More potatoes

While traveling to Haa today, I saw several farmers planting potatoes. Some were done. Others, like this couple in Jabana, were just beginning to prepare their field. But all of them expect a good crop – the rains came just in time.

Weather dependent

Yes! It snowed in Haa. And the land is now moist. So our farmers are working their fields in earnest, preparing them to plant potatoes.

Before the recent snow and rain, our farmers could not plough their fields – the earth was too hard, and much of the dry top soil would have been lost in the wind anyway. If the dry weather had continued, our farmers would have virtually lost the potato season.

So our farmers are happy. But their concerns are not over. It’s threatening to snow again. And if it does snow, and snows heavily, potato planting could be further delayed. Or potatoes could, if already planted, simply freeze. Either way, our farmers would loose.

Now I’m worried that it may snow heavily.

Weathering poverty

Well it didn’t snow last night. And it didn’t rain enough. But it’s still overcast. And I’m hopeful.

Part of my excitement yesterday was because I was sure it would snow in my village, which, at about 2800 m, is higher than Thimphu. But it didn’t snow there either. The light drizzle was barely enough to “settle the dust” one uncle told me. He and his neighbours can’t begin to prepare their fields till enough water seeps into the parched earth.

Throughout our country, most of our farmers are completely dependent on rain water. This makes farming unpredictable and unproductive. And breeds unseen poverty in our villages.

Rhythm of the falling rain

It’s drizzling outside. I hope it rains. In fact I hope it snows. We need the precipitation.

Our rivers have dwindled. And can barely turn the hydropower turbines that generate electricity – and revenue – for our country.

But, more importantly, our farmers have not been able to cultivate their land. Without water, their land is parched and cannot be tilled; cannot be prepared to plant potatoes. If potatoes are not planted in time, the potato yield will be bad. And potatoes are the only source of money for many of our farmers.

So I’m thoroughly enjoying the soft, percussive sound of the rain on my roof. But I hope it stops, as the rain turns to snow.

Transforming our villages

I am delighted that the agriculture minister is traveling to our dzongkhags to discuss the 10th Plan and to identify viable products that our villagers can make (read Taking the 10th plan to the people). If villagers and local leaders are fully involved in the process and genuinely accept his idea, our agriculture minister could bring about a true and sustained transformation of our villages. Well done.

The following article, reproduced from the PDP manifesto, talks about how the One Village One Product movement could transform villages in Bhutan:

Ohita is a small village in Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu, which is just about the size of Bhutan. Twenty years ago, Ohita was a sleepy backwater of Japan. Its young people were leaving for cities in droves, its economy was fast declining, and farmers increasingly depended on government subsidies that harmed Ohitaps’ spirit of self-reliance and self-respect.

Today, Ohita is a vibrant agro-based economy. It is a choice destination for Japanese looking for business and employment opportunities, and for foreign tourists looking for modern Japan steeped in tradition and pristine nature. “Made in Ohita” is recognized as the sign of unique farm produce of outstanding quality, and equally unique agro-industry products born of old heritage and new technology.

The One Village One Product Movement, started in 1979, is the power behind this transformation. The Movement was the brainchild of Ohita’s then-Governor Hiramatsu, who envisioned a dynamic and vibrant Ohita. But, he wanted to do it in ways that nurtured what he thought was the root of all sustained change: leaders who can inspire and move the community.

The Movement simply enables people and their community leaders to take up a product or an industry that is distinctive to their region, and transform it into a nationally or internationally accepted one. The government never used subsidies as a means to do so, for fear of hindering self-reliance and lasting success. Measures provided, instead, were leadership training, technical assistance, filling information gaps in marketing and distribution. (See the OVOP website for details.)

Around sixty communities of Ohita now produce more than 300 products of distinction bringing gainful employment and prosperity to the region. Among them are: “Shiitake” mushrooms regarded as the world’s best, commanding a lion’s share of Japan’s market; a flavorful “Kabosu” lime of ancient variety that is thought to have survived only in Ohita; a large number of processed products made from these unusual limes; “Bungo” meat that topped Japan’s Grand Championship; and various distilled barley spirits coveted for their smooth taste – like the best of our own ara.

The Movement’s success generated excitement elsewhere. It is spreading all over Japan and to many communities abroad – in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Thailand, and even USA and beyond.

Our people in villages are steeped in our cultural and natural heritage, in what they produce and how they live. One Product One Village Movement has a perfectly fertile soil, right here in Bhutan.

Possibilities are endless – limited only by our own imagination!