Monday, July 22, 2013

Rinchengang’s rice revolution


By the handful: Wangdue drangpoen Pasang Wangmo inaugurates the first harvest

Double cropping and mechanised farming could bring about a change of fortunes to this economically deprived settlement
Agriculture: Of the many paddy fields that sit on a gentle slope in Rinchengang, one of the poor villages in Wangdue, one is the size of five archery ranges put together, on a flat piece of land.
Along the right side of the Wangdue zam (bridge), the field is filled with full-grown and ripe paddy plants that sway in the breeze coming from the Punatsangchu (river).
The paddy in the other fields near the village is still in the growing stage, with transplantation done a few weeks ago.
On July 19, more than 50 farmers, including agriculturists and senior government officials, gathered at the huge rice field, which is spread across 20 acres, to harvest the crop using a mechanised harvester and pedal thrasher.
Using double cropping mechanism, the first crop was transplanted in March this year. “We could have harvested in the first week of July, but the rain didn’t allow us,” the national rice programme coordinator, Ngawang Chopel, said.
Re-initiated after a decade, rice farmers in Rinchengang village should be able to harvest paddy twice a year. “They should be able start next plantation by the end of this month,” Ngawang Chophel said.
In the second phase, the farmers will grow the IR-20913 variety, which is a short duration paddy, developed using local and imported variety from the Philippines.  This time as well, the government will provide them free machines, seeds and expertise.
The number 11, which the farmers of Rinchengang harvested, is a cold tolerant variety, suitable in high altitude areas like Thimphu, Paro, Tashigang, Tashiyangtse, Lhuentse and Mongar.
Farmers like Dema said that, last year, the harvest was barely adequate for her family of three, and her husband had to contribute labour to earn more cash.
Dema usually collected around 200kg of paddy from her one langdo of land.  With double cropping and mechanised farming, she can now harvest more than 600kg.
A comparative study showed that 4,900kg of paddy may be harvested from 20 acres of land using the mechanised method, as against 1,000 to 1,800kg through traditional farming methods.  Agriculturalists said the increase was mainly because of improved variety and method used.
Until recently, 90 percent of the 83 households in Rinchen chiwo worked as sharecroppers, village elders said. “More farmers became sharecroppers, as land holdings became smaller with expansion of the family,” a village head said.
Mechanised farming will also help produce more in a small land holding, according to Thedtso gewog’s agriculture extension officer, Jamgay Lhamo. “We plan to expand double cropping from 20 acres to 35 acres,” she said.
Double cropping was carried out as a part of a pilot project to revive the programme that was introduced in 1999 but discontinued because of water shortage and damage by pests.
Earlier this year, plantation was done using a Japanese machine planter that took 20 minutes to plant what it took two workers a day.
“I’m hopeful, through the sale of rice, people will become self sufficient. GNH is when we become self-reliant,” the Wangdue drangpoen, Pasang Wangmo said, when the first crop was harvested. “With mechanised farming wives don’t have to complain about their husband running away in farming season.”
Despite, agriculture being the main source of income for more than 900 people living in the clustered village of Rinchengang that faces the burnt down Wangdue dzong, keeping double cropping going is a concern among agriculture officials.
Tuned to urban lifestyles influenced by Punatsangchu project, farmers may discontinue if the government withdrew free seeds, machines and fund for greenhouse. “I don’t know whether they’ll continue when they have to do everything on their own,” one of the rice experts said.
By Tenzin Namgyel, Wangdue