As Bhutan continues its path to development, farmers are now experiencing pressure to diversify their income sources. Additional expenditures for food, travel, education, and household amenities mean that farmers like Tashi Wangdi, a father of three, must look beyond the land.
Only participating in school until class 3, Tashi, as the eldest of his siblings, felt the pressure to earn some extra cash for the family. With the nearby Kanglung town growing due to the government’s increasing investment in the country’s top university, Sherubtse, he felt that he could make a good living as a car mechanic. “As a child, I really liked cars. It gave me a sense of freedom to move and see the country. It was such a new thing for our village when I was growing up.”
He learned the ropes of basic maintenance procedures and, occasionally, practicing his driving skills on empty roads. He would split his time between a Hilux truck, owned by a nearby contractor, and the land, where he would help cultivate his family’s potato plot. When he received his license, he decided to turn to driving full-time to earn more for his extended family. His brother, a civil servant based in Thimphu, bankrolled his purchase of a small car so that he could work as a cab driver. Sadly, his hopes for increased income did not materialize.
“I think I overestimated the number of people and traffic. When I became a driver, it was very difficult to find passengers. I would drive around the town on some days and not find a single customer.” This period was hard on him and his family, as he fell into heavy debt for insurance and loan repayments. He generally prefers not to speak about these times.
After three years, he gave up and sold his car, resolving to return to his traditional life and concentrate on farming. All of his four siblings had now gone to work for government offices, leaving the land neglected. Despite the hard work to revitalize the land, his return brought a renewed sense of peace to his life. “As a farmer, there is no one there to scold you. There is nothing there in between you and the land.” He boosted his cultivation of potatoes, nearly doubling yields and earning his family almost Nu 100,000 ($1,700) in a good year. However, earnings from potatoes are inconsistent due to the uncertain market demand in India. With debt and future expenses still looming, he looked to other potentially viable crops. He’d heard about a demo hazelnut plantation starting in the nearby village of Rangshikhar in 2011, and decided he’d give it a try.
“Dasho Kadola (Mountain Hazelnuts’ national coordinator) and the Advocacy team showed us why this plant would benefit us. We also didn’t have to spend a penny to start. Plus they would provide training. That was enough to convince me.” Following the training on plant layout from Mountain Hazelnuts’s Quality Control team, Tashi labored to plant over two acres of trees. In the first year, he kept a close eye on the young plants, waking up at night occasionally to ring bells to ward off wild deer and boars. Monitors from Mountain Hazelnuts visited on a monthly basis to inspect the orchard and offer guidance and assistance. Tashi’s plants have already started to bear catkins. “I’m very encouraged so far. I see my barren land now becoming populated with trees.”
With his eldest child now entering middle school, he hopes that the additional income from the trees will go towards supporting a more stable life for his children. “I dream for my children to go to college and get degrees. Life is very hard when you can’t manage your financial situation.”