SANGAY

Farming in Bhutan is quite literally an “uphill battle”. Managing a typical Bhutanese plantation involves a fight against the elements and exhausting hikes up steep, precipitous hills. But for retired soldiers like Sangay, now a farmer in his village of Tokari, it’s practically a cakewalk. “The military isn’t for the faint of heart. Neither is farming. But compared to my army days, I feel like I can relax now!”

Though he never had to fight in the army, he was always on the move as a Hindi interpreter for the Bhutanese army, away from his family and land. “It was sad being away from home. I always had to be on my toes, and sometimes be out of the country.”

Sangay traded his ”sword” for a plow in 1999 after retiring from his post in the army to return to his ancestral land to plant. The transition wasn’t that easy, however. Scarcity of water made it difficult to keep the land irrigated. “We Bhutanese don’t have all of these modern methods for cultivating and watering plants. We have to wait for the rain to feed them. If the rain doesn’t come, then our land suffers.”

Sangay’s 8-acre plot consisted of mostly maize and potatoes, which until a few years ago, was primarily for subsistence purposes. But his ambition to make full use of the land led him to explore other opportunities. “Compared to before, my ancestors did not try to work too much. They didn’t have any commercial opportunities, so all that mattered was their own plot and that was that.”

In 2006, he began expanding his plantation to other vegetables, including onions and tomatoes, which he sells to other villagers. Five years later, he saw his first hazelnut ever and signed up to begin planting. “During the Mountain Hazelnuts’ advocacy program, I was amazed by the saplings. They were big and looked vigorous. Even if you plant the trees upside down, they grow!”

Sangay is convinced that once his trees start to bear catkins, other farmers will begin to follow suit. “I’m very happy with the growth. Now I want to be that farmer that everyone else looks up to when the harvest comes.” The work of clearing the land of scrub trees, wild ferns, and the summer leeches to create space for trees can be tiresome. But he knows that if he works hard to maintain his orchard, the fruit of his labor will be welcomed by his children for years to come. “All I do is for my children’s education. School is expensive, and we farmers cannot afford to send them without some source of income. I hope that these trees can help.”