Agriculture: Three youth after obtaining good returns in their first year of commercial farming are confident they will reap an even better harvest this year.

Growing vegetables on an 80-decimal plot of land in Tshimasham, Chukha last year, the group that calls itself the Youth in Agriculture Programme (YiAP) enjoyed a bumper harvest.

None of them had any farming experience. They learned from scratch.

“We piloted with different varieties of vegetables from radish, tomato, onion to cabbage, and learnt that there is a market,” one of the youth farmers, Kinzang Duba said.

They earned Nu 70,000 from supplying vegetables to the Gaeddu College of Business and other buyers in their first year of farming.

Two of them graduated from the same college in 2013 and the third one graduates with a degree in commerce this summer.

Of the 4.5 acres of barren land that YiAP leased, two acres will be cultivated by the end of this year.

The group will also open a roadside stall to sell their produce this year and focus on green leafy vegetables.

The programme stemmed out of a research project that explored the viability of pool farming for accelerating food sufficiency in Bhutan that was funded by the UN University International of Agriculture Studies, Japan.

They began farming in February 21, last year.

They braved resistance from their parents and toiled through the hardships of cultivating on virgin land. It was not easy but they persevered and eventually achieved success.

“The students and lecturers appreciate what we do which gives us more confidence to carry on,” Kinzang Duba said.

They also found support by visiting various agencies. The labour ministry provided a grant of Nu 275,000 for farm tools, and they obtained a Nu 490,000 loan from the Loden Foundation, a non-profit organisation for entrepreneurs.

YiAP has plans to replicate the initiative in other areas and focus on vegetables that can grow during winters.

“It’s very difficult to prepare the barren land for cultivation, so much time is consumed,” Kinzang Duba said.

Their farm was recently used by the Agriculture Machinery Centre (AMC) to test a new mini-power tiller.

“We’re bringing such initiatives to encourage our youth to take up agriculture as a profession,” the centre’s programme director, Karma Thinley said. “Today the farming is very labour-intensive and tiresome.”

Kinzang and other farmers who attended the demonstration were impressed with the performance. Only one issue remains.

A farmer from Tsimasham, Cheku Dorji said that the machine is efficient and versatile.

“It is a lot better than the options we have at present but it is very expensive for us,” the 41-year-old farmer said.

The mini-power tiller that weighs only 70kg costs about Nu 400,000.

The alternative is a Japanese Kubota power tiller which costs about Nu 220,000 at the AMC in Paro.

Karma Thinley said the machines could become cheaper if more people take interest and purchase them. With discounts the cost could become as low as Nu 150,000 a set.

Kinzang and his friends said such initiatives could make their business easier.

“We never worked on a farm during our school days, it is quite a challenge,” Kinzang said. Nonetheless, they will continue to toil, their vision fixed at the ultimate goal of food self-sufficiency.

Tshering Palden