Water and food security

Fields of gold

Students and teachers of Thimphu’s schools came together in Changangkha to commemorate World Water Day on 22 March. The celebrations included a wide array of well-thought-out presentations and entertaining performances highlighting the importance of water.

I was given the opportunity to talk to the students. So I told them a story, one that is relevant to this year’s World Water Day theme: “water and food security”. But one that is also relevant to the current rupee crisis.

Here’s a quick summary of my story:

Nob Gyeltshen is 77 years old. He hails from Dorithasa, a small village in the southern extreme of Haa, slightly above the Samtse border. Dorithasa is not connected by farm road. So it still takes at least two days to get there.

As a child, he, like all the other children in his village had two main responsibilities. One, he had to collect water for his household every morning. And two, he had to look after his family’s cattle during the day.

Every morning, little Nob Gyeltshen would get up at the crack of dawn, and rush to the water source, which was located about half an hour away. That water source was a small pool, a puddle in fact, and Nob Gyeltshen and his friends had to race there to arrive ahead of the cows. If a couple of thirsty cows beat them, there would be no water left, and the children would have to trek for another half an hour to the next water source.

Nob Gyeltshen could carry three bamboo flasks of water. Each flask measured about 3 feet long and was 6 inches wide. They weighed heavy on the little boy, but on most days, he would have to travel several times to the water source.

Water was, indeed, a scarce commodity in his village. And so was food. Nob Gyeltshen grew up eating pancakes made from buckwheat or millet. When he got lucky he would get to eat maize grits or enjoy roasted maize kernels. And when he got very lucky, he’d get to feast on rice. Rice was precious, because Dorithasa, and all its neighboring villages, did not have any paddy fields.

When Nob Gyeltshen turned 17, he joined the army. That’s how he left Dorithasa. And that’s how, at an early age, he got to visit Paro and Thimphu, Punakha and Wangdiphodrang. Wherever he went, the young soldier saw paddy fields. Every valley seemed to be endowed with endless fields of well-manicured terraces, capable of supplying any amount of rice that the people could have ever desired.

Wherever he went, Nob Gyeltshen collected paddy seeds. And he sent them to his home in Dorithasa. But none of them grew successfully, till he sent 10 dres of paddy from Bjena in Wangdiphodrang. Only 2 of the 10 dres made it to his village (the rest having been consumed by the couriers!) but that was enough. The paddy from Bjena took root, grew easily and yielded a surprisingly generous harvest.

When he heard the good news, Nob Gyeltshen sent his entire savings – about Nu 150 – to build paddy fields and to construct a simple irrigation channel to his village. Suddenly the entire village was growing paddy. And before long, they were producing more of it than what they could consume. When, several years later, Nob Gyeltshen returned to his village for the first time since joining the army, he saw that the entire Dorithasa community was growing more than enough rice for themselves, and that the extra rice was being bartered for other essential provisions.

He also saw that the little children did not have to travel long distances, very early in the mornings, to collect water. The irrigation channel provided an easy and constant supply of drinking water.



Facebook Comments:


  1. Paro PenloP (P3) says

    H20 H2O every where, no a little drops of water to drink……..!!!

  2. I thought the rice seeds were brought from Lomitsawa, near Thinlaygang. Dorithasa is at an elevation of 1650 m.

  3. Whaoo, we can do it again!

  4. Domchosertong says

    Hon’ble OL,there is every shortage of water in Thimphu. We have fresh water flowing down the valley even though. It’s high time that we Bhutanese (Including Politician, civil servants, planners) should start planning good water facilities in Thimphu, so that even we can drink water from toilet directly for 24 x 7 hours. For example city like Vienna in Austria have their water trap and brought all the way from 300 km from Alps. It’s built more than 200 years old. Taking this is example for town like Thimphu is not a big deals if our leader put an extra effort to trap it at Tango area. With good drinking water facilities for 24 hours in every person homes can save a lot of other opportunity cost related with water.

  5. Why would our leaders care Domchosertong, they have 24 hours supply themselves, so they don’t give a damn that we are on rationed water supply for 2 hours a day.

  6. pm jigmi thinley & his sycophants should read this story every night so as to draw inspiration to guide bhutan on the right track..they are so caught up globe trotting, express economic development, gnh rhetoric & personal ambition & greed that they forget the reason they are where they are..
    coming to your story, you should have continued with how little nob gyeltshen grew up to achieve even bigger stuff.. like, how he apprehended pm jigme palden dorji’s assassin..

  7. Here, i am totally with OL. It is high time we give utmost priority to basic necessities of life rather than pursuing lofty non-basic development activities that drains our precious resources such as Indian Rupee. I have been to Sombay and Gakiling geogs and found that life there could be better with little effort such as piping drinking water and irrigation for food production. There are several places in Bhutan where commonsense development plans could really improve the living conditions of large majority of Bhutanese.

    I fully support any plans that improve drinking water, food production, health services and education etc.


  8. Kelpazangla says

    Tashi Delek, OL for the limelighting of your dad (Retired Captain Nob Gyeltshen)……great duty of a son!

  9. I also agree with few issues that OL brought out in his blog but we must understand that looking after whole nation is not as simple as we think. It is a complex issues…

    Sometimes, even two brothers are not happy with father’s decision because one feels father has given vast land to younger brother and younger brother feels elder brother is given a fertile land. So no matter, how hard leader tries, we will never be happy because leaders didn’t do that you wanted him to do for you first and later for the country which you care less than you think you care.
    So there shouldn’t be always bad comment on some leaders when OL is merely trying to inspire us.

  10. i loved the image of the village…background paddy fields and the haa chu flowing by…i never thought or had the idea about haa people cultivating rice.need to visit haa once.

  11. Kelpazangla says

    yangdon, I will offer myself to be your guide on Haa tour. You truely seem to be innocent about Haa. Haa toe (upper part of Haa) are dependent on Livestock (mainly Yak) and does not cultivate paddy. Lower Haa, Sombekha Dungkhag does cultivate paddy because of its warmer climate. The paddy field in the picture is of Dorithasa, OL’s parental home. The river below is not Haachu. It probably could be Amochu which comes out as Torsa river in Phuentsholing. Haachu flows south-east of Haa town and joins Wangchu below Damchu under Chukha dzongkhag. Dorithasa is in southern part of Haa, almost bordering Samtse dzongkhag as explained by OL in his text. It is almost two days walk from Haa town across Tegola even with the farm road across Tegola. Haachu therefore cannot be in picture with Dorithasa.

    I promise to be a sincere and active guide to you, yangdon, if you accept.

  12. Water is one important source of living and Bhutan Govt should look into water scarcity seriously!

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