Written by: Lhap Dorji (PD, ARDC), Phurba Thinley (ADAO, Lhuentse) and Karma Wangmo (GKMO, CARLEP).
With the eastern region mostly dominated by sloppy agricultural fields, both dry land and irrigated paddy fields have limitations in realizing the benefits of farm mechanization and commercialization. Considering the potentials from developing land by terracing dry lands and expanding small terraces for irrigated paddy fields, the MoAF has started to emphasize on land development with the aim of enhancing productivity and efficiency mainly through use of farm machineries cutting down labour usage, cost and time taken in intercultural practices and ultimately enable commercialization of farming particularly winter vegetables after paddy cultivation.
The Commercial Agriculture and Resilient Livelihoods Enhancement Program of the MoAF and IFAD given the potentials in enhancing livelihoods incorporated land development as a part of agriculture development program. In its first year of implementation, a total of 60 acres have been targeted in six Dzongkhags with fund allocations of about Nu 3.30 million in 2016-17 financial year.
Lhuentse Dzongkhag selected Domkhar Village where a total of 46 acres of paddy fields owned by 37 households predominantly characterized with smaller terraces, stones and gullies scattered around have been redeveloped by expanding smaller terraces and joining them to suit usage of simple farm machineries such as power tillers so that farmers not only benefit with proper land for paddy cultivation but also for winter vegetable cultivation.
Although land development at the time of writing this paper has been initiated in 4 of the 6 Dzongkhags, given the availability of information and the progress made, the paper will present a case from Domkhar as an preliminary paper to a detailed case study planned later to cover the entire program for the year.
Domkhar Village – A choice based on opportunities from complimentary effects through multiple interventions
Domkhar village under Tshenkhar geog of Lhuentse Dzongkhag has a total of 94 households and has a total of about 120 acres paddy fields. Land development in this village began in March 2017 led by the Dzongkhag Agriculture Office with fund supports from CARLEP – IFAD and farmers monetary contributions. Domkhar is a rice growing village predominantly with smaller conventional terraces and with a major irrigation channel under renovation scheduled for completion in May 2017 with total cost of Nu. 43 million from the Government of India Supports in Irrigation Development, DoA MoAF. The assured irrigation post paddy cultivation and developed land suitable for mechanization, provides opportunity for commercialization of vegetables in the winter months. In addition to these, a local town on the Mongar Lhuenste high way about an hour’s drive below the village provides ready market and the village’s agro ecological conditions suitable for winter vegetable production offers opportunities to capitalize on these multiple interventions that can result in complimentary effects.
Land Development – The process
Given the opportunities described in the previous section, a day long awareness workshop was organized by the Dzongkhag with the community. A total of 46 households came forward and agreed on both land development initiative and the post land development programs in adopting sustainable land management practices to prevent soil run off and commercial vegetable production. Monteary contributions to top up on the CARLEP IFAD support of Nu. 0.550 million was also agreed.
Dzongkhag Agriculture Sector deployed machines from Central Machinery Unit of the Engineering Division of DoA MoAF and began the works. With the cost of machinery hire was borne by the DoA through allocation of machines to the Dzongkhag, funds from CARLEP support to the Dzongkhag was provided to fuel and transport machinery. The community also agreed to provide labour assistance and meals for the machine operators to enable them dedicate more time in field works.
Conserving the top soil – a must in land development
Soil excavation using heavy machineries could destroy the fertile top soil which usually takes a long time to re generate was given proper attention by carefully removing the top soil and collecting them in a corner of the field. This collection is then spread across the fields uniformly after developing the land so that the top soils are put back into the soil to retain its soil fertility which is crucial in maintaining the productivity.
Post Land development activities: Reinforcing soil fertility and protecting the land
In addition, the beneficiaries agreed to apply farm yard manure after land development and prior to cultivation to add more fertility. Sustainable land management practices of planting fodder grasses namely Napier and fodder tress is also agreed, stone walls were also to be built in critical areas taking advantage of abundant stone in the locality.
Benefits of land development: Yet to realize
Developing paddy fields through expansion of terraces and joining of smaller terraces can enable use of small farm machineries such as power tillers. This initiative will definitely be able to promote mechanization by putting in use the MoAFs services of geog power tillers which is now coordinated through the Farm Machinery Corporation Ltd, a recently opened corporation to promote farm mechanization.
Developed land can also add to the aesthetic value of the site which can be even more attractive when cropped as planned. It can also enhance productivity through mechanization and enable commercialization bringing more returns to the beneficiaries. Environmentally, it can bring positive impacts through reduced soil loss, increased fertility and economically, farmers will cut down costs of production thereby opening avenues to enhance productivity.
Risks from land development and counter measures
Land development is often associated with risk of landslide and soil erosion, loss of soil fertility and the destruction in the natural ecology and habitats if not planned and implemented properly with mechanisms of counter measures. The recently developed guide line on land development by the National Soil Service Centre, DoA provides proper guidance to reduce these risks which should be followed. The case in Domkhar mainly composed of minor earth excavation and expansion of terraces through joining of smaller terraces do not pose major risks. Appropriate structures such as stone walls, live hedgerow planting is built in the program for the critical points prone to soil erosion. A major concern that could increase risk will be from improper management irrigation water during cultivation for which existing Water User Association members are now scheduled to be reformed and trained by ARDC Wengkhar and Dzongkhag Agriculture Sector in which these risk minimization, water management and irrigation structure management will be reinforced.
Lessons from the land development in Domkhar
Domkhar land development began with a careful selection of site fulfilling other factors of production such as water and investments in ensuring sufficient irrigation water for production to begin right after the land development. Community interest to develop land, market potentials, agro ecological conditions suitable for commercial farming, multiple stakeholder involvement in order to facilitate such as local governance for community mobilization and conflict resolution, engineers for technical assistance in land development, experienced machine operators and fund supports are considered that enabled a successful completion of developing some 46 acres of paddy fields now suitable for farm mechanization.
Although this is an isolated case of land development and progress of which may not be significant in short term realization of our national goals of rice self-sufficiency, but it does makes a good start in developing land to suit mechanization and thus commercialization. Similar models of implementation replicated across the Dzongkhag which dominated by rice farming and opening of opportunities for vegetable production after paddy will can indeed contribute towards our overall goal of domestic agriculture production of rice and vegetables.
The implementation of the land development at Domkhar initiated by the Dzongkhag Agriculture Sector is carefully planned taking on board potentials of complimentary effects from multiple interventions. Although, the land developed is for paddy cultivation, it can also be put under cultivation for winter vegetables thus encouraging a paddy – vegetable relay system that can not only enable farm mechanization but can also put traditional fallowed paddy field into cultivation encouraging effective utilization of land as well as enhance production. However, its intended objectives can only be fully realized at a later stage after few seasons. CARLEP – IFAD, Dzongkhag Agriculture sector and ARDC Wengkhar will be studying the sites post land development utilization and changes arising from this. Similar approaches used by the Dzongkhag in future interventions in land development can bring a positive change.
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Acknowledgement: Lhuenste Dzongkhag Agriculture Sector acknowledges the supports of CARLEP –IFAD used for fueling machines, CMU – ED, DoA MoAF for providing machinery support and the community for their active participation, meals for operator and monetary contributions to top up on funds and assistance in field works. The authors would like to acknowledge Mr. Wangdi, Tshogpa for providing adequate information.
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