At the vegetable market in Bumthang (Photo by Kinley Yonten)

From Potato to Buckwheat

Buckwheat cultivation is making a comeback in Bumthang, a traditional staple diet in the central valley, which in recent decades had lost out to commerical cultivation of potato.

Phurba, 65, from Gyatsa shifted to cultivating potato recently, after decades of cultivating buckwheat, and he now regrets the change.

While wildlife is damaging his potato crop buckwheat is regaining popularity because of a growing demand in the market fueled by a newfound awareness of its nutritional value.  “As an early riser, it is painful to see others harvesting their buckwheat,” said Phurpa. “Cultivating potato brings more income with which we buy rice from India.”

More than 600 acres of buckwheat fields in the four gewogs of Bumthang went under potato cultivation because it gave double the income. This year though, more than 800 acres has gone into buckwheat cultivation to meet the increasing market demand for buckwheat flour.

“Buckwheat was the staple food for the people of Bumthaaps,” said Tshering Om from Domkhar of Chumey gewog. Half of her nine-acre field is under buckwheat cultivation. “I heard that buckwheat is gaining popularity among the higher income people due to its medicinal value,” she said.

The Mangmi of Chumey gewog, Chundu Tshering, said that in the past farmers were unable to sell buckwheat. “Buckwheat was considered ‘a poor man’s meal’,” he said.

He added that farm mechanization made it easier for farmers in Bumthang valley to cultivate potato on a commercial scale and the auction yards installed in designated areas relieved farmers of marketing the crop. “But today, there is huge demand for buckwheat and farmers are once again taking interest in growing buckwheat,” he said.

“People are realizing the nutritional value of buckwheat and the traditional food cultures of the past,” said the Agriculture Extension of Chumey gewog, Tshewang Lhamo. She added that fallow lands were being reclaimed for buckwheat cultivation.

Last year, more than 115 acres of land in Chhumey gewog cultivated buckwheat producing 101 metric tonnes (MT) of buckwheat.

The dzongkhag agriculture officer, Gaylang, said that most farmers in the valley cultivated potato to sell and buy rice. But from 2009 the dzongkhag started rehabilitation of buckwheat production.

“In 2009, the area under buckwheat was 604 acres, now we have reached 800 acres and it is increasing due to high demand in the market,” he said.

He added that they have formed groups for production and marketing and developed many buckwheat products. “It is very important to maintain crops diversity in the field to cope with climate change,” he said.

The dzongkhag is supported by National Biodiversity Center to develop buckwheat products and form farmers’ group for the conservation and promotional of the local crops.

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