Weather service

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Waiting for the sun

I woke up to a glorious morning today. The skies were clear. And the heavens promised a warm, sunny day.

That’s how it’s supposed to be at this time of the year – warm, sunny and bright: perfect weather for harvesting paddy. And that’s why some of our farmers, prompted by BBS’s forecast for sunny weather, have begun to harvest their crop.

But the farmers who harvested their paddy a few days ago and, as is required, left them to dry in their fields were in for some anxious moments yesterday. It had rained the previous day and almost all of yesterday. And they feared that another day of rain would destroy their crop and an entire year’s worth of hard labour. So, naturally, they are delighted at the possibility that today’s sun will quickly dry their rain soaked paddy.

This happened last year too. And the year before. Our farmers had to deal with unseasonal rain and were left literally praying for the sun to come out so that the paddy they had harvested would not rot in the rain.

Our farmers forecast weather at this time of the year by expecting the previous week’s weather to continue for the next two to three days. Some of them combine that estimate with BBS TV’s weather forecast. But BBS’s predictions, which are based on data from the Ministry of Agriculture’s meteorological center, can be notoriously unreliable. So every year, at this time of the year, our farmers spend many anxious days trying to guess the best time to harvest their crop.

Much of this anxiety is unnecessary. Many websites – AccuWeather and BBC, for example – provide free satellite images and weather forecasts for Bhutan. Their forecasts are also not accurate. But at least they provide satellite images and show weather patterns. And gewog administration officers, RNR extension workers and the farmers themselves could use that information to develop a clearer picture of the weather pattern.

But we can do a better job; we can go much further to reduce the anxiety among our farmers. That would be possible by purchasing professional weather forecasting services, and distributing that information, as and when needed, through TV or other media, to our farmers. That wouldn’t cost much. But that would help our farmers immensely. And that’s what the government should be doing.

Lost and (not) found

Urbane horses

Urbane animals

“Whoa…sho, sho, sho… Jamu-ya, sho, sho, sho! Whoa…sho, sho, sho…Tsheri-ya, sho, sho, sho,” Tshitem Dorji calls out shaking a feedbag of maize kernels. Jamu, an obedient mare, and Tsheri, a black mule, quickly respond to my cousin’s gentle entreaties. They emerge from the thick rhododendron forests to enjoy their morning meal before being saddled for the day.

It’s a clear, crisp spring morning in the mountains. And Tshochuyala, where we have camped, is beautiful. The rhododendron – several varieties of them – are in full bloom. And much of the meadows are literally carpeted with purple primulas. Giant magnolias punctuate the pristine forests with stately white flowers. And, in the distance, I can see parts of Sombaykha. I’m visiting my constituency.

“There’s enough grass here” Tshitem Dorji tells me, “so the horses stayed close to camp.” I’m happy for the horses and for my cousin.

But most camping sites are difficult. The horses don’t find enough grass, so during the night, they can cover great distances, foraging for food. And, in the morning, my cousin won’t be able to just call for them. Instead, he’d have to personally track them down, sometimes for many hours. I’ve seen this happen often. And yet, Tshitem Dorji, will not tether his horses at night. “They work the whole day,” he explains. “So they need to be free to graze at night.” Of course, he’s right.

So reading about the animals impounded in Motithang got me worried. The horses must belong to farmers like Tshitem Dorji. Farmers, probably from Lingzhi, who trekked to Thimphu to buy essential provisions – rice, cooking oil, salt – for their families. Farmers who refused to tether their horses at night. Farmers who don’t know about the Motithang pound. Or can’t afford the money to retrieve their animals.

We need to take better care of our farmers, those from distant Lingzhi and those in Thimphu. They, and their animals, roamed freely in all of Thimphu for many, many generations before we took their lands away from them.

Yes, we can no longer allow stray horses and cattle in the capital. Still, locking them up for months on end is not the solution. Instead, let’s look for the owners. And return the animals to them. If our farmers can’t afford the fine, waive it off – it costs much more to keep the animals locked up! And if that’s not possible, any one of our readers would be willing to help.

In the meantime, relocate the animals to a farm outside the city. That would be cheaper. And better for the animals. That would also prevent the TCC from breaking their own regulations: no one is permitted to keep cattle and horses inside the municipal boundaries. And that includes the city corporation itself.  They cannot impound animals in Motithang!

Targeting the rain

archery targetsYangphel Archery’s second knockout round began today. The 14 winning teams and 10 “joker” teams from this round will make it to the quarter finals. And the 8 winners plus one joker from the quarterfinals will play the semifinals.

The tournament began on 4th July. And during the last seven weeks 182 matches were played. But, guess what, not a single match was postponed. The weather has held up remarkably well. For the archers, that is; not our farmers who, at this time of the year, need rain.

So today, when I congratulated Tshewang Rinchen, the tournament’s secretary general, for the excellent arrangements, I added that the tournament’s success may mean too little rain for our farmers.

But Tshewang thinks otherwise. He reminded me that, though the annual Yangphel Tournament is held during the monsoons, hardly any of their matches are postponed. This, according to him, is because, around these parts, it mostly rains at night. And this, he claims, should make it possible to attract many more tourists during the so called “off season” monsoon months. Tshewang would know – he is a fulltime tourist guide at Yangphel.

Incidentally, have you ever wondered how many targets Yangphel makes for its tournament? 478 targets! I visited their workshop, located above the Memorail Chorten, and saw one craftsman patiently applying fresh canvas to rows upon rows of targets. The photo banner this week shows one such row.

Farmers’ produce

Not much

Not much

Our economy grew by 8.1% last year. That’s not the 9% growth per year promised by DPT. But, given all that happened in those 12 months, from a host of national celebrations to the global financial crisis, 8.1 is really not too bad.

The share of the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors to our GDP are 16%, 45% and 36% respectively. And, during the past year, the primary, or agriculture, sector grew by 1.7%; the secondary, or industry, sector grew by 7.5%; and the tertiary, or service, sector grew by 12.1%.

These figures were given to the National Assembly by the Finance Minister. Let’s see what they could mean for the majority of the people – our farmers. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 79% of our population depends on agriculture. Yet, they contributed only 16% of our GDP. This means that our farmers are a lot poorer, economically speaking, than the other Bhutanese. But, we all know this, don’t we?

Now the agriculture sector grew by only 1.7% last year. And that’s much lower than last year’s inflation, which averaged about 7%. So, in real terms, our farmers produced less last year than the year before. That is, they became poorer. This, we didn’t know.

The news for the next financial year is not good either. Our government forecasts that the share of the agriculture sector to the GDP will fall even further, from 16% to 14%. Obviously, we need to focus a lot more on the agricultural sector. After all, most of Bhutan depends on it.

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Lazy banks

My last entry provoked Zekom to exclaim: “…calling Bhutanese Banks conservative is a praise they don’t deserve. I’d call them lazy!”

She is correct.

Because our banks our lazy, money lenders are doing a thriving business throughout rural Bhutan, where our farmers are compelled to take loans at exorbitant rates. It’s common for money lenders to charge farmers interest rates of 5% per month, which works out to 60% per year!

This, of course, is illegal. The Moveable and Immoveable Property Act (1999) stipulates that “… no lender other than a registered financial institution which has been duly licensed to engage in the extension of credit, may charge interest greater than 15 percent per annum expressed as a simple annual rate.” But the complete absence of meaningful banking services in rural Bhutan means that desperate farmers are willing to accept extremely high rates, even though they are illegal. It also means that our farmers find it very difficult to repay loans. And those that can’t lose their land and, sometimes, even their houses.

But that’s not all. I’ve learnt that money lenders do brisk business even in Thimphu. And how much do they charge? Get ready for this: as much as 20 percent a month! That works out to 240% a year.

This is ridiculous. And illegal. And heartbreaking.