Drought in the South screams famine, Met Department data reads otherwise

In what could be the most inimical event toward the government’s Rupee-retentive measures, the majority of Gewogs in the southern dzongkhags are in the midst of an imminent famine situation.

This, in the face of the live-Rupee crunch could be a huge setback in the government’s recent immediate move to accomplish self sufficiency in home grown vegetables; the modus operandi for which was primarily, the large scale production of vegetables from the farming communities, nationwide.

Updates pouring in from across gewogs have not been the least bit inspiring with each gewog reporting little or no rainfall.

Reports say that it has been four months without even a single drop of rain in Dagana dzongkhag. This has seriously affected not only vegetables but all other cereal crops. Consequent to the prolonged dry spell, crops are scalded, some to the extent of no rejuvenation. Even if they receive rainfall sooner or later, affected farmers say that their crops may not revive.

The farmers of Tashiding in Dagana say that in the past, their first harvest of green chilies would be already on their way to the market. Such first harvest which fetched them good prices was good source of income.

With the unexpected drought in rainfall, farmers don’t have enough for their own consumption. Production in surplus is a vague dream at this point which will seriously negate the country’s objective of self sufficiency  in vegetable production.

“Around this time of the year, our farmers sell their new chilies of the year but it failed since the plants are all dried up due to inadequate irrigation,” Tashiding Gup, Namgay Pelden said.

Lack of rain had seriously impacted healthy growth of many crops and vegetables. For instance, even the Mandarin trees were not spared and the yield this year is expected to slump drastically as compared to previous years.

The most affected among  the dzongkhags is Tsirang dzongkhag where even the drinking water sources have dried up, with no sign of rain for more than one month.

Farmers now are travelling further in search of drinkable water for their household needs. The maize plants they left behind in the fields are sundried, wilted and scalded. The plants will never yield them good corns.

“We won’t be able to rely on the Orange as the trees are roasted in the heat,” said Tsangkha gup Dorji.

Normally around this time of the year, Tsirang farmers are busy with paddy plantation. This is obviously not visible, for rain is the progenitor to all activities.

“Paddy plantations have stalled in hope of rain to descend. It’s no use planting without adequate water,” Kilkhorthang Gup, Tshewang Norbu said.

The gup said some farmers have given up on Paddy this year since their prayers for rain never got answered. But this leaves them clueless about the ration stock for next year.

Cash crops including chilies, which are the most important commercial crops for farmers to generate income in Tsirang has withered in its growing stage. With no productions from their own farmland or the means to make money to buy from markets, risk of facing major food shortage in the coming year looms large for them.

Not sparing even the small scale vegetables grown in their backyard garden, the drought has left farmers worrying not only about food but also the vegetables for self consumption. So, rather than coming out with surplus to suffice the need of the consumer, this means that producers themselves will have to look for alternate sources to meet their own requirements.

“We expected some rain day before yesterday as it was showing some signs of its coming but rather it turned into hot bright sunny day.” Rangthangling Gup, Bal Bahadur Tamang said.

Farmers grasping at straw have put their hope in faith and superstitious beliefs. Rituals to invoke local deities to appease them  and initiate rainfall are in full swing in the many dzongkhags.

Few groups have approached to Dzongkhag offices for advice, and assistance. For now they wait in eagerness as to which one delivers them first from the sufferings – their Gods or their Government?

“If we are fortunate enough and receive light shower within this week, our scalded crops might grow again but if it fails we would face shortage of food.” Tshogpa Dhan Bhadhur Rama said.

The farmers living in higher attitude of the dzongkhag has already given up paddy cultivation while the farmers in lower attitudes are still clinging to the last grain of hope and luck.

Farmers in Semjong gewog share the same story of scarce or no drinking water in the event of more and more sources drying up. For them getting enough water for irrigation purpose remains a far-fetched dream when their immediate concern is a reliable source of drinking water.

Tshogpa Rajman Dlon of Tashiding said the gewog has been identified as potential vegetable production area for which, affected farmers will receive 60% seedlings from the agriculture ministry. He said seeds stocks maintained by the households from their previous year are all spoilt. “Such seeds will not reap good crops since it has been in storage for too long.”

The intensity of the dry spell is evident from the volume of water in Wangdikhola. The Tshogpa said “The River which earlier used to be raging has now become so shallow”.

Similar droughts have spread to other southern dzongkhags such as Samtse and Sarpang where drinking water sources have increasingly dried up.

Contrarily, the Meteorology division with the economic affairs ministry forecast almost all the dzongkhags in the south and eastern Bhutan received rainfall in varying amounts in the last few days. Quantitatively, the southern part of Bhutan received quite a high amount of rainfall than the eastern part of Bhutan.

The amount of rainfall received by the eastern dzongkhags is relatively insignificant.

Generally, the frequency of rainfall during the entire month of May 2012 is comparable with the same time of the past years. The pattern of rainfall has not changed much but interestingly the monthly total rainfall received in southern and eastern part of Bhutan in May 2012 is comparatively less than that of May, 2011.

Experiencing the brunt of the elements of the nature, the farmers have reported to the gewog office for help.

“Drought is not only in the southern belt but similar features are visible throughout the country and the Ministry is planning and working on water reservoirs and rain water harvesting,” Agriculture and Forests secretary, Sherub Gyaltsen said.

The ministry would provide water pumps and pipes but will be helpless if there is no water source at all.

“We have asked the Dzongkhag Office to assess the situation and the kind of support Agriculture Ministry can bestow,” he said.

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