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Despite drop in rural population, T/gang sees increasing return of prodigal migrants

The skies are clear and it is almost noon. Under the scorching sun, 62-year-old Sangay Khandu sits on the balcony of his old traditional house in Kanglung, Trashigang. He carries a crown of silver grey hair.

Sangay Khandu said that a long time back, not a patch of land in his village used to be left fallow. “We would cultivate our fields and walk miles to carry out cultivation works; the land was fertile then.”

But now, people from all the rural pockets are migrating to urban areas. “Young people aren’t keen to take up farming and older people are dying,” said Sangay Khandu.

About 62% of the country’s population lives in rural areas. According to the Population and Housing Census (PHCB) 2017, 21.7% of people have migrated to urban hubs in the course of their lives, leaving agricultural land fallow and houses back in the villages empty resulting in 4,800 gungtongs (empty households).

PHCB 2017 states that Trashigang Dzongkhag has experienced a decrease in population size by about 5,607, a decline by about 11% between 2005 and 2017.

The population of Trashigang in 2005 was 51,134 and the total population has decreased to 45,527 as of May 30, 2017.

The PHCB 2017 reports that 13.3% of rural people have migrated to urban hubs resulting in 1,055 empty houses (gungtongs) in Trashigang. With 162 empty houses, Bartsham gewog recorded the highest gungtongs followed by 137 empty houses in Phongmey.

However, Phongmey Gup Pelden Dorji said that now migrants have been returning home. “The number of gungtongs has dropped to around 120 from 130 over the years.”

Pelden Dorji said that an increasing number of young people are opting for agriculture which is an important development. “Banks have played an important role by making loans accessible to young entrepreneurs and farmers without requirement of collateral and guarantor. This has already encouraged people to return home and take up farming.”

Further, he also said that small landholdings are no more the cause of rural-urban migration as people with small landholdings can lease government land and carry out large-scale commercial farming. “Such government initiatives are expected to solve the rural-urban migration problem.”

“We also try educate villagers and create awareness on the ills of leaving the villages to further stop rural-urban migration,” he added.

Similarly, Bartsham gewog, which has the highest number of gungtongs in the dzongkhag has seen a decrease in the number of gungtongs.

Bartsham Gup Sonam Phuentsho said that the development of infrastructure and the availability of basic facilities has pulled migrants back home. “The government has helped address the challenges of farmers by providing farm road connectivity to their doorsteps, irrigation and better schooling facilities and health facilities,” said Sonam Phuentsho.

Additionally, he also said that the government has been identifying and creating market for the farmers’ agriculture produce which encourages farmers to grow more of it thus bridging the rural-urban gap.

With such developments in the rural backwaters, an increasing number of migrants are expected to return to their villages.

Bidung Gup Kelzang Dawa said that rural-urban migration is a problem especially when it comes to labor contribution (woola), payment of taxes and census.

However, he said that with more developmental activities in rural areas, many migrants are expressing their interest to return.

The Prime Minister in The State of the Nation report 2017-18 stated that the government is seriously concerned that rural-urban migration will continue to increase if the living conditions in the rural areas are not improved.

Therefore, the PM stated that the government has been doing a lot in this regard including constructing farm roads, providing electricity, and telecommunication services to the villages, initiating programs to support agriculture like distributing power tillers, instilling electric fencing and facilitating rural loans.

Additionally, in the 11th plan, 187 farm shops were established and 200 gewog banks were opened.

Jigme Wangchen from Trashigang