Empowered female farmers follow the rhythm of woman-friendly machines

Sangay Zangmo with the power tiller at work

As the mini tiller’s engine starts with a revving sound, the machine shudders impatiently and she flinches.

Sangay Zangmo is hesitant to operate the formidable machine. Although small and manageable, it appears to be a daunting challenge for the 46-year-old farmer from Menchuna village under Drujegang Gewog in Dagana. As days go by, she begins to get a hang of it. Today she can handle it much better than the first time she used it. 

Sangay’s husband has been away for months and so are all her children. Yet, every time the machine’s engine starts, her courage sparks. It is a reassurance that she can plough her field as effectively as her husband or her sons would have if they were home. 

Her husband is a schoolteacher in an urban centre, where her two daughters also study. Her eldest son works at the capital, and her second son is a monk in a monastery.

Sangay is therefore left alone at home most of the time. She has over four acres of land to take care of and a house to look after. The mother of four may be lonely, but not vulnerable. She may be encumbered with added farm duties, yet she feels empowered. 

Sangay has an income to make, vegetables to grow, and a field to plough.

She rolls up her sleeves and engages the power tiller’s gear. The machine begins to dig the ground. She has a long way to go before taking a rest. 

This is a story shared by many female farmers in Bhutan who have been burdened with extra agricultural responsibility as their husbands and other male members of the family have left the village seeking additional income to supplement farm productions. 

“The only other way to plough the field in the village is by using oxen or by using big machines like tractors or power tillers,” Sangay explains. “I can’t afford the bigger machines and I can’t surely cannot handle the oxen. I am so delighted that I could get this mini-tiller at a subsidized rate of 50 percent,” she said, adding that she had to pay only Nu 45,000. “Every day I am getting more comfortable using this tiller as it is small and user-friendly.”

The Food Security and Agriculture Productivity Project (FSAPP), a Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP) funded project in Bhutan supplied the machine. The Project has supplied over 100 similar ‘women friendly’ mini-tiller across all the five project dzongkhags – Chhukha, Haa, Dagana, Samtse, and Sarpang – on a 50 percent cost-sharing mechanism.

FSAPP is a World Bank supervised project, implemented by the Department of Agriculture with technical assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 

“Although my children and their father are not home, I regularly cultivate and grow a range of vegetables including cabbages, broccoli, cauliflowers, and radishes,” Sangay said. “I am already a member of a farmers’ group that is linked to the nearby schools, and through that association, I earn anywhere between Nu 9,000 to 12,000 a month, and it is a good income in my village.” Sangay and her group are linked to nearby schools under the Project’s Farm to School (F2S) initiative.

FSAPP’s far-reaching mandates include constructions of irrigation channels and the provision of climate smart technologies for improved agriculture productivity such as drip irrigation, mulching films, and polyhouses. It also provides technical support to train farmers and link them to schools as well as to domestic and international markets for enhanced income generation. For polyhouses, farmers pay only 20 percent of the original price, while the project supports the rest of the cost.  

The provision of labour and time-saving farming machines on a cost-sharing mechanism have particularly proven beneficial. Elsewhere, the project supplies the farmers with other easy-to-handle machines such as hedge cutters and the drum seeding machine that eliminates the need to transplant paddy seedlings manually. 

As Sangay finishes tilling her farm and puts the engine to rest for the day, she is not only ready to sow new seeds on her field but is also equipped to reap the yields of renewed hope and freedom.

“I just completed ploughing half an acre of land within two hours,” Sangay shares proudly. “If it wasn’t for this machine, it would have taken two men, a pair of oxen, and a whole day to complete the same work”. 

Contributed by:

Tshering Dendup

Sr. Extension Supervisor

Drujegang Gewog, Dagana