The road to Barshong, from Mendrelgang, is a nine-kilometer bumpy ride through steep valley flanks that quickly descent towards the Sunkosh riverbanks. The road, though, ends abruptly at the gewog centre.
From here, hundreds of village folks fan out across many settlements that constitute the five chiwogs of Barshong gewog. And while the government-sponsored road till the gewog centre is already a blessing of sorts, the ongoing pilot project on rural livelihood and climate change adaptation has taken the road further down connecting at least three communities based on the results of community participatory planning.
The eight-kilometre access road is complete. While the first 5.5 kilometres connect Gangtokha to Toedsang, the remaining 2.5-kilometre stretch runs from Loongkhorma to Chunyikhang. This has drastically cut short the traditional walking route to the nearest road head for the people of Toedsang to just about 30 minutes.
However, it’s the other visible benefits that people cite while talking about the road. Market access for their farm produce has improved, and drudgery, especially for women, in carrying farm inputs and outputs has also reduced.
Officials say the primary objective was to enhance incomes of farmers by linking them to markets. The less time spent on reaching their produce to the nearest road head also meant more time for people to spend in their farms. Ultimately, the idea was to improve people’s living standards.
The gup of Barshong, Santa Lal Powdel, says the eight-kilometre access road is transforming people’s lives in Toedsang and Chunyikhang chiwogs. “The road has encouraged farmers to take up new agricultural activities since they have direct access to markets in Damphu, Gelephu, and Thimphu,” he says.
In the past, accessing market was a backbreaking job. People carried the produce on their backs and walked to the nearest road point, which was often a long walking distance uphill. Further, prices their produce fetched did not match the resources they spent. Today, after selling their produce, farmers take home cement and other materials to improve their animal sheds and construct other important farming structures.
Farmer Krishna Tamang of Chunyikhang chiwog says the recent increase in vegetable production in his village meant farmers needed easy market access, and this is what the access road has done.
Many farmers in Barshong produce both seasonal and offseason vegetables. Farmers, including those with limited cultivable land because of sloppy terrain, grow numerous varieties of crops. Apart from the four major vegetables (cabbage, beans, ginger, and onion) promoted by the pilot, farmers also grow chili, potato, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, cucumber, radish, and tomato. They grow fruits like banana, orange, mango, peach, guava, pear, plum, and passion fruit.
“There has definitely been an increase in people’s income,” Krishna Tamang says. “Many other interventions promoted by the pilot have helped enhance production in the recent years.”
The access road has also helped new village-based vendors and entrepreneurs. One such empowered entrepreneur is a 26-year-old woman known for her energy and enterprise. Neten Zangmo is a Class-12 graduate of Damphu Higher Secondary School and has become a household name for linking the gewog to Thimphu’s Centenary Farmer’s Market.
Neten Zangmo drives to Thimphu every Thursday in a Bolero pick-up full of seasonal vegetables, fruits, and cereals. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays she goes from house to house collecting the produce, and on Thursdays comes to Thimphu. Sometimes, when vegetable production is at its peak, she makes two trips back-and-forth.
“The farm road has brought significant benefit to us,” says Neten Zangmo. “For vendors like us road linkage is critical.”
Farmer Tandin Dorji who travels to the Centenary Farmer’s Market often says having an access road closer to one’s farm reduces the transport cost drastically.
“Often, we have to hire vehicles from outside Barshong, and that’s when drivers make us pay through our nose,” he says. “That’s why traveling to Thimphu to sell your produce at times doesn’t make sense.”
Farmers see access roads as a critical factor in their quest for better lives. They say road is the mother of all upliftment. And it seems true. The benefits that these two short stretches of access roads have brought to the lives of farmers in Chunyikhang and Toedsang certainly stand a testimony to this claim.
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