Farmers confronted with drying water sources

The agriculture sector should be recognized as vital to promote equitable development through enhancing rural prosperity and poverty alleviation

Sonam Penjor

Though agriculture is the backbone of the country’s economy, growth and major source of employment opportunities, however, farmers are still confronted by the issue of drying water sources for irrigation purposes.

An agriculture research specialist, Mahesh Ghimirey said during the ‘Raising Climate Ambition: Voices from Bhutan’ that 69 percent of the rural population and agriculture is the main source of employment for 51.1 percent of its population.  

The Talk was organized by the National Environment Commission (NEC) in partnership with UNDP BhutanRoyal University of BhutanBhutan Ecological SocietyBhutan Foundation, WWF Bhutan and UN Capital Development Fund on 21 May.

Mahesh Ghimirey added that the agriculture sector should be recognized as vital to promote equitable development through enhancing rural prosperity and poverty alleviation.

He said that Bhutan is economically water-stressed. Though the country have enough water resources amounting to 94,500-m3 per capita water availability, 500-6000-mm of rainfall, four major river basins, it still lack adequate infrastructure for the use or management of the available resources.

However, in the country, there are persistent reports from many parts of the country that water sources are drying and causing problems for local people to obtain water for domestic consumption and for irrigation purposes.

According to the study conducted by the Watershed Management Division under Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, the country have a total of 6,555 water sources, majority depend on spring and stream sources for drinking and for irrigation.

According to a NEC report titled; “Raising Climate Ambition-Voices from Bhutan,” the virtual series was to seeks to bring to the limelight the impacts of climate change on Bhutan’s environment and the lives and livelihoods of its people.

It also examines how the country is raising its climate ambitions for the Paris Agreement through an enhanced 2nd Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). The Climate Series comes during the “Super Year” for nature and ahead of COP26 scheduled in November. It aims to bring to the fore Bhutan’s climate voices and actions.

Ghimirey said that agriculture recognized as vital to promote equitable development through enhancing rural prosperity and poverty alleviation and added that since the start of early five year development plans, agriculture has received policy attention and considerable progress has been achieved.

However, he said that agriculture is confronted with numerous challenges including shortages of water and farm labour, human-wild conflict and lately extreme weather conditions due to changing in climate.

“The rugged topography, diverse agro-ecology and rapid changes in environmental variability make us vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ghimirey added that the country already witnessed unusual outbreaks of pests and disease. For instance, rice blast epidemic in 1996, maize blight epidemic in 2007, erratic rainfall patterns, windstorms, hailstorms, flashfloods, landslide which attributed to climate change.

To get over those issues, he said that people are doing measures like rituals for rain, modifying water sharing arrangements and shifting from irrigated to rain fed crops which are insufficient to neutralize the negative impacts.  

Therefore, he said that though there might be many policy instruments and plans on paper, however, it is important that there need for ground interventions and actions in the field and re-prioritization of agriculture and water availability at the national level.

“Increased investment in the irrigation infrastructure and management and there need to enhance the adaptive capacity of farmers to climate shock,” Ghimirey said.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who is also the Chairman of the NEC, Dr Tandi Dorji, said, “A rich biodiversity is important to sustain mountain farming, clean air and fresh water. However, with climate change, warming of the eastern Himalayas, a formidable forest is devastating which would not only loss to us but also to the global communities.”

“I remind committed to ensuring the Royal Government of Bhutan in collaboration with both regional and international partners will do all we can to address the climate change,” he said.