Located in the northeast part of the country, surrounded by rugged terrains, narrow roads and sensitive topography, Lhuentse Dzongkhag is considered one of the most isolated districts in the country. The Dzongkhag has eight Gewogs— Gangzur, Jaray, Khoma, Kurtoe, Menbi, Metsho, Minjay and Tshenkhar.
However, the natives believe that they have come a long way with developmental and socio-economic progress as compared to how people lived just a few years ago. With memories still afresh, seemingly very recent to him, Jamyangla, 45, narrated how not less than a few years ago, the villagers had to carry every basic necessity and heavy construction materials on their back and with the help of the ponies.
“We do have a long way to go but comparing to the past we are grateful for the developmental progress brought about by the governments that came into power. Earlier, even to just buy a bag of rice, we had to leave our place at dawn to the nearest market, which is about 5 hours walk from our village and carry it on our backs,” said Jamyangla from Jarey Gewog.
Despite being located far from modern setting, Dzongda Jambay Wangchuk said that Lhuentse is doing well in the social sector such as education and health. The dzongkhag currently has a total population of about14,288.
Jarey Gup, Kinzang Minjur, who is also the Thrizin or chairperson said that every five year for over a decade now, different parties have governed the country and brought about notable changes which have contributed significantly to the developmental progress of the Dzongkhag.
“The first government has included Gewogs like Jarey and others that needed additional financial assistance given their remoteness and slow economic progress. The second government has also brought about immense progress through strategic interventions in areas such as agricultural, roads connectivity, education, and health among others that has benefitted the villagers. Most of the households if we see today have electric fences in place to address the most challenging issue of human wildlife conflict,” said Gup Kinzang Minjur.
However, the dzongkhag is still faced with the old pressing challenges that are only getting worse—labour shortage, rising Gungtongs, poor road conditions in the gewogs, rural urban migration, subsistence farming practice, human wildlife conflict and lack of ownership over public property among others.
Guntongs and labour shortages
The most emerging trend in Lhuentse, as is in most of the other rural parts of the country is the alarming rate of Gungtongs, attributed primarily to rural urban migration. Noticeably, majority of the people working in the fields and looking after the livestock are elderly population with the younger population having moved away from villages in search of other employment opportunities and in pursuit of higher education. This has resulted in serious labour shortage
With only so much the aging population can do in the fields, the villagers are now facing severe labour shortage as the younger generation moves out, which is why the focus and shift hasn’t changed much from the subsistence farming despite support from the government.
“Guntong is an emerging issue which is on rise every year and although the government has programs in place to address the issues, I think it requires a wholesome approach to address this very challenging issue in the rural pockets,” said the Jarey Gup. The gewog has around 42 Guntongs as per the record.
Khoma Gup, Sithar Tshering said that Guntongs are bound to be on the rise as the country is going through a series of developmental transition. “It is going to be a challenging issue to tackle, but plans and policies that are aimed at regional balanced development might dissuade some people from leaving their hometown,” said Sithar Dorji. Khoma has 26 gungtong cases so far.
Dungkar gewog has 27 Gungtongs and Gangzur at highest amongst all gewogs has 54 gungtong cases.
Given Jarey Gewog’s sensitive topography, the area was badly hit by floods a couple of years ago, remnants of which is still visible today in the form of road blocks and uncultivable paddy fields.
“If we look at the budget allocation, Jarey Gewog has been allocated the second least after Dungkar in the 12th Plan which is why it is going to be difficult to meet the developmental targets set during the 12th Plan,” said the Gup.
Kinzang Minjur said that the budget allocation has been done based on the size of the gewog, population, cost incurred for the transportation of construction materials from the nearest market among other factors, but he feels that it needs to be relooked considering that poorer Gewogs are going to remain poorer and developing Gewogs will develop even more, which might lead to imbalance regional development.
He said that the current budget allocated for the gewog is just enough to address basic issues such as frequent road maintenance, drinking water supply, and irrigation channels among few others which limit the progress of other viable projects to address societal issues. “Thus, we are allotted budget for basic developmental activities and there is not much we can initiate to improve the livelihoods of the people through innovative strategies.”
Lack of ownership over public properties
With evident support rendered by every government in power for the rural communities, local leaders and the Dzongda expressed that the kidu mentality is also one of the reason for the growth impediment of the dzongkhag, whereby people are becoming more complacent as most of the rural communities are taking the government assistance for granted.
If anything, corroboration for this can somehow be done from the electric fences that the government installed for free to the interested households, but now lay neglected and completely non-functional. As it is, in order to maintain the lifespan of the electric fences, the area near the fences should be cleared from time to time. Neglected electric fences that are now obsolete are a common sight in the villages.
“I always give an example of air, which is in abundance everywhere. Since it is free, we really do not value its importance although it is a lifeline for every being on this earth. Likewise, since the assistance by the government comes at free of cost, people fail to acknowledge its importance and also do not take ownership over public properties,” said the Dzongda.
The Thrizin also echoed that lack of ownership for public properties is very much prevalent and there is also an increasing expectation from the central or the local government to come to their rescue even for some basic help after the introduction of democracy.
“Instead of spoon feeding the people anticipating support during the election period, I think it is very important for the member of parliaments during their constituency visit to inculcate and encourage them to have ownership over public properties like their own and initiate sustainable projects instead of short term projects,” said Gup Kinzang Minjur.
Lack of market accessibility, poor road condition and human-wildlife conflict
Lhuentse Dzongkhag has a favorable weather conditions to cultivate all the nine cereals (drunaghu) but people mostly focus on maize and rice and few other vegetables for self consumption. Maize is produced in abundance but due to less return on the sale of their produce after taking transportation and investment costs into consideration, there are very few who practice commercial farming, according to some of the villagers in the dzongkhag.
Gangzur Gup Kunzang Dorji said that even with electric fence in place, animals such as porcupine can get through the fences easily and damage the crops, which discourages the farmers to go for commercial farming.
Khoma Gup Sithar expressed how due to lack of market accessibility farmers are discouraged to go for commercial farming. Khoma gewog, however, is doing well economically as most of the women engage in weaving Kishuthara that fetches good amount to sustain individual households.
“I’ve done a rough calculation and in a year, there is an excess of about 10 metric tons of maize produced by the households in the Gewog. In the absence of a suitable market strategy or proper roads, the villagers either brew local alcohol or feed the excess maize to their cattle. So, in the 12th Plan, in order to encourage the farmers to shift to commercial farming, the government will buy high quality maize from the villagers after procuring a maize milling machine,” said the Jarey Gup.
Then the Kharang or the grounded granules of maize will be supplied and introduced in schools given its health benefits. There are also plans to re-introduce the cultivation of other grains that were once abundantly grown but famers no more do.
The story was made possible with the content grant from DoIM.