Dream come true for one of the most water-scarce gewogs

A Green Climate Fund project worth Nu 187mn will solve the short supply of irrigation water

Forty-four year old Kinley Dendup and his family including four children are taking a meal of imported white rice. This is the first time that imported rice has taken place of red rice on their plates because local rice used to be produced in plenty in their own fields.

That is until the bane of irrigation water short supply.

Like most farmers from Phangyul Chungsaykha village in Phangyul gewog, Wangdue, Kinley Dendup is facing the repercussions of shortage of irrigation water which has caused 90% of paddy fields to be left fallow.

He has around 10 acres of wetland which is meant only for paddy cultivation but most of it is barren. To supplement his livelihood, he is growing chili for his family on three acres of land and now their source of income is chili.

Like Kinley, other farmers in the village are growing additional crops to fend for themselves.

“People can fetch a good amount from selling chili. Some manage to get between Nu 40,000 to Nu 100,000 a year,” he said.

However, since all sorts of agriculture produce require water, the farmers have not been able to grow the amount that they want.

Earlier when the farmers used to cultivate paddy, the amount of rice they harvested would last them for more than a year.

“We used to give extra rice to our relatives,” he said. But now, the villagers have resorted to buying imported rice.

Phangyul has become synonymous with water scarcity. There is barely enough drinking water, let alone for farming. Large swathes of paddy fields lie fallow, impacting livelihoods of the people in the community.

Subsistence farming is the main source of livelihood in the gewog. Rice is the main staple crop. The gewog has about 637 acres of wetland and 55 acres of dry land owned by 175 households. Only half of the total wet land is cultivated annually owing to the shortage of irrigation water.

Phangyul Gup Ugyen said it has been four to five years that the residents of the two chiwogs-Gankhar and Phangyul have not been able to cultivate paddy due to the shortage of irrigation water.

Earlier, around 50% of the households used to cultivate using water from a small stream in their village but as the rainfalls grew less frequent, the stream dried up and the village lacked water to irrigate its fields.

Of the five chiwogs in the gewog, 80% of the households in three chiwogs cultivate paddy with limited irrigation water and use monsoon rainfall.

“Due to irrigation water scarcity, the land was left fallow for more than a decade. From 2015, some households gave up on their lands completely,” said the Gup.

As per records maintained with the gewog currently, the rice production in the gewog is around 880.8MT a year and with the irrigation channel it is projected to produce more than 1,000MT annually.

Deputy Chief Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer of Wangdue, Dhodo said that rice production in the gewog is mainly constrained by the scarcity of irrigation water.

“Despite having five irrigation channels with irrigation channel density of 56m per acre of paddy field, water shortage is very acute in the gewog,” he said.

He mentioned that the scarcity is mainly caused by lack of reliable source within the gewog. “Most of the water sources are small and seasonal. Further, as the gewog is situated on the upper reaches of the slope there are no nearby water sources. As such existing sources are located far from the command area.”

“Sharing of irrigation water on rotation basis is an indication of insufficiency of water, but the duration of rotation period indicates the degrees of insufficiency,” he said.

As such irrigation water rotation period of 21 days in the gewog is one of longest in the country signifying that it is among one of the most water scarce gewogs in the country. A maximum irrigation water rotation period of seven days is observed in other parts of the country.

The other key indicator of scarcity is the completion of rice transplantation season.

Generally, farmers in Punakha and Wangdue complete rice transplantation before the 4th day of the 6th Bhutanese month. According to the farmers, if the transplanting is delayed beyond this date, the production will not be worth the effort. But the farmers in Phangyul have no option but to go several weeks and even months beyond this date to complete their rice transplantation. This is one reason why the paddy yield in this gewog is very poor.

To address this issue for all times, the project “Supporting climate resilience and transformational change in the agriculture sector of Bhutan” funded by Green Climate Fund is being implemented.

The project will build a 34-km climate resilient irrigation scheme to bring water to Phangyul, which will spur transformation changes in the community. It will benefit 285 households and cover 1,000 acres of fallow land.

The total project cost is Nu 187mn. The project will start from July 2021 and is projected for three years.

This is expected to improve livelihoods and make significant contributions toward enhancing Bhutan’s national goal of achieving self- sufficiency and food security.

The source of the irrigation will be Khazi gewog and water will be sourced from Baychhu. Khazi gewog has agreed to share their water source to Phangyul.

Dy. Chief Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer said that given the specific climate change challenges confronting smallholders in vulnerable regions in Bhutan, a priority for the government, the project seeks to enhance the resilience of smallholder farms to climate change, especially variation in rainfall and frequent occurrence of extreme events.

It is climate resilient because it will promote resilient agricultural practices in the face of changing climate pattern, integrate climate change risks into water and land management practices that affect smallholders and reduce the risk and impact of climate change-induced landslides during extreme events that disrupt market access.

The Project Manager at Project Management Unit of GCF project at the Gross National Happiness Commission, Sherub Gyeltshen said that so far, they have received Nu 5mn and another Nu 20mn is being proposed in 2021.

He said that the scheme will be designed to be climate resilient with highly pressurized HDPE pipe to avoid water seepage, blockage with debris and landslide during summer and ensure continuous flow of water all seasons without disruption. The scheme is not open channel.

“This year we are lucky to get fund from the GFC,” said the Gup.

The Gup said with this project they are hoping that the water they are using for irrigation water currently can be used as drinking water.

The Gup also mentioned that with this project people can grow and be self-sufficient in vegetables. “People can also sell the vegetables to other dzongkags.”

Meanwhile, Kinley Dendup said that due to acute shortage of water in their village, there were incidences of cattle dying.

In his village they drink from a nearby stream: the water is allocated to them for two hours a day.

They store the water within these two hours for drinking, washing and feeding their cattle.

Kinley Dendup is excited about the irrigation project and for the villagers it is a dream come true.

“We are eagerly waiting for the project to complete,” he said, adding that they will not have to depend on other dzongkhags for agriculture produce.

Since the gewog also has scarcity of drinking water, they are planning to budget for drinking water to be sourced from other donors through the government. An amount of Nu 133mn would be required to source drinking water.

Phangyul is one of the smallest gewogs in the region. It is made up of five chiwogs (Phangyul-Koomchhi, Goenkha, Chungoen, Chungser-Domkha and Wampoekha). There are 210 gung holders in the gewog. As of now there are 1,957 people registered in Phangyul.

(The story is funded by Department of Information and Media, MoIC.)

Dechen Dolker from Wangdue