Youth Farming Cooperative in Chhukha
The cooperative invested in farming cardamom and off-season vegetables cultivation to meet the demands in the urban areas. It was also intended that the cooperative would be able to help curb rural-urban migration and uplift the rural economy in remote villages.
The Agro Forestry and Commercial Farming Cooperative, an organic-based farming cooperative that was started by 10 members in Chhukha over 13 acres of government land in 2014, is struggling today in the absence of adequate funds to run the cooperative.
Aims of the organic-based farming cooperative in Chhukha
Purna Bdr. Chhetri from Dophulakha, a remote village from Chhukha, along with nine other members comprising of school dropouts and orphans in the village, had started the cooperative by investing in cardamom and off-season vegetables cultivation to meet the demands in the urban areas. It was also intended that the cooperative would be able to help curb rural-urban migration and uplift the rural economy in remote villages.
But farmers, though hopeful of receiving assistance, are still encountering challenges without adequate funds to run the cooperative.
Puna Bdr. Cheetri said the amount they have spent so far has been from their own pockets, which is now exhausted. Investment was made in planting cardamom in 10 acres of land and vegetables in the remaining three acres of land.
“We had expected the government to provide us with some subsidies, but so far we haven’t got anything,” he said.
The cooperative, meanwhile, expects to reap cardamom only next year and it has invested Nu 600,000 on farming works so far.
Problems faced by the initiative
Adding to their financial woes, the cooperative’s chairman said diseases have now started invading their cardamom plantations.
He added that though they had applied for approval for importing hybrid disease resistant saplings, but they are yet to get a response from them.
“I started this cooperative with the hope to curb rural-urban migration and uplift rural economy in remote villages. But I feel demotivated now,” he said.
Meanwhile, the cooperative had also availed Nu 100,000 of loan from the Rural Entrepreneurs Development Corporation Limited (REDCL) to operate. But after the two months’ gestation period, the group, unable to pay from their income, now pays from their own funds.
Purna Bdr. Chhetri, who chairs the cooperative, said that he had to work hard to acquire 13 acres of land on lease from the government and that it took six months to get it approved in 2014 and make the cooperative operational from 2016.
The cooperative has now decided to prioritize on vegetable cultivation after realising that cardamom cultivation is likely to fail. The cooperative sold 15 Boleros of vegetables last summer. Still the group incurred losses, compelling the chairman to spend out of his own pocket.
“It took us time to study the market and we weren’t aware. But we have now established links and are hopeful that we will succeed in the future,” he said.
Equipment which the cooperative hope to procure from the government
Meanwhile, the cooperative is also hopeful that the government will provide them necessary support to run the indented farming cooperative, which is still in need of farming machines like power tillers, watering pipes and cans, and green house nets, among others.
The chairman said the members are ready to do physical works in the field and that the cooperative plans to employ other villagers to do heavier works. The cooperative employs around 15 rural villagers while executing heavy works by paying Nu 300, three meals and refreshments in a season.
“But we are desperately hoping that the government will come up with subsidies to help us move ahead,” he said.
“If everything goes well, the group assures that they can curb at least 10% of the total vegetables import from India annually.”
Meanwhile, Home Minister Dawa Gyeltshen, during his recent visit to Chhukha, said the government would look into the matter.
He said the group can ask for support from the Dzongkhag administration. “It is a good initiative from youths,” he said.
More farmers are, meanwhile, opting for membership in the cooperative.
By Krishna Ghalley from Phuentsholing
This article first appeared in Business Bhutan and has been edited for the New Bhutan Times.