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The Rice Bowl of Trashigang - Agriculture development
Thimphu Valley, wet farming
More recently agriculture development has had a significant impact on the geog's rice yield through the introduction of new varieties, chemical fertilisers and better management practises. Statistics provided by the dzongkhag agriculture sector show that rice production in Radhi shot up significantly in the last decade. In 1990 an acre produced about 900-kilogramme. Today production is about 1,500 to 2,000- kilogramme an acre, an increase of about 20-kilogramme an acre annually.

The field crop sector under the renewable natural resources research centre (RNRRC)-Khangma has successfully tried and introduced new varieties such as Kumal, and Yusirey Kap and Map, a cross-breed of the local and high yielding Japanese variety.

The Kumal variety, from Nepal, introduced last year yielded immediate results with production exceeding over 700 MT, much higher than the regularly cultivated local "sobrang" variety. Radhi produced about 2,549 MT of Kumal during its "trial" run compared with 1,841MT of local rice.x

All in all, Radhi cultivates about 10 improved and local varieties depending on the altitude. Meanwhile, five other PP (Paro population) lines (products of a rice cross breeding programme), tried last year failed to make an impact owing largely to intensive labour required during its harvest.

The experiment carried out jointly by the agriculture sector and RNRRC Khangma saw that while the high altitude PP lines fared better in yield, the quality was a failure, and it required more hands in threshing the hard grains.

Radhipas, however, still prefer cultivating the local mid-altitude varieties such as Sung Sung and Sobrang for its aroma and taste. It is also the demand by consumers. "These were varieties cultivated since a long time ago," says the Radhi Gup, Kulung. "Then, Changkhar, Pakhaling, and Dungpaling, were the main villages involved in rice cultivation."

But not even Kulung knows why and how Radhi became a major rice producer. "Even as a child I remember that we cultivated rice," says Kulung. "It was mostly for home consumption and to barter with neighbouring geogs. Today, of course, people cultivate rice to sell in eager markets in Thimphu and Trashigang."

Agricultourists think it was because of the suitable climate, terrain and (previously) adequate water resources to irrigate the paddy fields. With its gentle slopes rising from 1,200 m to 2,400 m and a sub-tropical climate, Radhi is suited for rice cultivation. At the northern tip of the geog there are several lakes which overflow during the monsoons and feed the two rivers that run on either side of the geog.

Ura Valley, Mongar, dry farming
For an otherwise dry dzongkhag where Kharang is the staple diet, cultivating rice was a matter of pride and a sign of prosperity. "Not long ago, eating rice for meals was a rarity," says a restaurant owner in Trashigang. "Having rice on the menu for just one meal a day had to be a special occasion like Losar." He said that the import of cheap rice slowly began to change people's food habits.

The construction of motor roads and the setting up of FCB agents penetrated even the remote villages providing adequate imported rice at an affordable price. Local rice is still preferred over what is available from shops for its taste and fragrance.

Civil servants in the dzongkhag, hotels, and other private individuals place orders in advance with Radhi farmers for the rice, or buy from sellers who visit the Trashigang town with their produce. The rice sells at about Nu 25 a kilogramme in local markets, cheaper than the high quality imported rice. A young hotelier in Trashigang town told that, on an average, his hotel consumed 100-kilogramme of rice a month of which three fourth was rice from Radhi.

But the status as the major rice supplier in the dzongkhag has come at a cost. The high demand for rice from places as far as Kangpara in south Trashigang fuelled wet land conversion in the geog, say researchers at RNRRC Khangma. According to the recent cadastral survey almost 50 per cent or 1, 1,057.93-hectare of the geog is wet land. Today the geog is bereft of forest cover and has been experiencing landslides for more than a decade. The Yudiri which flows between Phongmey and Radhi and Chongdiri which flows on the other side of the geog wash away tonnes of fertile soil every summer. Water and fuelwood, which was never a problem in the past, is a major concern today although this has been considerably eased with development schemes, roads and electricity connections.

With watershed management and land degradation control, agriculture specialists believe that there is still scope to further increase rice yield given its suitable climatic conditions. For example farm mechanisation is still very limited in Radhi. Farming is carried out in the traditional way, with oxen and yoke. The only breakthrough was the introduction of an improved version of the plough in 1997. Resembling the old plough, the improved metal plough allows the farmer to stand up straight while tilling the land and the metal blades cut through the soil more easily. A few farmers own power tillers but it is used more for transportation than for farming. Terrace farming in Radhi made it difficult to use power tillers. Otherwise, according to the gup, "farmers could easily afford power tillers and other such machinery". Agriculturists say that about 30 per cent of the geog can be mechanised which can save on the scarce labour and post harvest losses.

With the increase in population, landholdings have fragmented from about an average five acres of wetland to several langdos (one langdo is an area a pair of oxen can plough in a day). Because of this, mass commercial production on a large scale may not be possible, say agriculture officials because there is absolutely no area left that can be converted to wetland.

Irrigation is another problem. Paddy cultivators still depend on rain to irrigate their fields and other sources remain unexplored. Irrigation canals are not seen in the entire wetland areas.

Contributed by KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2006

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