The Rice bowl of the East in need of irrigation water

The Rice bowl of the East in need of irrigation water

Unlike in the past few years, due to lack of irrigation water and erratic rainfall, most farmers in Radhi, the rice bowl of eastern Bhutan, are expecting a drop in the rice yield this year.

Most farmers feel the dry spell followed by erratic rainfall could lower the rice yield.

Although Bhutan is known for its vast water resources, the country is grappling with water shortage yearly. Agriculture still plays an important role in the country but today, almost all the rice growing dzongkhags in the country are facing acute water shortage even as paddy cultivation season is at its peak.

Farmers in parts of Radhi Gewog in Trashigang are worried by the acute water shortage of irrigation hampering their paddy cultivation works.

Though the peak season for paddy cultivation has begun in the gewog, some paddy fields still remain dry and fallow due to lack of rainfall and insufficient irrigation water.

Farmers in Radhi Gewog are under stress because they have been unable to start their paddy cultivation works even today. “We can’t even sleep well these days due to stress of not having irrigation water. There will be no paddy saplings when the water comes as all the saplings are dried,” said Yeshey, a farmer from Radhi.

Radhipas are facing a great challenge. “Every night, we go to the source where we align 30-40 torches, hoping for water,” he said. “I am worried about how to do my paddy cultivation works this time without enough water.”

Some locals have already done the transplantation works while some fields are fallow and dusty. The paddy saplings planted when there was some water due to weeklong rainfall are already dried and cracking. But for those who could not take advantage of the opportunity are still waiting for rain.

“With high expectations of rainfall, our farmers spend sleepless nights, waking up now and then to check the weather. Their peace of mind is disturbed because they could not do the paddy cultivation works due to the shortage of water. This is the first time we are encountering such problems,” said Karma Sonam, 45, from Radhi.

According to the farmers, this month is the right time for them to do their paddy cultivation works and they used to be fully engaged in their works at this time earlier.

However, they say due to lack of water this year, they are still not being able to start their works. The villagers say the weather remains sunny and paddy saplings have begun to dry up in the fields now. Likewise, even the transplanted paddies in the community have begun to dry.

Another farmer from Radhi said that all the paddy saplings are dry now. “We cannot plant the paddy even if water comes later. We are very much sure that we will not have sufficient food this time. Of course, we had this problem for a long time but this time it is worst.”

Farmers said that there will noy be a good yield even if they plant paddy beyond this month. They are worried about how to manage their rations this year.

Locals said they have to wait for their turn to get water, but an overnight water supply in their field is not sufficient enough to carry out whole paddy works.

According to the farmers, their irrigation water is drying from the source itself and the situation is worsening every year. There are two water source known as Phakpari and Daniri in Radhi. The first source is known as Daniri and the water from Daniri is connected to the source at Phakpari.

However, locals said that both the sources are without water and have dried up.

The present water source, which is located at the place called Phakpari and Danari, is about 25km away from their village. The irrigation water channel remains empty and idle today, which otherwise, is filled with water at this time.

Villagers said that the gewog administration is doing their best. “Gewog administration along with the villagers went to the source and cleaned the source. But the source itself has dried up,” said a villager.

According to the gewog administration, they are trying to seek divine intervention by performing some local rituals to have rainfall.

Meanwhile, due to lack of irrigation water, there is a decline in cultivated land in the country.

According to the Agriculture Research and Development Center, Yusipang, there is a decrease in cultivated land from about 28,000 hectares in 1981 to 20,547 hectares in 2017.

The decline in the cultivated land has resulted in Bhutan losing more than 31,300 tons of rice in the last two decades, which could have otherwise fed one-fifth of the total population for a year.

The country is 47% rice self-sufficient. Bhutan cultivates rice on 53,055 acres and produces 85,090MT.

Jigme Wangchen from Radi, T/gang