Farmers share in paddy cultivation labor through water woes

It is afternoon. Fog surrounds the paddy fields in Samphelling gewog in Chhukha. A slight drizzle is in the air. Sweat droplets appear on 45-year-old Ash Man Limbu’s forehead as he engages in the chores of paddy cultivation.

Time is running out as the irrigation water will be diverted to the next field.

The villagers take turns to cultivate their terrace with limited available water. After the work is over, Ash Man with a sigh prays for a little more rainfall to complete his task. Without, proper irrigation channels, paddy cultivation in the two chiwogs of Samphelling gewog in Chhukha are suffering.

The nearest stream is more than a kilometer away and people have made a channel to bring water into the fields. Unlike other villages, the farmers are yet to receive a concrete irrigation channel.

The stream swells during heavy monsoon rainfall. However, the water dries up when there is continuous sunshine for days. “We have been doing this for years now,” Ash Man says.

The villagers take turns helping each other with labor to save on expenses. However, farmers these days have been employing laborers to complete the work with limited available irrigation water. “We cannot afford to lose time as the water will be taken,” says another farmer, Ganesh Bdr. Chhetri.

He readies his paddy field which is next in line to be watered in a few days.

Irrigation water shortage has become a challenge for the farmers.  The land, according to farmers, is very fertile and can yield sufficient paddy if irrigation water is favorable. Ash Man usually cultivates around 1.5MT of paddy annually from his two acres of paddy field. Every farmer owns up to three acres of paddy field in the village.

While they manage to cultivate even with rainwater, it becomes more challenging during autumn when the paddy flowers and yield fruit. The rice needs continuous water in the field till it starts fruiting. Farmers are currently compromising on the harvest due to shortage of irrigation water. “We don’t cultivate the expected yield due to insufficient water. The rice grain won’t grow properly without ample water supply,” said Tej Bdr. Limbu.

With limited water, farmers have stopped cultivating 20% of the total paddy fields in the villages. Also, it has compelled some farmers to keep half of their fields fallow. Most of the farmers do not use all of their fields and leaves them half fallow. Nanda Kishor Chhetri is one of them. He along with other farmers have now started alternative cropping. But it has fared no better. “Without water, farmers are discouraged to start other vegetable cultivation,” Nanda Kishor Chhetri. He said that other crops need water too especially during autumn and winter. “We don’t get enough water to drink during winter, forget about vegetables,” the farmers echo.

Meanwhile, Samphelling Gup Mani Kumar Rai said that the gewog has planned for better irrigation facilities in the 12th plan for the villages. The authorities plan to construct irrigation channel from the Singyechhu River for continuous water supply for irrigation. The Gup said that the gewog had provided pipes for the villages few years back. But, it was washed away by the river one summer by a flash flood. And some were buried while constructing the farm road. “But water supply will be our priority in the 12th plan,” said Mani Kumar Rai.

As the sun sets, Ash Man after hours of grueling labor calls it a day. The continuous rainfall for the past few days has indeed been a blessing for him. The farmers meanwhile plan out the next day with Ganesh when everyone will chip in to help while his fields are watered. Thus, life goes on in Samphelling: the farmers are united by an element called water.

Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing