Gurula, a native farmer of Trashiyangtse, was raised to understand the “fundamental economic problem” - the problem of scarcity. Growing up, his mother, an ex-nun abandoned by her husband when Gurula was two, could rarely harvest enough food to support her family of five. Days were an exercise in rationing their stock for the day . “Every day, all we could focus on was that day’s food. If there was rice in the field, we would reap it - even if it wasn’t ready. We never knew or planned for the next day.”
At the age of 6, Gurula became a “cowboy” and began herding the family’s six cattle. The milk and cheese he helped collect were just enough for self-consumption. Even if they produced enough for the market, it would require travel over a bridge at night - and confronting “ghosts” feared by villagers.
At the age of 12, however, scarcity became an opportunity. Inspired by his cousin’s enterprise in selling paper, Gurula started a business to sell consumer goods to the people of his village. He sourced items such as combs, t-shirts, and facial creams, from big suppliers in the capital of Thimphu, purchased them on credit, and then sold the items for a marginal profit. There was no mystery as to why he started – just a simple case of supply and demand. “Nobody else was doing it, and people needed more goods. So I thought, why not?”
In his first year in operation, Gurula took home Nu 800 in profit ($15). Unsatisfied, he traveled to Thimphu during the next winter - a frosty period when his village was incapable of doing farm-related work - to search for job opportunities. “I was ready to do anything it would take for my family to get additional income.” He started as a farm laborer, cultivating and harvesting rice and barley in the terraced fields of Thimphu. Daily wages were less than palatable - just Nu 10 ($0.20), which at that time, was just enough to buy two meals a day. He then found a job chopping wood for the army camp in stThimphu, where he received Nu 70/day.
Returning to his village in April just in time for the cultivation season, he revived his small, part-time business and increased his returns by almost 900%. With his savings, he was able to expand his stock of items to include some of Trashiyangtse’s pricey traditional, handcrafted wooden dappas (bowls and cups), and improve his positioning in the village which lacked access to daily consumer items. Gurula continued this practice of splitting his time between Thimphu and his village field for the next 5 years. By the age of 18, he was able to fully finance his mother’s aspirations to go to meditation retreat until the end of her present life.
A self-styled “farmer entrepreneur”, Gurula expanded his landholdings over the years to accommodate his growing family. In addition, he expanded his “crop portfolio” from just rice, to planting mustard, barley, and potato. He let his sister assume full ownership of his family’s ancestral land while he built a house in a more choice location in Bumdeling, where he currently resides. For a time, he felt his family had achieved a measure of self-sufficiency.
But as he grew older, and his children’s educational expenses soared, he could not support his family like before. Years of working on the precipitous, misty rice paddies of his village had been debilitating. Warding off wildlife, a constant threat to farmers in the area, had left him physically disabled. “One time, I caught a deer in one of our animal traps. We do not kill, as we are Buddhist, so I went to free it the next morning. When I tried to untie the loop that had caught its hoof, it kicked me and left me with a bad knee.” Additionally, the returns on Gurula’s business began to dip into the red. Development near the village had brought a host of more well-funded competitors. He now had to take loans to continue financing all his expenses - some of which he could not repay.
In 2010, at a local public meeting, he heard about the opportunity to plant with Mountain Hazelnuts. After a visit to the Lingmethang nursery on a farmer’s tour, he was impressed by the company’s nursery facilities. “People there were working so hard, sowing millions of plantlets. And all for the farmers of Bhutan.” The opportunity for a cash crop with market linkages looked like the ultimate “pension plan” for Gurula.
“The trees are a long-term investment. They last at least 40 years. After they have grown, it’s just a matter of weeding and pruning. I see it as a way to bring in money for the family as I grow older so that I can pay off all these expenses. But we need to work hard during these early years.” Ultimately, he hopes to fully finance his children’s education expenses. “Then, like my mother, I want to be able to go for nyung-ne retreat, so that I can prepare for the next life.”