There was a time when Bumtap Memey, now 70, residing in Kanglung, Trashigang used to cultivate bountiful harvests of maize and potatoes in his field.
But now, he is too old to till his land and his children are either working in Thimphu or studying. So the shortage of labor has forced him to abandon farming, leaving his land fallow.
He now runs a small shop to support himself.
Like Bumtap Memey, many rural households in Trashigang have left huge swathes of land fallow. They are either jungles or just dry, almost desert-like stretches of land. And the fallowing of land has been increasing over the years causing concern to villagers and authorities alike.
Land records of 2017-18 maintained with the Dzongkhag Agriculture Office reveal that of a total of 12,683.65 acres of dry land in the dzongkhag, 6,783.11 acres have been left fallow and of a total of 2,975.97 acres of wetland in the dzongkhag, 888.54acres have been left fallow.
From 2015 to 2016, of a total of 4,083.34 acres of dry land in the dzongkhag, about 4,104 acres were left fallow and of 21,529.6 acres of wet land, 7,025.78 acres of wetland remain uncultivated.
Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer (DAO) DC Bhandari said that unavailability of irrigation channels, human-wildlife conflict, the difficult terrain and the shortage of farmers due to rural-urban migration are some of the common reasons for the increasing fallowing of land.
Some 180 acres of land remained fallow in Kanglung gewog in 2015-16, however, it has increased to 310.66 acres of fallow land as per recent records.
A Kanglung resident said that compared to past years, farming activities have become more convenient due to easy access to modern facilities like power tillers, water supply, farm roads and markets.
“But human wildlife conflict has contributed a lot to agricultural practice decline leading to fallowing of lands,” he said.
However, he feels that the chief reason for fallow land is rural to urban migration and empty households (gungtongs). “The younger generation opts to migrate to urban cities, which causes labor shortage in rural areas thus causing fallowing.”
An observer said that with villages emptying and lands being left wild, Bhutan will need to import more food produce and this will leave a dent in the country’s dream of self sufficiency.
Bartsham Mangmi Gatu said that as an alternative source of income, a few villagers are trying to adopt modern dairy and poultry farming activities.
Meanwhile, he said that some farmers keep their land fallow for a period of time to get better yield in terms of quality and quantity.
Ugyen Phuntsho from Bartsham gewog said that lack of water supply and irrigation facilities makes farming difficult for the villagers.
Fallowing of land has become so common that even in Radhi, the rice bowl of the east, fields are left uncultivated. Some 1,964.9 acres of land (wet and dry land) remain fallow in the gewog.
The DAO said that the lack of irrigation channels in Radhi is one of the major factors leading to the fallowing of land. “Some of the irrigation channels in the gewog were damaged by landslides during monsoon.”
Other common reasons leading to fallow land in Radhi are lack of labor, human-wildlife conflict and water shortage, according to the DAO.
To combat this worrying phenomenon, the Dzongkhag Agriculture Office is encouraging dropouts and unemployed youth to take up farming activities and make use of the fallow land.
“As another measure to reduce fallowing of land due to human-wildlife conflict, farmers are provided with electric fencing,” added the DAO.
But according to the DAO, most farmers are not willing to take up ownership of the fencing because then they would have to maintain the fencing.
However, the department is any how planning to encourage the use of electric fencing and construct irrigation channels to stop the proliferation of fallow land, said the DAO.
Jigme Wangchen from Trashigang