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Wangchuk earns Nu 500 to operate a power tiller and prepare the fields for paddy transplantation

The season for power tiller operators

For Wangchuk, 40, from Khamina in Gaselo, Wangduephodrang, this season is more of rejecting job opportunities. He has to reject half a dozen of work every day.

Those who seek his help offer him increased wage, pledges to return his favour manifold, and towards the end of the conversations, their plights are in despair. Not many succeed in getting his nod.

It is changla or paddy transplantation time in the locality. The gewog is one of the rice producing communities in the dzongkhag with more than 700 acres of paddy field. But as in many other rice-growing regions, many have moved to urban areas with their families leaving those behind with mounting challenges.

Gaselo residents’ practice shared labour, and the power tillers including the three that the gewog has received from the government have helped but there is an acute shortage of labour.

That’s why men like Wangchuk are much sought after these days.

Wangchuk can operate a power tiller, and at the same time perform every other task required of him during changla. He has another advantage. His family has five members contributing labour and is one of the first to finish changla. They also cultivate on sharecropping.

Changla is the most labour-intensive and time-consuming of the three work cycles before farmers fill their huge wooden boxes. It is also expensive for many farmers. But it is an opportunity for the multi-skilled farmers like Wangchuk to work and earn.

“I usually go to work for people that side,” he said pointing towards a group of villages towards the gewog centre. “The wage is good and there are other perks like plenty of doma to chew, and good food.”

For the gewog’s three power tillers, there is only one operator. Farmers have to hire their own operators to save costs. The gewog has more than 40 private power tillers, which charge Nu 500 an hour. The gewog power tillers charge only Nu 1,400 a day.

The gewog agriculture extension officer, Karma Yeshi said that finding operators is a big challenge for farmers and there are times when the power tillers are not hired because there is no operator.

Beginning June 11, the power tillers have remained booked until July 17.

Many civil servants travel from all over the country to help their parents complete the most important event in their annual farming calendar.

This year the rain was timely and farmers in Gaselo, like in many parts of paddy growing regions of Bhutan, are happy that it will be a timely changla.

Meanwhile, the roaring engines of power tillers reverberate across the fields in Gase Tshogom. It is nearly dusk in Thokha village.

Three women are transplanting paddy hurriedly blaming Wangchuk and his friend for not preparing the fields on time. One of them is Wangchuk’s mother, Aum Dzekom. “With these fields, we complete transplantation for the year,” she said.

From tomorrow, Wangchuk will be free to work where there is good food, alcohol, and earn good money.

The scorching sun, the sleepless nights from flooding the paddy fields, the toads, leeches, and biting insects do not bother Wangchuk because he knows the harvest in autumn can compensate him more than enough.

Tshering Palden | Wangdue

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