A fertile village laid to waste by lack of irrigation water
Rice farming is the predominant agricultural activity in the fertile village of Gaybakha in Wangduephodrang Dzongkhag, but lack of irrigation is affecting this lifeline activity in the village.
Agriculture is the mainstay of the people in Gaybakha. Rice and maize are the major cereal crops grown in the village and rice is, by far, the most important and preferred food crop of the farmers. The crop holds a huge potential because the village is connected by a farm road.
But the village does not have natural flowing irrigation water. The only way in which it can get enough water to keep the crops alive is through an irrigation channel. And irrigation is the only means of enhancing agriculture in the village.
Interviews conducted with the farmers from the village reveal that they have faced erratic irrigation shortage over the years, which has now become a major challenge.
Nidup Zam, 43, a farmer from the village, said the shortage of irrigation water has hit the village over the years. “I have grown paddy but I couldn’t irrigate my fields on a regular basis,” she said, adding that her harvest was affected by shortage of irrigation.
The village has been facing irrigation problem for many years now.
However, Desang, the gewog administrative officer of Daga Gewog, said irrigation is not a serious problem in the village. “There is no pressure from the public on the gewog office,” he said. “The two small channels have been serving the purpose until now.”
But the villagers say the need of irrigation water has been raised in many forums, even to individual government officials. But help is not likely to come soon.
Nidup Zam said that whenever government officials visited the village, they promised to look into the problem but the problem is still unresolved.
Gaybakha has only two small irrigation channels which cannot carry enough water to all the paddy fields during the time of transplantation.
Tsagay, 69, said the villagers had been hoping for a resolution to the problem but in vain.
The gewog has renovated two existing irrigation channels at the cost of Nu.1.2 million. However, Pema said this has not solved their problem.
Sonam Dorji, 60, another farmer, said the small stream of water flowing through the channels does not reach the paddy fields when it is sunny because the water seeps into the soil along the way.
Rain is the primary source of irrigation water for the paddy fields in the village. But not getting enough rain on time affects the harvest, the farmers say.
The farmers depend on rain-water for paddy transplantation. They are happy as long as there is sufficient rainfall for paddy transplantation. However, rain-water is not reliable. Ugyen Dorji, 53, said depending on rain water delays paddy transplantation. Moreover, rainfall is becoming erratic by the year.
The paddy transplantation season in the village is in the fifth month of the Bhutanese calendar. According to Nidup Zam, transplantation is, however, delayed by a month leading to delayed harvest and low yield.
The Japan government has built a mud pond to distribute water to paddy fields but for want of water pipes, the villagers have not been able to use water from the pond. Ugyen Dorji says the pond would be more beneficial if it was built with concrete, not mud.
Due to lack of irrigation water, some terraced fields in Gaybakha have disappeared into the forest and they have become grazing ground for cattle with weeds and plants covering paddy stumps.
The villagers said it is a sorry sight to see cattle grazing in the fields which used to be filled with paddy heaps.
The fields at the end of the village could not be cultivated for want of water. Wangchuck, 46, another villager, said, “Since there was an acute shortage of irrigation water, some farmers’ paddy fields had to be left fallow.”
Meanwhile, Pema Rinzin, 56, said the farmers import half the rice they eat. “If there is no irrigation water, then I am sure our paddy fields will re- main fallow,” he said. “We are increasingly importing rice from India.”
The farmers raise cattle to earn some income to buy rice, vegetable oil and other necessary items.
Although the village is far from any river or stream, the farmers have found a water source that they can draw irrigation water from. Ugyen Dorji said irrigation water can be drawn from the source at Sagaji or through a water pump from Samazhing below their village.
A survey has, however, found that the water source at Sagaji was too far from the villages and channeling it to the village would cost a huge amount. Lack of budget was cited as the reason for not constructing a new irrigation channel.
Desang agrees that if the village were to bring water from the identified source, a huge amount of money needs to be invested, and it might even cost the gewog’s entire budget.
The construction of an irrigation channel for the village was a priority in the 10th five-year plan (FYP). Nu.200, 000 was allocated for the renovation of irrigation channels in the 10th FYP, but the budget could not be used for Gaybakha since the water source was too small.
The gewog has proposed a new irrigation channel, according to former Gup Wangchuk.
The gewog adminis- trative officer said the construction of Gaybakha irrigation channel was not in the 11th FYP. He says that if a proposal comes from the public, the gewog office may incorporate it in the 12th plan. “The gewog will definitely bring the matter up when drafting the 12th FYP,” Desang said.
Dzongkhag agriculture officer, Sonam Zangpo, said the public should raise their issues to the gewog office and then submit a proposal to the dzongkhag.
Things are expected to change if water pumps are supplied for irrigation.
Pema Rinzin has planned to grow vegetables but could not for vegetable cultivation also requires water.
The lack of irrigation water and resulting low agricultural yields have forced most young people from the village to leave the village and work by the roadside at Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project. The village is now mostly populated by old people and homemakers who have stayed back with their cattle.
Located on top of a steep hill, the village looks almost deserted from the devastation caused by the Wangdue-Tsirang highway widening.
Gaybakha is located in the southern part of the dzongkhag on the right bank of Punatsangchhu. Daga Gewog consists of villages of Um Khatey, Um Khamey, Wogayna, Gaybakha and Taksha-Sili.
The gewog is home to 152 households with the population of about 1,347 according to population and housing census 2005. It is today a quiet village with about 98 percent of the total area under forest cover. (This article is reported with support from DoIM)