In Phobji and Gangtey, farmers compete to use more fertilisers

|     Phurpa Lhamo     |

WANGDUEPHODRANG, Bhutan (Kuensel/ANN) – The increasing usage of fertilisers for potato farming in Gangtey and Phobji has become a concern for local leaders and agriculture officials.

A local leader of Phobji county said farmers were almost competing in using more fertilisers every year.

Almost everyone in Phobji and Gangtey grow potato as their main source of income. The two counties together have over 700 households.

Potato plantation begins from February and lasts until March.

A farmer at Gangtey, Dorji said he is planting about 30 sacks of potatoes this season. This is an increase from 25 sacks last year.

Potato is the main cash crop in Phobji and Gangtey counties. – KUENSEL/ANN

Every farmer in the two gewogs cultivates potato on at least three acres of land.

Another farmer, Tshering Phuntsho, said that on an acre of land, about five sacks of suphala fertiliser and about two sacks of urea are used. “Some use as high as seven bags of suphala and three bags of urea fertiliser depending on their budget.”

According to an agent who distributes fertilisers to almost all households in Gangtey and Phobji, the demand of fertilisers has increased.

About 365 tonnes of fertilisers were distributed last year, he said. “This year about 425 tonnes of fertilisers were sold here. I have been operating for only a few years but I can say that the demand has increased.”

Most farmers in Gangtey and Phobji avail loans for potato farming annually.

Another farmer Kumbu said that farmers took a minimum of Nu30,000 (USD423) loan for potato cultivation. “It is impossible to work without a loan. We would take loans and return it as soon as we make an income.”

Farmers spend as much as Nu100,000 (USD1,408) on fertilisers today.

Apart from potatoes, the farmers also grow turnips, which is used as cattle fodder.

Phobjikha’s agriculture extension, Kinley Wangmo, said farmers were increasing the usage of fertilisers annually to generate high income.

Advocacy and trainings were provided to farmers to decrease the usage of fertilisers. “The chances of price drop in future are high if farmers continue to use fertilisers. It will be difficult for Phobjikha to shift to organic farming but we can do it slowly.”

The agriculture division today has plans to study the soil to understand the damage and to receive recommendations from the soil centre.

“We provide pesticides as per the demands of the people but we are planning to assess potato production of each household to provide the required quantity,” Kinley Wangmo said.

Farmers also shared concerns over the increased price of fertilisers.

A sack of suphala costs Nu1,876 (USD26) and urea Nu885 (USD12).

Tshering Phuntsho said the prices of fertilisers were double of what is charged in the market. “We don’t understand what the issue is but when the fertilisers reach here, the prices double. This is a serious concern for the people.”

To this, the agent through whom the fertilisers are distributed in the gewogs said that the price of fertilisers were uniform across the country.

“The farmers might be comparing the prices to those brought in illegally. We have several cases of people bringing fertilisers at a cheaper rate. We caught a man this year.”

Concerns over issues of loan processing were also raised.

Kumbu said processing a loan takes time and has various requirements. “When we want to pay our loan back, sometimes we cannot because the loan is to be completed in three years.”