Athang faces marketing challenges but road brings hope
The people of Athang in Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag are involved in growing a variety of cereals but the marketing opportunities are limited which prevents them from achieving a rural livelihood.
Agriculture in Bhutan plays a dominant role in the economy. Besides, agriculture remains the primary source of livelihood for the majority of the population.
However, the farmers of Athang are unable to take their produce to the market. The Athang people have no knowledge of marketing or of the market.
Daw Gyeltshen, 37, a farmer from Lophokha, said that, despite having fertile land and good water sources, the villagers are not able to earn income from their agricultural produce, vegetables and fruits. He said, “I couldn’t market any produce since there was no access to road.”
Things are set to change now with the construction of 25-km farm road which began in 2012. Farmers like Daw Gyeltshen can now expect to take advantage of the farm road that connects the village to the market. “Now that the government has brought road to the village, it will definitely benefit us in marketing our produce,”said Daw.
Major crops grown in Athang are rice and maize. Rice is the primary crop in the village because of sufficient irrigation water. Apart from rice, other crops like wheat, barley, potato and different vegetables are also grown in the village.
The villagers mostly follow the old tradition of growing crops for selfconsumption. Now they feel the need to earn cash income to buy vegetable oil, sugar, milk powder and other necessary items.
Nima, 52, said, “Till now we have been doing subsistence farming but now I have been encouraged to increase our yield. There was no public interest in farming when their farming brought no cash income.”
Nima added that his land has remained fallow because there has been no income from farming.
Pem Tshering, 73, another farmer, said that the farmers are now hopeful that the road connection will now help them take their agriculture produce to the market.
Pem Tshering said that although a farmer’s life is difficult, given the opportunity to earn some income from it, he wants to grow some vegetables and sell them. “I have hoped to plant potatoes and market them if the road is accessible and good in condition,” he said.
Villagers are expects to improve their living standard with the completion of farm road. Daw Gyaltshen is hopeful to harvest cardamom to earn income. He hopes to start a new life.
However, Mani, 72, said while he is happy about the arrival of road, he is worried about how it might benefit the farmers because the road gets blocked in times of heavy rains. He thinks that the road will benefit the farmers if the government helps maintain it. “There is no use if the government doesn’t help maintain the road after the construction,” he said.
Mani is hopeful that the elected local leaders will be concerned about the farmers’ issues and help address them. He says that, without the government’s help, the people from his village will be forever bogged down with the problems.
The objective of the farm infrastructure development program is improving the rural access through construction of farm roads and power tiller tracks to link the potential production areas to markets through complete government funding and cost sharing.
The backbone of agricultural marketing is transportation. Therefore, it is important to build farm roads and make the marketing of agriculture produce possible throughout different seasons.
However, challenges will remain even with access to road. The village is far from the market and the farmers may not be able to bear high transportation costs.
Ap Mani said, “We are getting older and I don’t have hope to work anymore. However, we hope our children will work more to generate income.”
Tashi Lhamo, 60, said the farmers from the village today take their produce to the market on their backs. And often the produce gets spoilt on the way and it become difficult to sell them.
Aum Naki, 66, said there is hope to market their produce even without a road if the vegetables did not get spoilt on the way as the path winds across mountains and hills.
She said that the income from agricultural produce would help them buy electric kitchen utensils and other necessary household things. That, she said, would definitely improve their living standard.
The gewog has the potential to increase its yield by adopting the use of improved pest and disease tolerant high-yielding crop varieties.
The other challenges include limited landholding. The village is located on rugged and there is limited cultivable land.
Mani has little land of his own and does sharecropping.
The Jigme Singye Wangchuck National park has provided Corrugated Galvanized Iron (CGI) sheets to many households that do not have CGI roofing, and electric fencing to all the people of Athang.
Wangchuk Dorji, an official from the park office, said the park has been provided electric fencing recognizing the humanwildlife conflict on agricultural land, it is crucial for the government to intervene further.
Although poverty has been greatly reduced, it is still a great cause for concern.
Effective agricultural marketing will not only bring proper distribution of food and other commodities but also bring efficiency, accessibility and equality in distribution.
The farmers have been encouraged to use farm machinery. Therefore, the Chiwogs received power tillers.
However, Daw Gyeltshen said the agriculture machinery has not been used for almost three years. He said, “Power tillers was provided but they remained unutilized because we have no trained operators.”
The villagers went to get unfitted Power tiller to Kamichhu when there was no road. Pem Tshering said the Power tiller is not functioning. “The Gewog has been working on repairing but they couldn’t repair,” he said, adding about three mechanics came to repair the machine.
For the improvement of agricultural marketing, it is necessary that arrangements are made for appropriate training of farmers. It is very important for improvement of agricultural marketing.
Other events such as farmers’ workshops and tours have also been initiated for leveraging the agricultural sector to strengthen marketing, access and production.
The gewog center has been providing necessary pesticides, keeping in view the marketing of agricultural produce, so that the grains and other perishable products can be quickly sent to the market.
However, the villagers have to go to the gewog center to get pesticides and seeds which is very away from village. People don’t go there since the gewog center is very far.
The Gewog center at Dogayphu is about 19-km away from Athang village. Mani said that soon he will not have to spend hours walking through all difficulties.
The activities are incorporated in order to enhance the farmer’s knowledge on crop management for higher productivity.
The farmers’ tours have been initiated with the objectives of sharing their experience with other farmers and expose the farmers to demonstrative to inculcate learning by seeing.
The farmers’ tour is also to train and support the farmers group in raising the start-up capital and to help market their products as a group.
Along with the dzongkhang administration, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park has planned eco-tourism, a track for tourist from Phobjikha through Adha to Kamichhu and a store house for the sale of agriculture product which will benefit Adha.
The former Gup Khandu Dorji said, with the help of tourism industry, people started to earn to minimal income through hosting tourists as homestay.
Besides, access to better facilities and better telecommunications network was another problem villagers pointed out.
Athang is one of the most remote and least accessible gewog in Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag with poor communication network. The settlements are widely scattered which comprises four chiwogs, Lophokha-phaktakha, Lomtshokha, Rukha and Lawa Lamga.
Officially, both the places are two days’ walk from Kamichhu. The chiwogs of Athang includes the village of Lophokha, Phaktakha, Kago and Lomtshokha.
Athang Gewog consists of 167 households with the population of 1,980 as per the census record of 2012 sparsely settled on an estimated area of 746-km square.