The Bhutanese Minister of Agriculture and Forests, Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji, visited Himalica pilot project sites in Barshong Gewog, Tsirang as part of a countrywide tour to all 205 gewogs (administrative units) to interact with renewable natural resources (RNR) staff and farmers, and raise awareness about how best to address their priority issues through the upcoming 12th Five Year Plan.
In Barshong, Dorji and the team met with people from five chiwogs (electoral precincts) to discuss pertinent issues facing farmers. All farmers almost unanimously raised concerns about the important issue of water scarcity, both for drinking and irrigation purposes. The people of Lower Barshong, mostly those who have resettled, informed Dorji that they have not been able to irrigate paddy fields on their wetlands for almost a decade owing to water scarcity. Similar concerns were raised by the people of Chunikhang, Gangtokha and Upper Barshong. Responding to this issue, Dorji urged the gups (headmen), the agricultural extension agents, the Himalica project, and the district agricultural offices to conduct a thorough assessment of the situation and submit a detailed report to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests. Dorji informed the gathering that the government will do all it can to “ensure the availability of water for irrigation and for drinking purposes”, and urged people “not to convert wetlands for cultivation of cash crops such as cardamom and oranges”, as this practice goes against the existing laws of the land.
Barshong is a water stressed community and the dire situation worsens during the dry spells. However, one of the water resource assessments carried out by the Himalica project in 2015, discovered that water scarcity in Barshong is not the unavailability of water resources per se, but the lack of awareness and efficient management to use water resources judiciously. With reference to this finding, the District Agricultural Officer, Tsirang, and the local Himalica coordinator, Pema Chofil informed Dorji and the people that numerous activities such as rooftop rainwater harvesting, water source protection measures, and support for constructing plastic-lined conservation ponds have been planned for this year. He said, “An expert from ICIMOD will soon assess the feasibility of reviving springs that have dried up in Barshong.” He also said, “Drinking water scarcity in upper Barshong could be solved if some farmers agreed to share the perennial spring water available on their private land for the greater benefit of the community”.
The people of Chunikhang voiced concerns about human-wildlife conflict. Farmers who have lost crops to marauding wildlife sought support from the government. In reply to this demand, the Agricultural Officer urged people to organize themselves in a group to build community-wide electric fences instead of fencing individual plots because some individual farmers cannot afford them. He said, “Electric fencing materials have already arrived in Damphu. We are waiting for the farmers to come together as a group”.
Dorji and his team visited Himalica demonstration sites where they saw demonstrations of project activities such as improved goat sheds, rooftop rainwater harvesting systems, plastic lined conservation ponds, improvised poly houses, and rural market access activities. Dorji commented, “These are low-cost, low-maintenance, practical, replicable, and useful solutions relevant to water-stressed communities like Barshong.” He commended the Himalica pilot project management team on the successful implementation of activities thus far and urged them to speed up the progress of these activities before project closure at the end of the year”. Later in the afternoon, Dorji inaugurated the Gangtokha-Toedsang market access farm road, which was built with the support of the European Union funded Himalica project at a cost of BTN 4.3 million (in 2017, USD 65,500).
The minister and the team have so far visited 188 gewogs, with Barshong being the 188th. Dorji was accompanied by the Regional Manager of Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB); Regional Director, Regional Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (RDAMC); Project Manager, Commercial Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods Enhancement Project (CARLEP); Deputy District Governor, Tsirang; Agricultural, Livestock and Forestry sector heads of Tsirang; and representatives from the Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF).