Restoring parched farmlands and livelihoods

A new climate-resilient irrigation scheme solves Phangyul’s longstanding water crisis and revives paddy cultivation.

June 7, 2024

The air was filled with excitement as the women of Phangyul transplanted paddy again after decades.

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

Wangdue Phodrang, 7 June 2024: The last time Sumcho Pem from Phangyul Goenpa transplanted paddy was about 20 years ago. Acute water shortage that has plagued the community for decades had forced Sumcho Pem and others in Phangyul to forgo paddy cultivation. 

Sumcho Pem was all smiles as she prepared her fields for paddy transplantation.

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

45-year-old Sumcho Pem never thought she would be able to grow rice again, but thanks to a new irrigation scheme, she found herself back in her paddy fields. “I am overjoyed to see the water issue solved finally. I have more than 10 acres of land but almost 80 percent of the land remained fallow all these years due to water scarcity. Now that we have water, we will be able to use all our land for farming,” said Sumcho with a radiant smile.

Kinzang from Phangyul Goenpa never imagined she would return to her village one day.

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

More than a thousand acres of land remained fallow in Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs until now, resulting in average annual economic loss of Nu. 64 million. As the water scarcity worsened, some people left their villages. Kinzang from Phangyul Goenpa was one of them. “Without water, there was nothing to do. Therefore, I left my village and returned a few months ago after around 16 years. I would not have returned had it not been for the irrigation scheme that brought water to Phangyul,” said Kinzang.

88-year-old Gyem is overjoyed to see water come to Phangyul finally.

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

88-year-old Gyem was overwhelmed with happiness. “I prayed for water every single day and my prayers have been answered finally. This is the day I have been waiting for. I led a tough life without water, but I am happy that the younger generation will not have to endure the problem. I tell my children that we now cannot afford to leave our land fallow,” she said.

Lyonpo Younten Phuntsho, Minister for Agriculture and Livestock and UNDP Resident Representative Mohammad Younus inaugurated the irrigation scheme.

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

The irrigation scheme in question is the 38-kilometer pressured piped irrigation scheme, installed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock through the Supporting Climate Resilience and Transformational Change in the Agriculture Sector in Bhutan project, supported by UNDP and funded by the Green Climate Fund. 

The irrigation scheme was inaugurated today amidst vibrant and jubilant celebration graced by Lyonpo Younten Phuntsho, Minister for Agriculture and Livestock (MoAL), UNDP Resident Representative Mohammad Younus, Governors of Wangdue Phodrang and Punakha districts and officials from the MoAL and community members. 

The irrigation scheme breathes new life into parched fields in Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs.

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

The irrigation scheme has brought much-needed respite to the people of Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs who have languished under the weight of water scarcity. The US$ 6.08 million (US$4.44 million from the Green Climate Fund and US$1.6 million in co-financing from the Royal Government of Bhutan) climate-resilient irrigation scheme will now provide a steady supply of water for drinking as well as farming for 285 households and 2,458 individuals (1,255 female) and help irrigate 1,241 acres of agricultural land.

Lyonpo Younten Phuntsho, Minister for Agriculture and Livestock

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

At the inauguration of the scheme today, Lyonpo Younten Phuntsho said it’s a historic day for Phangyul and Kazhi communities. “The irrigation scheme will not only boost livelihoods of the people in the two gewogs but also contribute towards boosting the country’s food and nutrition security, which is one of the key national priorities. I urge the community members to not leave your land fallow now that the water crisis has been resolved.” 

UNDP Resident Representative, Mohammad Younus

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

UNDP Resident Representative Mohammad Younus said today marks not just the inauguration of a mere irrigation scheme but a start of a new chapter in the lives of people in Phangyul and Kazhi gewogs. “The irrigation scheme has touched the lives of 2,485 people in the two gewogs, who for the first time in decades saw water finally arrive in their village. By helping irrigate 1,241 acres of land, the project will add close to 40% arable land to Wangdue district. For UNDP, this will remain a key milestone of our partnership with the Royal Government of Bhutan in recent years.”

As part of the inauguration, the community members carried out paddy transplantation at Phangyul Goenpa. They were joined by the minister, UNDP Resident Representative and others.

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

These irrigation scheme will not only help boost livelihoods of the people in the two gewogs but also enhance their resilience to the impact of climate change. The irrigation scheme is climate proofed, meaning it is designed to better withstand extreme weather conditions. 

The piped irrigation schemes ensure uninterrupted water supply with zero loss of water from the source till distribution points. It is also environment friendly too. Only 70 percent of the water from the source is tapped to maintain 30 percent environmental flow in the lean period as mandated by the Water Regulation of Bhutan, 2014.

Farmers ploughing fields at Phangyul Goenpa

UNDP Bhutan/Dechen Wangmo

As the water breathes new life into parched fields that had long been abandoned, the promise of a brighter future- one where the fields teem with abundance and the communities thrive- awaits Phangyul and Kazhi communities. “I can’t believe water is flowing into our fields. It’s a dream come true, and we are grateful beyond words,” Sumcho Pem said.

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Ms. Dechen Wangmo, Communications Analyst, UNDP Bhutan | Email: