Inadequate rainfall starts to affect rice, vegetable and fruit production across Bhutan

Apart from the soaring temperatures farming communities across Bhutan are having a difficult time with the unusually scanty monsoon.

Unofficial reports and anecdotal accounts from farmers at the Centenary farmers market, roadside vendor farmers, travelers and local government officials from Western, Southern, Eastern and Central Bhutan show that Bhutan’s agriculture will be hit on account of the so far poor monsoons.

Phub Gyem a famer from Paro selling her wares in the Centenary Farmers market said, “By this time the rains should be pouring in and nourishing our crops but the weather is not favoring us this time with less than normal rainfall.”

Shabha Gup Kuenga said, “My gewog is one of the worst affected areas in Paro. I am getting reports from the local people that their rice and vegetables are starting to dry up with less rainfall. All of us are very worried as the situation is not improving with little or no rain”

He said that the weather forecast in the news always showed rain for Paro but in reality there was little or no rain as far as Shabha was concerned, He said that some parts of Paro like Drugyeldzong area or Hebu area received some rainfall but the main valley areas like Shabha were yet to see rain.

He said that for farms along the river bed the river irrigation system was a big help but many farms on higher slopes could not be irrigated by the river due to the elevation.  He said that Shabha has 500 households and most of them were worried with the lack of rainfall drying up crops.

Tandin Tshering a farmer from Punakha selling his wares in Thimphu also had a similar story to share saying that farmers in both Punakha and Wangdue are getting increasingly affected by the poor monsoons.

He said, “If it continues like this for some more weeks then many farmers may have to give up on their crops and vegetables.”

Southern Bhutan which usually receives heavy rainfall during the monsoons has also not been spared the poor rainfall this time around.

Jiwan, a farmer from Tsirang specializing in the Passion fruit business said that the virtual absence of Passion fruits this time around was due to the poor rainfall. He said the trees this year refused to give fruits after the poor rainfall. Jiwan painted a similar picture for many farmers across southern Bhutan as the poor rains were affecting agricultural productivity.

Gewogs in eastern dzongkhags, like Trashigang, Mongar, Lhuentse and Trashiyangtse have also been hit hard due to little or no rainfall this year. Many farmers are in for an imminent food shortage.

Sershong village under Shermuhoong  gewog  in Mongar  has had no rainfall for about a month now. This has seriously affected the growth of vegetable and cereal crops. The prolonged dry spell has left the crops scalded under the hot sun.

According to the Shermuhoong Gup ,Tashi Dorji, the farmers have given up on paddy crop this year. He said the farmers have no rations stocked up for next year.

He said that there are about 120 households in Sershong village that depend on rice production. He added that with the unexpected drought ruining the farm output, the farmers would not have enough food for their own consumption, forget selling any food surplus.

Cash crops including chilies, an important commercial crop for farmers in Trashiyangtse has withered and it will mean a loss of considerable income for farmers. Many farmers are at risk of not being able to grow food for self consumption. It is reported that even the vegetables grown on small-scale in the backyard gardens are not growing well due to the lack of rainfall.

Other cash crops, like Mandarin orange trees were not spared with the yield expected to slump drastically as compared to previous years. There have been reports of drinking water sources drying up in Trashiyangtse.

The Khamdang Gup, Ugyen Wangdi, said that the maize plants in the fields will never yield them good corns as the plants are sundried and wilted. He said all crops planted in the fields are roasting in the heat. He said that if a light shower falls within this week, then the scalded crops might revive, but if there is no rainfall at all then there will be a shortage of food. Maize is the main staple crop in Khamdang village.

A few farmers and village representatives have approached the dzongkhag offices for advice, and assistance. Some farmers have resorted to performing rituals based on superstitious beliefs. The rituals to invoke and appease the local deities to initiate rainfall are in full swing in the many dzongkhags.

According to the Department of Hydro-Met Services, Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA), the forecast for monsoon rainfall, nationwide, from June to September is at 5.1%, which is below the normal rainfall range.

The country’s normal rain for the months of June, July, August, September from 1996-2013 was recorded at 1308.3mm. This year’s monsoon season, which started on June 9, is projected to be at 1241.2mm as per the forecast made by the Department of Hydro-Met Services.  The total amount of monsoon rainfall the country last year was recorded at 1087.03mm.

As per the Climatic Predictability Tool (CPT) output, the rainfall forecast for June was about 17% below normal, and about 7% below normal in July. It is expected that the rainfall will be above normal in August and September with 30% above normal in August and September will see about 7% above the normal rainfall.

A senior meteorologist, Department of Hydro-Met Services, Tayba Buddha Tamang, said the onset of monsoon in Bhutan falls normally on June 5, with plus or minus 5 days, and starts from the south and advances towards the central and northern parts of the country.

He said the pattern of rainfall has not changed much, but the monthly total rainfall received in southern and eastern part of Bhutan in May 2012 is comparatively less than that of May 2011.

The drive for food self-sufficiency in the nation will take a blow if the droughts continue.

The Agriculture Minister, Yeshey Dorji, said that reports on drought and its impact in some places have been received. He said the ministry has not received any major impact on agricultural output as of now.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji added that the ministry is in close contact with its RNR offices across the country and any major reports on this matter would be looked into.

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