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Bumthang: Paddy Cultivation
In autumn 2004 when Doepola from Changwa in Bumthang harvested paddy from his once marshy field he was on the verge of tears. It was the first time his marshy expanse had yielded rice.

"I offered some of the harvest to the various lhakhangs in the valley," said the 65-year-old farmer. "I never thought rice cultivation would work in Bumthang. It was tried a number of times before but it was not successful."

"I offered some of the harvest to the various lhakhangs in the valley," said the 65-year-old farmer. "I never thought rice cultivation would work in Bumthang. It was tried a number of times before but it was not successful."

Ap Doepola tends to his paddy seedlings

Doepola is one of the farmers from the four villages under Choekhor and Tang geog who volunteered to cultivate paddy on a large scale in 2004 following the successful trials of the Paro-China rice variety in 11 villages by the Renewable Natural Resources- Research Centre in Jakar.

This spring, Doepola is all eager for his second cultivation as he and his wife happily weed the row of paddy seedlings in the garden outside their house which will be transplanted in the last week of April. "I am happy that I decided to cultivate rice," said Doepola. "I can use the proceeds from the sale of potatoes for buying other basic goods and still have rice to eat."

Doepola's half an acre land yielded about 800 kilogrammes of rice last year. "Before it was only on special occasions such as losar and tshechus that we bought red rice," he said.

According to the RNR RC program director, Kinzang Wangdi, the farmers are provided with technical support and seedlings in the first year and are expected to take over from the second year, which includes raising their own seedlings.

This year, the number of farmers volunteering to cultivate paddy has increased to 27 from 19 last year. Three farmers are expanding the area under paddy cultivation. In total 15.5 acres of land in seven villages under the two geogs will be cultivated. "About 75 percent of the land under paddy cultivation was marshy, the rest were kept fallow," said Kinzang Wangdi. "Water was drained out of the marshy fields by drainage channels which were constructed with the help from the central machinery unit."

Last year the farmers had proposed cultivating paddy in an additional 15.56 acre area to the already existing eight acres but the proposal was shelved based on a feasibility study, research centre officials said.

The feasibility study looked at whether the land had irrigation, was suitable for mechanisation and was marshy or waste land so that the potato cultivation is not disturbed. It also required the land to be away from forest or shady areas since paddy is very sensitive to shade.

Punakha Valley and Mo Chhu

The research centre tried and tested 18 varieties of paddy including four traditional and 14 exotic varieties like Chumro and Hayana Sari since 1997 at the on-station plot and in farmer's fields at 2,600 to 2,700 meters above sea level. The Paro-China variety was found to be most suitable in terms of yield, milling recovery and time taken to mature from the two varieties that performed well under the Bumthang's cool temperate conditions. Research officials said that unlike the paddy fields in the southern foothills, paddy fields in Bumthang required standing water to boost the temperature. "The water absorbs the heat from the sun and keeps the temperature higher by two degree Celsius compared with that of air," said Kinzang Wangdi.

Mo Chhu Valley, Punakha
The idea behind initiating paddy cultivation is to help develop food sufficiency and in the process also reclaim unproductive marshy lands research officials said. The marshy areas were also no good to cultivate potatoes, Bumthang's main cash crop.

"One of the long term goals of initiating rice cultivation in Bumthang is to capture a niche market by producing organic rice," said Kinzang Wangdi."

Paddy farmers are advised not to use inorganic or chemical fertilizers."

Farmer Pema Choden, also from Changwa village had low yield last year but this year she has extended the area for paddy cultivation. "Last year the seedlings were transplanted late, this time I am hoping to do everything right," she said.

Contributed by Rinzin Wangchuk, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2005

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