Bhutan has long been an agricultural country, the sector providing livelihood to more than half of its population.
However, in the recent decades, Bhutan has been experiencing impacts of global warming and climate change manifesting through glacial recession, extreme weather events and drying up of water sources, among others. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been supporting and collaborating with the Royal Government in building climate resilient agricultural practices in the country.
In Wangduephodrang, one of the districts where GCF activities are implemented, a 34km irrigation scheme worth Nu 187 million is being constructed.
It will draw water from Baychhu river in Damjithang, Kazhi gewog and benefit over 120 households in the community. Preliminary surveys have been completed and work will begin in 2022.
Sumchok Pem, 44 years, from Phangyul Goenpa said that a long period of dry spell deprived her farm off water. “The only source at Lachu, located about 18km uphill is also drying up,” she said. “When we do not have enough water for drinking, cultivating large areas of land looks like a distant dream.”
Gewog Agriculture Extension Officer Dendup said that people have requested for an alternative irrigation channel in the past. To make best of the situation, farmers came up with an alternative in 2017, and GCF supported their initiative.
Instead of cultivating paddy, that required huge amounts of water, farmers started cultivating vegetables. The Gewog Agriculture Extension Office, with support from the GCF, provided 10 households with polyhouses and water-harvesting materials to cope as a temporary measure.
Sumchok Pem stored water from a nearby drinking water source and grew chilies on trial. The yield surprised her. Contrary to harvesting paddy only once a year, she harvested chillies seven times in a season, that too from a small plot and earned Nu 600,000. She now cultivates winter chillies using greenhouse. Similarly, most farmers have started growing chillies and vegetables.
GCF support has transformed the lives of many in other districts as well. In Talo, Punakha, a couple has been doing brisk agricultural business. The benefitted from the greenhouse and plastics provided to make rainwater harvesting facilities.
“In the greenhouse, the seeds not only grow faster but are of better quality ensuring better yield,” Rinzin said, adding that adopting the new method not only gave him enough to feed his family, but also a surplus that he could sell. Recently, he sold five bolero (pickup truck) loads of vegetables earning over Nu 40,000. He also collected surplus vegetables from neighbours and supplied it to Thimphu.
Similarly, in Peljorling village under Phuentenchhu in Tsirang, 48-year-old Dil Maya Sanyasi’s life has improved with GCF’s support. Until 2020, her farm was mostly stone and boulders, and the paddy fields were narrow for deploying machines.
The GCF executed wetland consolidation in over an acre land and dry land terracing in 1.5-acre land. The project also provided her with mulching plastics. The land development works have made mechanisation of farm work possible. “It motivates me to work harder,” she said. Dil Maya grew chilies and her first harvest of 350 kilograms earned more than Nu 87,000. This is just a beginning of a new farming life and, with passing time, she expects to reap more benefits.