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The elephant in the room

The government has lived up to its promise, even if partly, when it comes to providing a power tiller for each of the 1,040 chiwogs in the country.  The tillers arrived, literally with a bang, as 25 of them roared away from Mongar town last week.

About 70 have been distributed so far, covering the six eastern dzongkhags.  More are on the way.  The power tiller, called the agent of change in rural Bhutan, will do wonders as it ploughs fields, pumps water, threshes rice and transports produce to the market.  Known for efficiency and reducing farm drudgery, the power tiller is one machine many a farmer would wish to have outside his home.

The message is clear from those representing the government when the tillers were handed over to the gewogs.  It is to help optimise land utilisation and intensification, and promote commercialisation of agriculture.  The government wants results, in terms of how much farmers produce after they are issued the machine.

Eastern Bhutan has been given preference, given the small number of power tillers in the region.  It could be also because there is shortage of hands on farms, leading to fallowing of fields.

The power tiller will bring changes, certainly, in reducing the dependence on hired hands, which are in acute shortage, and enhancing production.  But going by the current trend, there is a bigger problem in our villages.  Farmers are not complaining so much about not being able to produce, but about reaping what they produce.

Predation from wildlife is a bigger issue for most farmers, which even result in farmers not taking up cultivation.  Rural Bhutan has modernised a lot after decades of planned development.  They have farm road, electricity and some farmers also have machineries.  But they cannot protect what they grow from wildlife and, in the conflict between humans and wildlife; humans are at the losing end.

The tak tak sound of the power tiller might scare the monkey and the elephants during cultivation.  But when the machine goes silent, and it is time to reap the benefits of a year-round toiling, there will be not much to harvest if measures are not in place.  For some, power tillers are not the priority.  They are just concerned about reaping what they sow, without having to kill the animals and come in conflict with the law.

There are enough reasons to believe the farmers.  Besides the farmers, researchers and even agriculturists believe this as a main cause of a bigger problem in the villages.  Fallowing fertile fields and the migration towards urban centres are attributed to the predation of crops and livestock by the wild.

How will they increase production, when most of their time is spent on guarding the little they hope to reap?

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