As it moves to harnessing the sun and other sources of renewable energy to meet its power needs, Yalang gewog in Trashiyangtse, tucked away in the east corner of the country, seems to be living up to its name ‘land of the rising sun’.
From installing solar panels in every household to power the electric fence, the place in the eastern edge of the Himalayas is aggressively adopting renewable energy and shelving its earlier plans to become a hydro ‘power house’.
So now, instead of moving towards developing hydropower for export, the gewog seems to be moving towards using renewable sources to provide electricity to its residents.
A farmer, Dorji Tshomo, planted 70 decimals of land with maize, potato, cabbage and chilies due to market demands and a high yielding variety seeds received from the agriculture extension office in the gewog.
She has installed solar panels to protect her crops from the monkeys and wild boars damaging almost all her crops. She is among the few farmers in the village who is not deterred by the wild animals now. “Some have given up cultivation and left their land fallow,” said Dorji Tshomo.
The people are subsistence farmers depending on maize and a variety of vegetables. Villagers have access to electricity, rural water supply, and mobile network and are connected with the gewog center and other chiwogs via a farm road, often not passable during the monsoon season.
The closeness to the wild is giving them nightmares. “I can hardly reap half of what is cultivated in my fields every year,” said Phurpa Wangdi, a farmer who has finally bought electric fencing materials to be set up against the wild boar infestation. Including him, about 37 farmers have bought the new technology.
However, it is farmers like Karmo, who are paying the price. “Every year, crops are lost to wildlife despite sleepless nights warding off the wild animals,” she said.
Yalang Gup Chasung Wangdi said most of the chiwogs do not have electric fencing except for one patch of land, which received one on trial basis sometime back.“Despite the efficacy of an electric fence in combating human-wildlife conflict, the villagers cannot afford it,” he said. “Loss of crops to wildlife is still a major problem here.”
Around 10.5 km (58 acres) of electric fencing has been constructed in the gewog but this covers only 11 of the 334 households. The farm lands of over 312 households are not protected by electric fences.
“The only solution to protect the agricultural crops is solar and electric fencing at the moment,” Gup said, adding the forest officials are carrying out awareness campaigns in the gewogs.
Some farmers are worried that if all cannot afford electric fencing, wildlife attack on crops will be worse for those who cannot afford. The dzongkhag is planning to incorporate electric fencing in the12th Plan to reduce human-wildlife conflict and reclaim the fallow lands.
As per the report of electric fencing which has been supplied to the gewogs, last year, Yalang gewog received 15.96km of fencing to cover 146 acres of land that benefitted 147 households.
The farmers that have already installed the electric and solar electric fencing are hoping for a good harvest yield this year. Dorji Tshomo said she could never harvest a full crop in the past years as wild boars and deer damaged them. “My maize and potatoes are safe now,” she said.
Developments brought about by solar energy
The warmer weather has been elemental in harnessing solar energy. Its local micro- and mini-hydropower projects are not efficient or sufficient. The monsoon brings debris and silt thus reducing output, and there is not enough flow in the rivers in the winters.
“We were so used to darkness. Burning candles or battery run emergency lamps were our only options,” said Dorji Tshomo, adding almost all houses in Yalang gewog have solar panels, though no one got a subsidy for it earlier.
Meanwhile, the government developed a Menu Optimizer Tool (MOT) to ensure that school children get the maximum nutritional benefit from local produce at the minimum cost. Linking farmers to the schools, now farmers have received solar panels and greenhouse materials.
In a bid to supply schools and hospitals with domestically produced quality food and vegetables, farmers groups were linked to schools and a hospital. The farmer groups have signed the agreement with the schools and they will supply their vegetables to schools and hospitals on a weekly basis.
“As of now, farmers from four gewogs have supplied more than 10,000kgs of various vegetables from the normal production and the Dzongkhag is yet to receive more,” said the Gup.
According to the production plan developed by extension and the groups, they have linked with farmer groups and identified vegetables as per schools’ demand and negotiated each vegetable’s price.
“After installing solar electric fence the production of the various vegetables increased,” the Gup said, adding schools are bound to buy from farmers which will provide assured market to farmers and enhance the production while school children will receive safe, domestically produced and socially acceptable vegetables and also replace poor quality and unsafe imported vegetables.
Meanwhile, with this program farmers’ groups have already started supplying available vegetables from the normal production from November 1 this year. They said that this program has made it easier to sell their agriculture products.
One of the farmers, Ap Wangchen said earlier they had to take their vegetables to the market and it was difficult for them sell it within a week. “Now, it is lucrative business for us as the market is accessible,” he said.
“We are earning almost Nu 25,000-30,000 if we meet the demand of schools and the hospital,” he said. Agriculture extension staff of the gewog said they are responsible for planning, giving technical backstopping, advising and monitoring the production so that continuous supply is assured as per the demand of the school.
Kinley Yonten from Tashiyangtse