When Bhutanese woke up to the news of first COVID-19 case in the country on March 6, 2020, commotion ruled homes, streets, and social media. The detection meant that reality of what was happening in other countries, which has experienced loss of lives and economic and social disruptions, was home.
Following this, the government took a bold decision to shut borders, brining tourism to a halt. Hospitality sector was the hardest hit.
Tour guide Kinzang Choden, 34 years, a single mother of two could hardly comprehend how, overnight, her life changed.
Coming to grips with reality, she decided to return to her village in Chana Goenpa in Phangyul gewog, Wangduephodrang to take up farming.
It had never occurred to her that she might take up agriculture as means of livelihood. Without a second thought, although unsure of how successful the venture would be, she went back to her village to farm the land. Her decision shocked her parents and the community, that a literate person should do farming. “At first they were disheartened with my decision,” Kinzang said.
However, the situation provided opportunity to revive Kinzang and her family’s farm.
The fields which once grew vegetables and crops, were overgrown with bushes. She took a loan of Nu 300,000 from the National CSI Development Bank and started oyster mushroom cultivation in a land of the size of a basketball court. She is the sole mushroom cultivator in the gewog. This small plot blessed her with about 800 kilograms fetching Nu 300 a kilogram.
However, having invested what little she had in the mushroom project, Kinzang found herself “helpless at the sight of her fallow land”. With technical assistance from the gewog, dzongkhag and Agriculture Research and Development Centre (ARDC), and funding GCF/UNDP project, Kinzang started rehabilitating the eight-acre land. Today, she grows vegetables and fruits. In addition, she is also training aspiring farmers in the community, especially women, in cultivating mushrooms. She dreams of expanding her enterprise. “Not only do I plan to produce value-added products such as mushroom chips and pickles, I also want to expand the nursery to a training centre,” Kinzang said.
In addition, the project also supported hedgerow plantations along the risers to stabilise slopes, and provided polyhouse. With these in place, Kinzang will soon be venturing into commercial vegetable cultivation, which will only increase her income but contribute to the country’s food self-sufficiency goal.
Kinzang represents many who are transforming agriculture into a dynamic sector augmenting national socioeconomic recovery amid the pandemic.
“When the country opens up, I wish to open a tea house for tourists,” she said, adding that she envisions her farm to be a beautiful place dotted with various fruit trees, sprinkled with vegetables in between.