Yangyel Lhaden

In Nubi Gewog, Trongsa—The fields sprawl across rugged terrain and men assist in transporting the power tiller from one field to another for ploughing. However, from cultivation to harvest, the majority of the labour falls on the shoulders of women.

In Bhutan, agriculture is perhaps the only sector where the employment of women surpasses that of men. For example, according to the Labour Force Survey Report 2022, approximately 66,000 women were employed in the agriculture sector, outnumbering men by about 20,000.

Gup Pema Lhamo of Nubi Gewog stresses the importance of feminising the agriculture sector. “With an increasing number of women in the agriculture sector, there’s a growing need to feminise it by introducing farm machinery tailored to women’s needs and cultivating crops that are easier to manage.”

Pema Lhamo said that quinoa, known for its ease of cultivation and low labour requirements, is cultivated in the lower regions of Trongsa.

“Introducing easier-to-grow crops and women-friendly, less bulky machinery would significantly benefit our women farmers.”

Quinoa was introduced in Bhutan by agriculture ministry in 2015 with support from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), primarily to address the country’s nutritional deficiencies.

Jamyang Choden, a resident of Bartsham, Trashigang, cultivates quinoa on her about 25-decimal land. She began growing quinoa around five years ago.

She single-handedly manages the entire process of cultivating quinoa, from planting saplings in August to transplanting them by September. The harvesting period typically falls between December and January.

Jamyang Choden noted that quinoa cultivation requires minimal labour-intensive tasks, as excessive watering can lead to its demise, thereby reducing the necessity for irrigation.

“During the spring until autumn, we focus on cultivating potatoes, which demand significant attention. Consequently, my husband dedicates more time to tending the potato farm. However, with quinoa, I can manage all the tasks independently, enabling my husband to pursue other activities,” Jamyang Choden said.

Unfortunately, over the years, the price of quinoa has been decreasing, which is discouraging farmers like Jamyang Choden from cultivating it on a large scale.

In 2022, the number of quinoa growers decreased to 331, a significant drop from the 698 growers reported in 2021. This decline continued from 2020, when there were 1,377 growers involved in quinoa cultivation.

The initial statistics for quinoa were incorporated into the agricultural census in 2017. During that period, 70 acres of land were harvested, yielding nine metric tonnes of quinoa. Out of this harvest, two metric tonnes were sold at an average price of Nu 125 and a median price of Nu 100, resulting in total revenue of Nu 0.3 million.

In 2020, quinoa cultivation spanned across 273.05 acres of land, leading to a harvested area of 223.32 acres. This harvest produced approximately 102.08 metric tonnes of quinoa. However, by 2022, the cultivation area dramatically reduced to only 38.87 acres, with 35.78 acres harvested, resulting in a yield of only 18.33 metric tonnes of quinoa.

Over the two-year period, there was a significant reduction in quinoa cultivation. The sown area decreased by approximately 85.7 percent, while the harvested area decreased by about 83.9 percent. Consequently, quinoa production experienced a decline of around 82 percent during this period.

Jamyang Choden initially sold quinoa at Nu 100 per kilogram, then reduced the price to Nu 90 per kilogram, and last year, the price dropped further to Nu 69 per kilogram. She sells her produce to the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd.

“I have harvested about 300 kilograms, whereas previously I used to harvest about 500 kilograms. However, I have stopped cultivating more because I am demotivated by the decreasing price every year,” Jamyang Choden said. “Quinoa is not popular, which is why I can’t sell locally.”

Most people in the village have discontinued cultivating quinoa mainly because of the poor price. “If the price keeps declining, I will start growing maize again,” Jamyang Choden said. “Otherwise, quinoa is an easy crop to grow”

Pema Lhamo said that with the introduction of women-friendly crops like quinoa, what is more important is that there is a good market for the product. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t benefit women…Although it is challenging to work on the farm, women would choose to do more laborious work on crops that bring them earnings.”

Farmers also suggest the promotion of cost-sharing women-friendly farm mechanisation.

Although many women are employed in agriculture, they are often classified as “contributing family workers in agriculture,” which means their engagement in the sector does not result in monetary compensation.

Out of the approximately 66,000 women engaged in agriculture in 2022, around 20,000 were employed as “contributing family workers in agriculture.”

Jamyang Choden is a woman farmer employed as an “own-account worker”, which indicates that she works on her own farm and is self-employed. She handles all the financial aspects and provides for her family. Using the earnings from the harvest, she purchases school supplies for her two children.

“Quinoa earnings have been invaluable for small-scale farmers like me, which is why increasing its price is crucial,” Jamyang Choden stressed. “Sometimes, it takes about a year to sell quinoa, and we have to store it, risking losses from pests like rats.”


Kuensel partners with FAO Bhutan to spotlight women in agrifood systems, empowering their participation and transformation.