20-years of  agriculture water crisis in Tsirang

20-years of agriculture water crisis in Tsirang

Government announces new irrigation projects

Despite the abundance of arable and moist land still available, rice production is still not possible in Tsirang Dzongkhag. The inaccessibility to irrigation water in the fields has prevented the farmers from engaging in any form of cultivation for around 20 years now.
“If there is no water, we cannot fulfill the food sufficiency policy,” said the Member of Parliament (MP) from Sergithang-Tsirangtoed constituency, Lhakpa Tshering Tamang, seeking answers to what the government is doing in order to address this issue in Tsirang Dzongkhag.
Acknowledging that agricultural water crisis is a common dilemma not just in Tsirang, but all across the country, Agriculture Minister Younten Phuntsho reiterated that only a mere 29% of the total agricultural land in Bhutan has access to irrigation water, attributing it to the change in weather patterns due to climate change.
Despite this, he said that many programs were undertaken in Tsirang like the Semjong water project by the Dessung last year.
“Likewise, the central government is working on six similar projects while the local government is undertaking five other projects in the Dzongkhag,” he said. “One example is the 5Km Norboogang irrigation channel in Phuentenchhu gewog.”
Lyonpo said that Tsirang Dzongkhag also falls under the Building Resilient Commercial Smallholder Agriculture (BRECSA) project, and there will inputs from this project too.
BRECSA is a project objectified for the commercialization of agricultural value chains toward resilient food systems and post-COVID economic recovery in Bhutan. The proposed project builds upon existing programmes in Bhutan that have successfully supported the production and commercialisation of agriculture. Examples include IFAD’s Commercial Agriculture and Resilient Livelihoods Enhancement Programme (CARLEP); the World Bank’s GAFSP supported Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project (FSAPP); and the National School and Institutional Feeding Programme overseen by the Ministry of Education and Skills Development and WFP. This project directly addresses systemic barriers in the agriculture sector; and post-COVID challenges and priorities identified in Bhutan’s Renewable Natural Resources (RNR) Strategy 2040, the draft RNR Market Strategy (both 2021), and food self-sufficiency policy. These policies call for Bhutan to “Build Back Better” in ways that contribute to economic and social recovery while also meeting the Country’s UNFCCC Nationally Determined Contributions.
Additionally, the minister called upon those involved in the agriculture sector to manage water sustainably through water saving smart technologies, wherein too the government will provide full support.
The Sergithang-Tsirangtoed MP also sought clarifications regarding the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) pledge of providing power tillers to the farmers at low interest rates, imploring that many farmers in Tsirang are in dire need of the machinery. In response, the minister said that although the pledge is an important issue which needs no reminder, it is on halt because of the current economic and financial scenario of the country.
“Nevertheless, we are looking for options to extract funds from the economic stimulus plan programme budget, for which talks are underway with the relevant organizations and agencies.”
Meanwhile, in an effort to boost agricultural productivity and economic growth, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MoAL) has included 24 irrigation water channel projects in the 13th Five-Year Plan (FYP). Agriculture Minister Younten Phuntsho announced that these projects are expected to cover approximately 140 kilometers of irrigation channels, benefiting around 4,000 acres of land and 2,700 households nationwide.

By Tashi Namgyal, Thimphu