A farmer, Tashi Dorji from Tongling Pam in Trashigang wears a big smile on his face as he readies his field for the annual paddy transplantation.
Though he slogs in the mid-day scorching heat, he expects a bountiful harvest this year with his field solar fenced last year.
He said he harvested some 700 chagdhi (a measuring container) of paddy, which is about 1,200kg of rice last year. “I didn’t lose any crops to the animals and we had a good harvest then.”
Like Tashi Dorji, many farmers say they are hopeful to harvest what they have cultivated this year with almost all the fields in the chiwog solar fenced.
Another farmer, Karma also had a good harvest last year.
He attributes the yield to his hard work and the solar fencing installed in the chiwog.
With more than 17Km solar fencing installed around the main cultivated land in Radhi gewog, farmers say life has become much easier for them.
Of the total 1,236 acres of wetland in the gewog, 1,230 acres remains under paddy cultivation. Because of this, Radhi gewog is also known as the ‘Rice Bowl of the East.’
Fifty-year-old Sangay said that many villagers have received solar fencing through government support and the fencing has proven effective.
The gewog Agriculture Extension Supervisor, Pema Wangchen, said human-wildlife conflict in the gewog which is increasing has been contained to a certain extent.
About 13km of solar fencing was provided to the gewog last year. “We expect the crop production to further improve this year with the fencing works completed,” he said. “Paddy production in the gewog is also expected to increase this year, if not, it should remain the same as last year.”
Records available from the gewog state that in 2014, the gewog produced a total of 2,143.8MT of rice, and the production increased by 218.33MT in 2015. In 2016, the gewog produced 2,909.68MT of rice and 2,553.59MT of rice in 2017-18 from 1,236 acres of wetland. The yield per acre of land was recorded at 2,065.75kg.
Pema Wangchen said that gewog has been losing half of the crops to wild boars and monkey for the past decades. “The gewog has not kept records for crops lost and damaged by the animals as the famers do not inform us since they do not get any compensation minor damages,” he said. “But the gewog authorities have kept records of major damages caused by animals.”
However, records available from the gewog state that the gewog lost 1,912kg of paddy and 2,636.02kg of maize to wild boar in 2016 and in 2015, some 1,462kg of maize were destroyed by wild boars.
Almost 3km of solar fencing was installed in 2014 as a pilot trial in Tongling Pam chiwog. The fencing was further strengthened when the Dzongkhag approved the renovation of the fencing in 2016.
Today, more than 332 acres of the fields are covered with solar fencing and there are 765 farming households in the gewog.
Pema Wangchen said that initially, people did not opt for solar fencing because it waslabor intensive.
He said that farmers were hesitant to procure materials that are required for the fencing such as the fencing posts, charcoal, salt and used engine oil among others. “It costs about Nu 1,200 for farmers.”
Today, while the rest of the four chiwogs in Radhi are enjoying good harvest with the help of solar fencing, Pakaling chiwong is grappling with constant attack of wild boar and monkey on their crops without solar fencing.
He said that many farmers are again asking for the solar fencing. “Solar fencing not only keeps wild animals away but it also helps to keep domestic animals away from the crops.”
More than four villages have approached him requesting for solar fencing for their fields.
He said that their fields would be covered if the proposal gets through in the next financial year.
Radhi gup, Kulung, said solar fencing has immensely benefited the farmers in Radhi. “Initially, wild animals destroyed 50% of the crops. We can now reap all that we sow.”
However, the gup said that the fencing needs constant grass cutting, which many farmers do not desire.
He also explained that it takes about two weeks to clear the ground for the installation.
Gup Kulung said that with the installation of the solar fencing, fallow land has also decreased in the gewog.
Apart from producing one of the largest quantities of rice in the east, Radhi is also known for its different varieties of rice. The gewog produces some nine varieties of rice of which Sorbang and Sung-sung are popular varieties in the country today.
The Sorbang, meaning lemongrass look-alike rice, also known as Radhi rice, fetches about Nu.65 a kg while the red Sung-sung rice fetches Nu.70 to 75 a kg.
Meanwhile, except for ploughing the fields, rest of the rice cultivation works today are done manually in Radhi.
Jigme Wangchen from Radhi, T/gang