When farmers in Tsirang harvested rice last month, it was their first harvest in over 15 years for those in Sergithangmaed and Semdenjong Chiwogs of Sergithang Gewog. Acute shortage of irrigation water forced them to leave their paddy fields fallow all these years.
Thanks to a new irrigation scheme built through the National Adaptation of Programme Action (NAPA) III project of the Royal Government of Bhutan, they were able to grow rice again from this year. The project financed by Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), is being implemented by the Royal Government of Bhutan with support from UNDP.
39-year-old Dur Pati Rai is one of the farmers who cultivated paddy after the installation of the 7.2-km climate-resilient pressurized piped irrigation system in May this year. “The last 15 years have not been easy,” she recalled.
“We could only grow maize and lentil. Men in the village had to migrate to other districts to work in hydropower and other construction projects. Women were left behind to look after family and livestock.”
Dur Pati Rai says she is grateful to the project. “When we don’t grow rice ourselves, we have to buy and that cost us a lot. Now, we can use the money set aside for purchasing rice to cover our children’s education expenses and build better houses.”
Her brother Lal Bir Rai was one of the men from the village who went to work in hydropower construction projects. He hopes the irrigation scheme will stop migration. “I tell the youth to stay home and take up farming now that we have water at our doorstep. We had to leave because there was no other option, but the youth have the option to remain home and pursue farming,” he said.
The irrigation system has also enabled farmers to grow off-season vegetables. “Before, it was hard to grow vegetables even in summer due to water shortage. Now, even winter cropping is possible,” said Lal Bir Rai’s wife Som Maya Suba.
The pressurized piped irrigation system is climate resilient and ensures uninterrupted water flow as opposed to the conventional open-irrigation system. In Bhutan where landslides are common due to its hilly and mountainous landscape, open-irrigation channels often get blocked by slides, falling tree branches and debris, which further triggers landslides.
The irrigation scheme benefits 85 households in the three chiwogs of Sergithangmaed, Semdenjong and Tashithang. The chiwogs have formed a Water User Association to take care of the irrigation scheme. Headed by a Chairperson, the association members include a Secretary and has a family member from each household in the three chiwogs as members. Water guard or “Chu Sungpa” as it is known in the Dzongkha, Bhutan’s national language, is a key member.
The villagers have nominated 54-year-old Suk Bdr Rai as the water guard. His job involves visiting the new irrigation scheme at the source regularly for inspection. “I couldn't be happier. We didn’t grow rice for about a decade and a half because there was no water to irrigate our fields."