Athang faces mar­ket­ing chal­lenges but road brings hope

Bhutan Times - - Home - Lhakpa Tsh­er­ing from Wang­duepho­drang

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.

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