Gardening the Bhutanese Way

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sanam Drubdrey-Agriculture Progress Report 2016

In accordance to the request letter (TAPT/Gen/15/3) forwarded by the President of the Tensung Amsu Phendey Tshogpa (TAPT), a team from Research & Development Center for Organic Agriculture (RDC-OA) set off from Yuispang to Royal Bhutan Army Camp, Damthang on 2nd March, 2016.  The RDC team embarked on the journey with the main mandate of providing technical backstopping in line with the center's mandate of providing the same in the  Western region of the country.

The TAPT is an association of the wives of the army personnel, existent at every army base. With the sole motive of engaging women in high income generating activities like the cultivation of high altitude vegetables, and medicinal & aromatic plants, the group geared onto the initial phase of the mini-pilot Project with technical assistance provided by RDC-OA (previously RNR-RDC).

The project in its initial phase intended to extend its wing of beneficiary to around 270 families; majority consisting of women and over a thousand children and dependents. It was also initiated to address social issues like domestic violence, absence of enabling home environment for children, and financial-constraint-driven social divide for both adult and children, and the dilution of family values that are caused by financial pressures on income earners in conjunction with the main motive.

The serene place is situated at an elevation of 3035 m.a.s.l. Yaks grazing over the patchy dry pastures in the vicinity were of common sight. The peaks enclosing the valley remained clad in blankets of snow even in March. The place embraced us with a welcoming note of chillness and serenity.

A  theoretical presentation on the basics of vegetable cultivation was done, which was attended by around 130 women & a few of their male counterparts. It encompassed of nursery raising (under poly-tunnels which would enable early nursery raising under extreme cold conditions and  the ensuing crop hitting the market much earlier as well as under normal conditions); the critical operations required by specific vegetable crops; apt management practices of tomato cultivation emphasizing on pruning and staking requirements supported by pictorial presentation as well as videos.

A presentation was also made on the simple post harvest management of vegetables. This included the simple technique of drying and preserving the surplus produce, if any, to be consumed during the lean season. They were made to understand a simple technique required prior to drying called Blanching. This simply involves immersing the sliced vegetables in hot boiling water added with a pinch of salt for a minute or two. This technique is known to have desirable influence in bringing an abrupt seizure to the enzymatic activity which would otherwise deteriorate the quality of produce as well as help in colour retention.  The subsequent discussion and question answer session was made even more livelier and practical with the presence of representative from the Dzongkhag Agriculture Sector.

With financial support from the Department of Agriculture , Ministry of Agriculture & Forest, the Dzongkhag also rendered their service in installing four green houses at the camp. With quite a huge expense having been incurred on the procurement of such protective structures, our next attempt was on the practical demonstration with major impetus on the proper usage of Greenhouses. We also advocated them on the additional advantage that they will reap provided such structures were put to optimum use.

To augment their level of understanding & then enhance the practical applicability, the team demonstrated and guided the nursery sowing of many varieties of vegetables. The four groups (Dekhas) which they have had been divided into were given training individually in view of higher level of comprehension and greater participation. The groups owned a green house each and for a greater degree of performance, they were made to compete among themselves in production and subsequent sale of the produce.

Except for tomatoes, which didn't yield fruits of optimum size, all other vegetables performed extremely well. However, the centre will be looking into some of the drawbacks in the coming year. Their hard work was also counteracted by trespassing of cattle and wild boars which reaped quite a considerable portion of their vegetables planted outside, though in wooden fence enclosures. So we suggested them to request for the installation of electric fencing through the district agriculture office.
The colony housing more than 1000 inhabitants now have more and easy access to fresh and varieties of healthy and organic vegetables produced by themselves. Despite their first attempt in large scale vegetable cultivation as well as damage inflicted by animals, the groups in unison were able to produce and supply vegetables worth Nu. 40,100/-  to their mess. The details of each group's income are as enlisted in the table below;

Sl. No.
Total Income (Nu.)
Group 1 (Headquarter Company)
Group 2 (Company 1)
Group 3 (Company 2)
Group 4 (Company 3)
Grand Total

However meager the income generated and trivial the tale of success may seem, there is still a string of encouragement to hold upon. The entangled note of challenges and setbacks to be slackened off with the gradual flow of time. The figure would have assumed linear ascend had it not been for the damage inflicted by cattle trespassing and wild boar attack and the slightly elevated price margin in par to market price.

This is gratifying since it is in a way engaging the Tensung Womens' Group in a healthy practice. This also means the dwellers there can get quick and easy access to varieties of vegetables as well as enhance the per-capita consumption of vegetables which is far below the global recommended intake of 250-300g vegetable/person per day.

The camp having been situated far from the town as well as having quite a huge number of inhabitants, it is likely that  the dwellers thereof might lag far behind in the intake of nutrition-loaded vegetables. Therefore, our aim in achieving self-sufficiency in vegetable production at such isolated and clustered settlements was found to be on the positive side in the very first attempt. Though not a tale of grand success, it is the first step leaped for thousands more to ascend with the gradual flow of time.
The activity wasn't in the list of our planned activities, which would have imposed a crippling effect on its implementation for the activity wasn't budgeted. Nevertheless, with a little bit of adjustment and the limited available resources, and the provision of vegetable seeds from the district in addition to ours, we were in a position to impact the group in a positive way.

We wish that similar approach and interventions could be replicated in other such places, especially Army, Police camps or colonies, and monastic schools. One such place could be the Police Camp in Thimphu. There is a need to lend a helping hand in vegetable cultivation. There are many small patches of kitchen gardens, which were not optimally managed. In addition, the place seems to be crowded with many infants and children in their critical growing stage for whom diet with proper nutrition is crucial. However, the cultivable area is very limited and an effort in identifying and allotting a separate area is deemed to be necessary if cultivation should ascend to the higher level.

If something like Thrimsung (Police)/Gaagdhey Aumsu Phendhey Tshogpa could be formed to take on board the same idea and practice, this would provide a huge leap in their nutritional requirement. In addition, the armed forces get free supply of all other items, except vegetables. So the lower income group might not be in a position to afford all varieties of nutritious vegetables. Thinking big and working on vegetable export is one thing but it is equally crucial for us to work on making healthy, antioxidant crammed vegetables available in sufficient quantity to each and every one with major impetus on the vulnerable section of the society.

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