said paddy yield is better than other cereals. However, he said there is only a small water source that has to be divided among nine households.
The gewog office has helped farmers with a small water tank and pipe connection. “There is an acute shortage of water during the transplantation,” he said. While the village has a bigger water source, he said other farmers who are not into paddy cultivation are reluctant to share the source.
“Although I don’t own wetland, I do sharecropping on others’ wetland to cultivate paddy,” he said.
Dorji Tshomo, also from Nimlung is preparing her field to sow the paddy seeds. “I own about four plots and water has remained a major issue during transplantation,” she said adding the water shortage has deterred more farmers from cultivating paddy.
Opposite to Nimlung village, across the river is Gangjug village, which has no issues with irrigation.
However, the issue persists in Pangzhi and Bebzur chiwogs, where people have already taken up paddy cultivation.
Tshering Dorji, a farmer from Pangzhi said that he has to borrow water pipes from his neighbours to irrigate his field during the transplantation season. “With paddy, we were able to diversify our food basket,” he said.
In Bebzur, 56-year-old farmer Tashi Tenzin said that water was not an issue before. “Of late, we have been asked to share the water source with Kuenzangdra,” he said.
While potato has been the main cash crop in Tang, gewog officials said that the outbreak of blight and unpredictable auction price have made the residents realise the importance of cereals. Earlier farmers depended on potato to buy rice and other essentials.
Despite facing these issues and in spite of their suggestion, the gewog agriculture extension officer said that farmers did not propose for an irrigation channel for paddy cultivation during the 12th Plan consultative meeting. Infact the gewog agriculture officer said that water sources in Nimlung were identified by the farmer themselves.
Wildlife threat is another pressing issue paddy cultivators in Tang are confronting.
“Electric fencing is being distributed but it is in short supply,” Dorji Tshomo said adding that priority is given to those that benefit more households.
Electric fencing, another farmer said, is effective in keeping away boars and bears. “Since rice is relatively a new species, birds come in flocks and feast on the grains just before the harvesting season,” said Pema Lhamo.
For those, like Dorji Tshomo, who did not get electric fencing, paddy fields have to be guarded round the clock. “Someone has to guard the field day and night,” she said.
Agriculture statistics show that Bumthang has lost about an acre of paddy land to wildlife resulting in a loss of one metric tonne of paddy. The statistics also show that the farmers cultivating paddy in the dzongkhag spent 72 days and 88 nights a year guarding their paddy fields from wildlife.
Bumthang has about 155 acres of land under paddy cultivation, producing about 222MT of paddy. Paddy yield is estimated to be around 1,435 kg per acre.