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Updated: 34 min 45 sec ago

Ginger export yet to resume, hopes pinned on the government 

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 11:26

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Ginger growers and traders in Chukha and Samtse are worried if they will get to sell their harvested produce, ginger, this year.

It has been more than a month since the export stopped. If nothing is done, farmers said their produce will soon rot. In some cases it has already started rotting.

For many, ginger is the primary source of income.

A ginger grower in Dzedokha village in Lokchina gewog, Chukha, Suk Bahadur Rai said there are plenty of ginger with the villagers.

“But they are rotting now,” he said. “We are in an uncomfortable situation.”

As ginger is the only cash crop, Suk Bahadur said that many people haven’t seen hard cash in the villages without trade. People are facing problems in buying rations, he added.

“I think the government can help. If we are able to sell the produce, people will be able to buy rations,” he said.

Dzedokha tshogpa Phib Raj Rai said people have no idea how to market and where to sell the produce.

“People are in trouble,” he said.

“We have been in touch with the gup. But he said we cannot take it.”

Phuentsholing gup Birkha Bahadur also said that about 40 percent of ginger in the villages have rotted.

“We are receiving a lot of calls every day from people,” he said.

“This situation is due to the lockdown and some problems across the border.”

When Kuensel reported on the issue on July 10, Phuentsholing’s FCBL auction yard had about 10 metric tonnes (MT) of ginger. In Samtse, FCBL had 16MT. There are many more in the villages.

In Samtse, starting from Tading gewog to Tashichholing, ginger growers and suppliers are giving up hope now.

A supplier and grower, Rakesh said shoots have started to grow from the ginger that was harvested.

“So much has rotted,” he said.

“However, we haven’t heard anything on the export news.”

Rakesh said he alone had about eight to nine MT of ginger. He also had bought about 15MT of ginger from farmers, which are yet to be sold or exported.

Another supplier from Tashichholing said there was no support from the government.

“Our government must speak with the Government of India to solve this problem at the earliest possible.”

Ginger export has been stopped because it doesn’t come under India’s import list and the officials in Jaigaon and Chamarchi do not allow the import.

In October last year, potato export was stopped. However, it was solved and along with potato, betel nut, mandarin, apple and ginger were also sanctioned for export from Bhutan to India. But it was a temporary sanction.

After the sanction time limit expired this year, the problem started again.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Picture story

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 11:25

The leaders of the Royal Bhutan Army, Cabinet ministers, senior civil servants, representatives from various agencies, and 17 Bhutanese importers (in picture) attended an event on “promotion of Indian mangoes from the state of Uttar Pradesh” at the Indian Embassy in Thimphu, yesterday.

Covid-19 threat is not over with vaccination 

Fri, 07/30/2021 - 11:25

TAG recommends people continue following the safety protocols 

Younten Tshedup 

With more than 90 percent of the eligible adult population vaccinated,  many expect restrictions to ease, and lives to return to ‘normal’. However, experts warn it is not the time yet.

Much to the disappointment of many, the ‘relaxations’, may not come anytime soon given the situation the country is currently in.

A member of the Technical Advisory Group (TAG), Dr Tshokey, said that for an individual to be considered fully vaccinated, the person has to receive two doses of the vaccine and complete a two-week duration after the second dose.

The two-week duration known as the immunity response time, Dr Tshokey, said was required for the body to develop an adequate amount of antibodies and have a good immune response against the virus.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that relaxation in the protocols would depend on several factors including the pandemic situation in the region and neighbouring countries.

“There are a couple of conditions that we’ll need to consider before announcing any relaxations to our protocols. TAG is working on it and they will soon submit their recommendation to the national task force,” Lyonchhen said.

Dr Tshokey said that having achieved good vaccination coverage among the adult population would definitely mean that there would be less severe cases among those who get infected and lower risks of death from complications.

“We will see less frequency and intensity of lockdowns. But people will have to continue following all the protocols,” he said.

He said that it would not be correct for people to compare Bhutan with other countries, where relaxations have happened following the vaccination. The parameters — location, size, health facilities, and the real situation on the ground would differ from one country to another, he added.

He said: “Some countries may even be giving up already, but we are still doing whatever possible to win this pandemic under His Majesty’s leadership. One significant difference for Bhutan is the greatest importance given to human life and welfare by His Majesty and the government.”

Dr Tshokey said that people might think that the illness from Covid-19 is not serious or is just like any other flu, and not many have died in the country and then become complacent.

“There are several emerging reports of long-term consequences from the infection. Getting infected, recovering, and being discharged home is not the end. So, unless unavoidable, we should put in all possible means to prevent people from getting the infection and the country from a disaster,” he said.


The threats 

For Bhutan, the biggest threat is from cross-border transmission. Covid-19 is an imported disease, meaning that the only source of such a disease is through the point of entry (POE) — international borders and airports.

With the majority of the commercial flights currently suspended, it is through the international borders — north and south — that the disease can enter the country.

A big wave of Covid-19 in India and its neighbouring states has direct implications for Bhutan. With growing indications of a third wave of the pandemic in India, observers say the situation would only get worse before it starts subsiding.

Many have pointed out that the third wave in India would enter through the Siliguri corridor, which is very close to the Bhutan-India border.

Recently, the United Nations experts have hinted that Myanmar could become a “Covid super-spreader” state. Northeast India shares a long and porous border with Myanmar. A spill-over transmission to the Indian states would eventually pose a threat to Bhutan through the southern borders.

“In such uncertain times, we cannot afford to relax just because we had a successful vaccination campaign,” said a Thimphu-based doctor.

“The present situation of our country is a direct impact of India’s second wave. The third wave could bring in more deadly variants which could evade the immune system despite being vaccinated,” the doctor said.

He said that vaccination will help reduce severe disease if infected but it did not guarantee people from not getting the disease. “People can still be infected despite being vaccinated. The bigger threat is these people could infect those unvaccinated populations who could then go on to develop severe disease.”

Dr Tshokey said: “Whatever benefits we have from the vaccination and whatever relaxations that may come through, we should always remember that there are still no recommended vaccines for children below 12 years.”

He said that these groups of children will always remain vulnerable to catching the virus as well as suffering from a serious illness. “The very young and the very old have always been His Majesty’s concern during this pandemic. So, we need to be very careful about these two groups.”

Following the completion of the week-long vaccination campaign the health ministry has once urged people to strictly comply with all the Covid-19 norms — avoid large gatherings, wearing face masks properly, and washing hands frequently with soap, among others.

Health experts said that Bhutan has not vaccinated enough population to achieve herd immunity and without the wide vaccine coverage, the population would remain vulnerable to outbreaks.

Observers say that it would be wrong, if not foolish, to ask the government to lift the seven-day and 21-day quarantine protocols in the present situation. “These protocols are our last line of defence. Without the protocols, we would have been in a worse situation today,” said one.

In the meantime, Dr Tshokey said that the priority, for now, was to get Phuentsholing out of the current situation. “We are hopeful we can do it. Following this, a lot of work will have to be put into the continuous risk assessment, local infection risk, and pattern post-vaccination studies.”

He said that the experts will have to review local epidemiology, study international recommendations to make whatever possible relaxations that could be put forth. “It will not be so straightforward. We would not desire a situation where we rush to relax and people travel everywhere taking the virus. If the whole country is put in the same risk level, it will be very difficult for us to even get back to our present situation.”

Edited by Tshering Palden

Picture story

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:37

  Dorji Lopon awarded certificates to the 81 graduates from the Institute of Science of Mind yesterday at Tashichhodzong

Tala shutdown hits domestic revenue

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:36

MB Subba 

Electricity generation disruption at the 1,020MW Tala Hydropower Plant has hit the domestic revenue.

The total revenue loss from the country’s largest plant from July 19 to 27 amounted to about Nu 317 million (M). The exact figures will be known only after compiling the billing reports for the month.

After a total shutdown for the first few days beginning July 19, the plant’s generation capacity was restored to 610MW, equivalent to 14.64 million units (MU). This means the plant’s daily revenue earning capacity was reduced to Nu 31M from Nu 55M at the tariff rate of Nu 2.12 per unit.

At this time of the year, the plant in its full capacity generates a total of 1,122MW, including the additional 10 percent overloading generation. This means the plant would be producing about 26 million units (MU) of electricity had there not been disruptions.

The plant generates about Nu 1.7 billion in revenue in a month during the monsoon.

Efforts to restore generation to its full capacity were underway, according to officials.

Economic Affairs Minister Loknath Sharma said that the disruption would hit the domestic revenue that was estimated to grow marginally by 7 percent in the fiscal year 2021-22.

The projected domestic revenue and recurrent expenditure in the fiscal year 2021-22 are Nu 35.6 billion (B) and 35.598B, respectively. This means estimated domestic revenue before the Tala shutdown was just enough to cover the recurrent expenditure.

“Fortunately, no severe technical glitches have been reported,” he said, adding that Druk Green Power Corporation (DGPC) had submitted a report to the government. He said that heavy downpour was responsible for the damage.

 DGPC’s managing director, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, said checking of power and transmission lines were being carried out yesterday for restoration of export to its full capacity. “We have completed the work and the issues have been solved.”

The Ministry of Finance recently extended austerity measures in the fiscal year (FY) 2021-22 in view of poor revenue forecast. However, officials said that no further austerity measures would be implemented because of the disruption in Tala project.

The hydropower sector was considered the bedrock of the economy when the rest of the sectors suffered during the pandemic. It saw significant growth with energy generation increasing by 31.45 percent in 2020.

Hydropower exports as a share of GDP increased by 18.7 percent, accounting for 58 percent of total exports in 2020, offsetting the decline in non-hydro exports.

The plant was shut down on July 19 after large chunks of debris clogged the gates of the intake tunnels due to heavy rain for days.

Officials said that the problem was with the water-conducting system from the dam to the surge shaft and not with the generating units themselves.

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Community support critical for effective electric fencing

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:35

Chhimi Dema 

Farmers find electric fencing (EF) effective in mitigating human-wild conflict (HWC), according to the Impact Assessment Report on Electric Fencing 2021 published by the National Plant Protection Centre (NPPC).

However, the study pointed out that a substantial amount of crop was lost to wildlife due to non-functional and ineffective EF.

This, according to the report, was due to lack of cooperation in the community in implementing timely maintenance and clearing of vegetation around EF.

The survey was carried out in 17 dzongkhags and 64 gewogs covering 202 households to “assess the effectiveness of electric fencing in reducing crop loss, its technical performance against the wildlife and socio-economic benefits to rural communities.”

The country had 6,484km EF, benefitting 30,526 households in the country as of June.

The government in this fiscal year is to fence farmlands with 1,563km electric and 1,165km barbed wire fencing.

The most common wild animals damaging crops were wild boar, barking deer, sambar, elephant and bear.  “[Wild pig] is still the number one vertebrate pest, causing the maximum crop yield loss despite electric fencing,” the report stated. 

The report noted that the loss of crops, particularly maize, wheat, potatoes, and vegetables was high.

Before the installation of EF, maize loss was reported at 43 percent which decreased to 11 percent after EF in a year.

Likewise, 33 percent of paddy was lost to wild animals, 31 percent of wheat, 22 percent of potato, and 19 percent of vegetables before EF. 

Crop loss decreased to seven percent for paddy, eight percent for wheat, and four percent for potato and vegetables after installation of EF.

It was recorded that farmers lost 192,214.8kg of yield to wild animals in a year.  After EF, farmers lost 44,510.7kg of yield.

According to the report, the highest crop damage was caused by wild boar, followed by elephant and monkey.

In a year, wild boars damage yield close to 150,000kg; elephants damage about 15,000kg, and monkeys damage about 12,000kg, according to the report. All accounted before EF.

The report stated that the common problems for non-functional or ineffective EF were due to wrong connections of energiser, earthing system, charge controller, use of rusted galvanised steel wire, and damaged energiser.

The technical team from the NPPC found that 80 percent of EF was functional from the 332km EF in 17 dzongkhags.

A technical official from NPPC said that the common issue for non-functional EF was damaged energiser that converts main or battery into a high voltage pulse.

“EF needs regular and timely maintenance to ensure constant electricity flow,” the official said.

Another factor causing non-functional EF, the official said, was the improper installation of the earthing system. “The current weakens or is lost without a proper earthing system.”

He said that using barbed wire or other physical materials along with EF was not recommended as these materials obstruct the flow of electric current along the fence wires.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Vaccine certificate, last resort?

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:34

Yangchen C Rinzin

Without much hope of getting college admission in Bhutan, many students and parents are hopeful that getting a second dose and vaccine certificate could address their concern and help to send their children abroad for studies.

Many parents Kuensel talked to feel that it is safe to send their children abroad to study outside since many could not send them fearing the Covid-19 situation.  The majority of the Bhutanese send their children to India for further studies.

“I hope it is safe to send our children abroad since there is no hope for college admission in Bhutan,” a civil servant said. “My son has waited long hoping he would get admission and I am worried that he might lose another year.”

If some students decided not to go for further studies because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, some waited for the second dose vaccination, others decided to repeat Class XII.  

Many are waiting with the hope that the government might come up with a solution.

Of the total 12,595 students, only 3,567 students have secured admission in different colleges in the country including two private colleges as of 24th June, according to the education ministry’s record.

While about 9,000 Class XII students are still waiting to continue their education, the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) managed to increase 381 seats in various government and two private colleges.

Seat increase was based on the in-take capacity of colleges. All the seats are on “self-finance” except for 35 seats in teaching in Paro College of Education.

The fate of about 8,000 students now remains hanging. 

With many countries requiring people to be vaccinated to avail visa, a mother of two is hoping that she can send her child to study in Canada. 

“Although it’s worrying to send them, my daughter has remained idle. She is worried that she is going to lose a year when her friends have already joined colleges.”

The Royal Institute of Tourism and Hospitality managed to increase about 12 seats for a diploma course. The official said that although there were applications some had not paid the fees hoping to find a college. “Their first priority is to pursue a degree. So not many are willing to take up the course immediately.”

Although some students got admission to various colleges in India, many could not travel because of several lockdowns in many states in India. Those who managed to leave are studying online.

An official from the RUB said that given limited infrastructure and resources, it would not be possible to accommodate further unless the government decides to come up with immediate additional infrastructures. “Even if we do, we’ll have shortages of faculty.”

However, many educationists and observers said that pandemics affected everything, including education. Many said that while it would be difficult to absorb all 8,000 students or push the colleges to absorb more, the government could work on alternatives to engage the students productively.

A senior educationist said that everything becomes an emergency during such a pandemic and cannot blame anyone than to hope the situation would improve and these students would get admission. “Most colleges are also closed due to the pandemic. There is nothing we can do about it.”

The government also facilitates those students who leave for studies. Some were given a second dose, including Pfizer before the vaccination campaign to leave for colleges.

Even those who got scholarships through the department of adult and higher education (DAHE) from last year, nine students who got scholarships for MBBS were able to leave this year only and are currently in quarantine.

There are still another 15 MBBS students who got scholarships in Bangladesh waiting since last year. An official from DAHE said that the admission process was going on and hopefully would be admitted by this August.

The department is still working on the admission and visa process for 20 MBBS students. “If the situation doesn’t improve, they might have to wait till January next year. While some are waiting to complete their IELTS to go to a third country, we’re now sending them to Kolkata to do the exam.”

The official added that although many students are waiting to join college, we cannot take in additional because scholarships are designed based on the requirement submitted by the labour ministry and RCSC. “Accordingly, we get the budget.”

Meanwhile, there are still about 63 seats vacant at the College of Science and Technology and 40 at Jigme Namgyel Engineering College.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Internet users unhappy with data cost

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:32

Chhimi Dema 

While the pandemic has shown the importance of information, communications and technology (ICT) as it helped people to stay connected, work and study, many internet users are unhappy with the two telecom companies for charging high data prices.

Many people also claimed the two companies did not put any effort to make internet affordable.

A Thimphu resident, Jamtsho, said the telecom companies benefited from the pandemic but refused to trickle down the benefit to end users.

He said his mobile data usage increased manifold during the pandemic than normal times. “The telecom operators have increased the data volume but the consumption is even higher.”

A civil servant, Yeshi, said he is unhappy with the service providers. “With everyone using the internet during the pandemic, the telecoms should provide reliable and affordable services.”

In an assessment of internet service quality in Bhutan carried out by Phurba Sonam Waiba, Aita Raj Limboo and Jigme Sherub, it was stated that the internet service in the country was unsatisfactory and users’ expectations of the internet services were not met.

The study was carried out last year with 384 respondents.

“The customers have high expectations for good and smooth infrastructure and connectivity lines, strong and without disturbances,” the report stated, adding that customers hope for diverse and more options to data and internet package subscriptions.

Officials from the two telecom companies said revising data cost is not easy.

TashiCell’s marketing manager, Namgay Wangchuk, said that factors such as network capacity, demand for the service, introduction of new technology, market segmentation  like introducing special data plans, and competition were considered while revising the tariff.

BTL’s marketing manager Jigme Thinley said that the tariff revision was based on cost and competitive pricing, government policy and directives of regulatory authority, market forces, and pricing of other internet service products.

“At the moment comparing prices with other countries or BTL to revise the tariff at par with them is not feasible,” he said.

Namgay Wangchuk said that internet data consumption depends on the network speed, usage by the user and default app setting.

He said that if the internet speed is good, most apps automatically tend to use higher resolution data to provide a better experience to users. “Consumption may vary for the same video watched under differing network speeds.”

He also said some apps tend to preload data to avoid buffering, which consumes data volume, explaining even when people do not watch a video completely, the data is already preloaded by the app leading to higher data consumption.

Records with TashiCell show about Nu 30,000 worth mobile data are recharged in a day on average every day.

In Bhutan Telecom, Nu 100,000 worth mobile data plans are recharged in a day on an average.

Meanwhile, according to the first quarterly info-comm and transport statistics (2021), there are 739,683 mobile cellular subscribers in the country as of April 2021.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Taking ownership of His Majesty’s gift

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:28

De-suung National Service executed many water projects this year, bringing an end to drinking and irrigation water problems many villages faced for decades.

The projects are initiated in response to His Majesty The King’s command in September last year and it will continue until water is connected to every household in the country.

Water shortage has been a complex issue until now. Generating more than 70,572 million cubic metres of water annually, Bhutan is considered the most water-abundant country in the region, but taps constructed in front of houses through rural water supply scheme since 1970s have been left dry for years. Fields have remained fallow.

Many people in the country will never forget the Taklai irrigation canal in Sarpang. The largest irrigation canal constructed in the 1980s could have supplied water to more than 2,900 acres of paddy fields, but it failed miserably. Local residents there share stories of how some involved in the project became rich.

We have always known that water shortage was because of poor governance and management. With successful completion of many projects by the de-suups, it also revealed that it takes commitment to bring water to the needy.

If His Majesty The King did not put his heart in the water project, people in water-rich Bhutan will live without adequate water forever.

Water is a necessity and our plans and policies have been geared toward providing adequate water. The Water Act of Bhutan 2011 and the Water Regulation of Bhutan 2014 prioritised water connection as an essential service.

The main problem, like in all other issues, is that the grand provisions in the plans and policies have failed to translate into action. 

It was only His Majesty’s concern for every citizen that brought the water to the doorsteps.

The government also claimed to have allocated the highest budget for water flagship programme. It wanted to bring new and innovate water technology. However, the de-suung projects were executed with minimal budget, resources and technology.

Past water projects in the country also did not last long because of lack of protection and care of infrastructures. 

As a royal gift, communities should now ensure infrastructures are taken care of. They should take ownership of it. 

With identified caretakers and plumbers, projects executed through the national service are different.

With rapid modernisation and climate change, pressure is on scare water sources. 

Communities should also be sensitised on proper usage. Dzongkhag and gewogs officials should take that responsibility.

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Inching closer

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:28

Thromde aims to complete overhead bridge by next month

Yangyel Lhaden

Construction of the first  overhead pedestrian bridge in Olakha, Thimphu, which has now become an eyesore for many, will be completed next month.

The overhead bridge construction started in June, last year to reduce road accidents, streamline traffic movement and  for the safety of pedestrians. It was expected to be completed in five months.

A Thimphu thromde official said the pandemic delayed the project.

The structure of the bridge is complete and ornamentation of the bridge with Bhutanese design is in progress. “The completion of the bridge depends on the arrival of ornamentation items which are stuck in Phuntsholing,” a thromde official said.

She said completing the structure of the bridge was a major challenge with difficulty in importing bridge components, lack of skilled labourers and machineries, and heavy traffic on the expressway. “Many Bhutanese workers are scared to work on the overhead bridge.”.

The earthquake resistant 5.4m-high-and-26m long footbridge is a pilot project to be replicated in other areas in thromde where the traffic congestion is high. A thromde official said the thromde switched to overhead pedestrian bridge as the two underpasses along the swimming pool were underutilised.

A resident in Thimphu, Dorji said a roof over the pedestrian bridge would be efficient during rain.

A roof was discussed in the initial planning, but was not finalised as there were concerns of misuse. “Roof provision will be made after monitoring the usage of the footbridge,” a thromde official said.

The construction of the footbridge is a project worth about 3 million.

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Pest infests cardamom in Chudzom and Jigmecholing

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:27

Nima | Gelephu

Farmers in Chhudzom and Jigmecholing gewogs in Sarpang are losing cardamom, the main cash crop of the gewogs, to an unidentified pest.

The pest attack was reported to the agriculture extension office a few days back.

In Sherubling chiwog of Chudzom, pests damaged cardamom in more than 20 acres of land.

Once infected, farmers said leaves of the cardamon plant start to dry.

A villager, Som Maya, said the pest infestation occurred in the chiwog for more than a month. “We never expected the infestation to be that bad.”

She said farmers’ income would be affected.

Sherubling tshogpa, Nima Tamang, said almost all cardamon growers in the chiwog are losing the crop to the pest. “The most affected are those grown in the forest that was cleared for the plantation. Last year, only two households faced the problem. This time the pest has reached all the lands”

He said farmers are confused and their livelihood would be affected if the pest attack were not controlled. “Cardamom is our main cash crop.”

Adding that the farmers were asking for the solutions almost every day.

Chhudzom gewog planted more than 600 acres of cardamom last year alone and the gewog produced more than 95 metric tonnes of cardamom, according to the record with the gewog agriculture extension office.

The gewog has 420 households of which 150 households are in Sherubling chiwog, currently facing the pest infestation problem.

The gewog extension office and officials are planning to spray neem oil, an organic solution to manage pest infestation today.

Nima Tamang said similar pest infestations in the past drove the farmers out of the village to the urban towns in search of jobs for a living. “Farmers are into vegetable farming but marketing is the main challenge. There are no buyers. We depend on cardamon for cash.”

Chhudzom gup, Bishnu Prasad Rai, said the pest infestation is currently in only one chiwog.

“The main source of income of the community would be affected if the problem continues. There are no alternative crops for cash, making farmers vulnerable.”

The gewog agriculture extension officer, Thukten Chophel, said they will assess the damage.

He said the pest infestation was mild last year.

“Using chemical pesticides are not encouraged as the gewog is identified for organic certification. We are planning to use neem oil but it could cover only a few areas.”

He said he consulted plant protection officials, who advised farmers to use green net to cover the affected areas and to irrigate the orchards properly. “There are no other solutions for now.”

Thukten Chophel said he did not expect the pest infestation to spread so fast.

Meanwhile, farmers of seven households in the remote village of Gongduegang and Gongtshekha in Jigmecholing gewog also lost cardamom to the pest.

Officials from Chhudzom said Sherubling and Gongduegang chiwog are located at a similar altitude and shared similar climatic conditions.

Jigmecholing Gup, Kumar Gurung, said the pest infestation is increasing daily. “Proper research would help farmers manage the pest.”

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Parents should monitor what children are doing online

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:25

Yangchen C Rinzin

Younger parents have a liberal attitude toward allowing their children to use social media at an early age, but are equally worried about its overuse and related harms, according to a report on the social media landscape in Bhutan.

The report stated that Facebook is the most popular social media platform among children, with 98 percent of children with Facebook account, followed by YouTube (74.2 percent).

WeChat and Instagram are the third choices of Bhutanese children.

The study, conducted by the Bhutan Media Foundation, primarily aimed to generate data on the uses and understanding of social media in Bhutan.

It found that on average, the time that children spend on social media (158 minutes per day) is only about 10 minutes less than adults. “Education, seeking information, entertainment and socialisation were four major purposes children use social media.”

The study also found that the average age where Bhutanese parents would allow their children to use social media was 12 years.

About 52 percent of the parents surveyed reported that they are very worried about their children’s social media usage, more than 40 percent were slightly worried, and seven percent are not worried about it.

“While some parents are more liberal and would allow their children to use social media at only 11 years of age, some prefer to allow children to use social media only when they turn 13 years and 16 years old,” the report stated.

Although a majority of parents monitor their children on the use of social media, more than 30 percent would either never monitor or rarely monitor their children’s social media use.

However, the report revealed that only 16 percent of parents discuss social media ethical issues with children and some parents become friends with their children on social media to monitor them. “More than 60 percent of parents noticed that their children neglect other good activities due to addictive use of social media.”

The report also found that the government’s social media policy does not have a guideline on the minimum age for subscribing to a social media platform. “However, many psychologists agree that children develop the ability to think more abstractly only between 12-18 years, and suggest it is safer to join social media at 18 years.”

Meanwhile, RENEW officials said the exposure of children online is concerning in an earlier interview.

Officials explained that while the pandemic had mandated most children to use phones for online learning, it has also exposed many children to cybercrimes. “Parents have to monitor what the children are doing online,” an official said.

Officials from the National Commission for Women and Children said they conducted many awareness programmes for online safety for children. “But the responsibility to ensure a safe online environment falls on all caregivers,” an official said.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Summer youth engagement programme in Mongar will end today

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:23

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Sixty-nine children in Mongar attended summer youth engagement programmes to teach reading, dancing, problem-solving, drawings and indoor games.

Organised by the youth centre in Mongar, youth volunteers helped to conduct the programme that will end today.

A youth volunteer, Tsheltrim Lhamo, who is studying in class XII in Mongar High School taught riddles for upper classes and basic maths of addition and subtraction for lower classes in a group of five students.

She said it was fun as well as a good platform for her to share her knowledge and skills with the juniors.

Youth centre’s officiating manager, Dorji Wangchuk, said volunteers are creative and resourceful to impart their knowledge and skills to younger ones. “Only little guidance and coordination are required.”

A parent, Wangmo, said the programmes were resourceful, productive and engaging. “Children get addicted to mobile phones and television at home and such recreational event was necessary.”

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Bhutanese Olympians miss medals at 2020 Tokyo Olympics

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:20

Thinley Namgay

Bhutan’s last hope in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics concluded with the elimination of archer Karma by Deepika Kumari of India in the women’s individual recurve archery in Japan Yesterday.

Karma lost three straight sets to Deepika Kumari. However, Karma maintained a competitive game with India’s number one.  

Karma’s performance was appreciable as the three sets’ scores were 26-23, 26-23 and 27-24. One of Karma’s arrows hit the 10 pointer ring in the third set, the highest. 

During the ranking round on July 23, Karma was ranked 56th out of 64 archers by securing 616 points. Deepika was ranked ninth that day. 

Karma had secured the minimum qualifying score (MQS) of 627 points to represent Bhutan in the  Olympics as a first full-fledged participant.

Swimmer Sangay Tenzin completed his 100m freestyle in 57.57 seconds (sec) on July 27.

Although Sangay couldn’t advance to the next round, his performance in the Olympics was better than in Thailand. 

Of the 70 swimmers from nine groups, 16 swimmers got selected. Sangay stood fifth out of seven members in his group.

On July 24, judoka Ngawang Namgyel was defeated by Mihrac Akkus from Turkey.  A 21-year-old Mihrac Akkus was the silver medalist at the 2020 Judo Grand Prix Tel, Israel. 

According to  Bhutan Judo Association (BJA), Ngawang lost by juji-gatame (arm bar). “His grip fighting was good and kept Akkus at bay foiling all of his attacks. He put on good positive judo and even attempted seoi nage (shoulder throw).”  

Ngawang lost in 2 minutes and 56 seconds.  

“Ngawang had the added disadvantage of facing a lefty. There is no senior lefty Judoka at the BJA. Training against a lefty has more or less not been done. Newaza(ground fighting)  has not been a big part of our training,” BJA stated.  

Shooter Lenchu Kunzang got eliminated in a 10m Air Rifle Women’s Qualification round on July 24. She scored 618.1 out of 654 points. Eight shooters proceeded for the next round. Lenchu was ranked 43rd out of 50 shooters.   

From the SAARC region, shooters from India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka also participated.  Lenchu was ahead of Nepalese and Sri Lanka’s shooter.

No shooter from the SAARC countries made it to the top eight. 

India’s Elavenil Valarivan (rank 16) and Apurvi Chandela (rank 36) scored 626.5 and 621.9 points, respectively.

Nepal’s Kalpana Pariyar (rank 46) grabbed 616.8 points, and  Sri Lanka’s Tehani Egodawela (rank 49) snatched  611.5 points.   

Lenchu’s performance was better than her MQS of 615.4 points in Qatar in 2019.   

Officials and participants from shooting, judo, and archery will leave Tokyo on July 30.

The second group comprising of swimming team and two BOC officials are expected to reach the country on August 16.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Youth volunteers conduct summer programmes

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:18

Sherub Wangmo | Intern

Youth volunteers, who call themselves Harmony Youth, helped the Department of Youth and Sports (DYS) to conduct summer youth programmes in Thimphu.

About 60 students of various schools in Thimphu participated in dance, music and reading sessions.

Coordinators said the programmes were advertised on Facebook and participants were enrolled on a first-come-first basis.

Phuntsho Choedra, 21, who is a final year student of Gedu College, is a member of Harmony Youth. He has been volunteering to help DYS for the last eight years.

“I first got into this group because of my friends and for the refreshment,” he said. “But now I am committed for the cause.”

The members helped the children in the classes to learn dances, music and guide in reading.

Of more than 200 members in Harmony Youth, 60 helped to conduct the summer engagement programme.

Along with the summer engagement programme, 20 students attended a programme on sexual reproduction and health for three days.

In the programme, participants are briefed on responsible behaviour.

Coordinators said with increasing cases of teenage pregnancy, more participants were girls although they gave equal opportunities for both boys and girls.

Meanwhile, the summer engagement programme ended yesterday with a live Facebook event.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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We wanted the best for our people: Lyonchhen 

Thu, 07/29/2021 - 12:15

…the prevailing view is that the government made a mistake by encouraging the country’s adult population to take Moderna

Younten Tshedup  

Did the government miscalculate by encouraging and recommending people to take the Moderna vaccine as their second dose to AstraZeneca?

With Moderna now being approved for children between the age of 12 and 17 years, many are questioning as to whether the government should have reserved the vaccine for children and vaccinated the adult population with AstraZeneca as the second dose.

“It was only a matter of time before the emergency use approval for Moderna for children was passed. Knowing this, the government should have waited,” said a civil servant. “Now we have AstraZeneca in excess and not enough Modern for our children. This could have been avoided if we had planned better.”

A Thimphu resident, Tashi Tshering, said that there were adequate doses of AstraZeneca vaccines to cover all the eligible population in the country. “When many were sceptic about mixing the vaccine, the government and health experts encouraged the people to take Moderna. Now, we don’t have enough Moderna for our children. It was a complete miscalculation on the part of the government and our health experts.”

But Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that the reason why the government recommended people to take the Moderna vaccine was because of its higher efficacy compared with the other vaccines that were available.

Lyonchhen said that scientifically all vaccines are ‘very safe’. On the efficacy, however, he said that mRNA vaccines were slightly more efficacious than others.   

“We wanted to give the best vaccine to our people and, in that sense, Moderna was by far the best choice.”

He said that if the government had to reserve the Moderna vaccines for children, some 160,000 adults would not have been eligible to receive the Moderna vaccine.

“Who should we have included in this ineligible group? The elderlies or the young?” he asked.

He explained that the elderlies were most vulnerable to Covid-19 and had to be protected with a highly efficient vaccine. “We could not exclude the younger groups as they are more mobile and they can get and pass on the infection further.”

Lyonchhen said that no one was compelled to take the Moderna vaccine as their second dose. “We made a recommendation based on evidence but the decision to choose among the vaccines was always with the public.”

There are about 75,000 children between the age of 12 and 17 years in the country today.

Lyonchhen said that about 150,000 doses of vaccines were needed to cover the group with both the doses. “We have around 60,000 doses of Moderna remaining from the week-long campaign which we have started to administer in high-risk areas from today.”

Almost 90 percent of the eligible children in nine identified dzongkhags including the high-risk areas would receive their first dose from the remaining vaccines, said Lyonchhen.

He said that the 500,000 doses of Moderna were not the last ones in the world. “If it was, we have a reason to worry. But then, with time, the availability of vaccines would go up, more people would have been vaccinated and the production capacity of vaccines would also increase around the world.”

Lyonchhen said that the government was in an advanced stage of dialogue with both Pfizer and Moderna companies to secure more mRNA vaccines. “We are getting about 200,000 doses of Pfizer, expected to arrive towards the end of the year. But then, we are negotiating to bring it a bit early. The company also understands our situation and is looking into all the possibilities.”

He added that the National Immunisation Technical Advisory Group (NI-TAG) has recommended that the second dose of the mRNA should be given within 4 to 8 weeks after the first dose. “We’re already on the lookout for the mRNA vaccines and we’ll make sure all people in the country are protected.”

Doctors at the national referral hospital in Thimphu said that many people with underlying health conditions were given the Moderna vaccine as it was more effective against the Delta variant of the virus.

“We could have suggested AstraZeneca but then these are the high-risk groups who need to be protected with effective vaccines,” said one of the doctors.

All the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation were clinically tested and approved for public use, he added. “Many took the Moderna vaccine because they knew its benefits and not because it was forced upon them.”

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

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Poor and expensive internet connectivity affected education

Wed, 07/28/2021 - 11:51

Students said their interest in studies was affected so

Yangchen C Rinzin

Zhemgang reported the highest number of students having difficulty in learning online last year where Classes PP-VIII remained closed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The entire academic was conducted online.

The reasons given by the dzongkhag administration were poor and weak mobile network coverage, including the issues with phone storage, which did not support Google Classroom.

This was according to the education in emergency (EIE) during the Covid-19 report prepared by the education ministry.

The study covers all the dzongkhags and thromdes, schools, early childhood care and developments, non-formal educations, learners, teachers, school principals, and parent representatives.

The pandemic situation forced children to stay indoors and discouraged interactive and physical contact with others last year.

The findings from the students revealed that more than 80 percent of the students agreed that they had at least learnt something through online lessons. However, many said that online teaching and learning was a serious challenge.    

Many shared that poor and expensive internet connectivity was the biggest challenge.

The Education Monitoring Division (EMD) of the education ministry who conducted the study recommended improvement of internet connectivity to ensure access, efficient and effective online learning.

“The study concludes that the students still relied more on teachers than on parents for their educational advancement,” the report stated. “Some students hadn’t interacted and communicated with their teachers during the online teaching.”

The study revealed that most of the students clarified their doubts by meeting their teachers during mobile/cluster teaching/home visits, while others could clarify their doubts online.

The study aimed to study the implementation of EIE during the pandemic by examining the effectiveness and challenges, among others, stated that in extreme cases, teachers had to provide data recharge to those students who were financially disadvantaged.

“It was apparent from the study that only minimal students were not able to receive support from teachers due to geographical location, lack of amenities including smartphone, network shadow, and students away from their homes,” the report.

In some cases, teachers could not assess students’ work due to its geographical location, lack of facilities including smartphones, poor network connectivity, and students away from their homes.

Students of Classes PP-VIII were promoted based on the assessment last year.

Based on the students’ opinion on school closure, the report revealed that almost 80 percent of the students reported that their interest in studies was affected as a result of school closure.

Students who participated in the survey said that they were excited to return to school.

Although data revealed that 91.95 percent of the parents observed their children interacting with teachers frequently, they did not find this effective. The majority of the parents shared that normal contact teaching is more effective.

More than 70 percent of parents shared that EIE was challenging.

“Parents also expressed that online teaching can never be able to replace contact teaching in terms of effectiveness,” the report stated.

The study also found that more than 50 percent of students did not avail the 60 percent special data package provided by the government because they were not aware of such services.

Those who availed pointed out limitations such as inconvenient timing and quick data exhaustion.

The report concluded that “60% discount data services” was of not much help for students. The report recommended the need to review data package provisions for teachers and students, including training on online learning for students.

It was reported that 119,772 students used social media App such as WeChat, Telegram, WhatsApp and Messenger to access lessons. A total of 88,118 students accessed lessons through television; 60,507 students accessed through Google Classroom.

Some of the key challenges faced by the teachers, students, and parents during the implementation of EIE programmes were lack of students’ co-operation, poor financial status, lack of devices, distractions such as online games and household chores, and online lessons not being suitable for pre-primary students.

“Announcements deliberated by the concerned authority stating that online lessons were only for mere engagement rather than formal learning also discouraged students from studying,” the report found. “Many illiterate parents were not able to help their children, and some parents opted to make their children repeat.”

While it was challenging for many, EIE reportedly opened opportunities for increased interactions between parents and their children, enhancing bond and trust between them, according to the respondents.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk

Lhuentse to sell its onions to schools

Wed, 07/28/2021 - 11:49

Tshering Namgyal | Lhuentse

As a measure to tackle challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic, Lhuentse dzongkhag has initiated an intensified programme to cultivate two Indian varieties of onions, Pune Red and Bombay Red.

The dzongkhag agriculture sector harvested about 64 MT of onion from major planting areas in four gewogs of Gangzur, Minjey, Tsaenkhar and Maenbi in the first harvest.

In another four gewogs of Kurtoe, Maedtsho, Jarey and Khoma, they grew onions for promotional and domestic consumption.

About five farmers’ groups from four gewogs were involved in commercial production of onion.

The largest among them was a 32-member farmers’ group in Thimyul under Gangzur gewog that grew onion in nine acres of land.

Others are a 15-member farmers’ group growing in three acres in Gangzur, five farmers’ group in Lekshogang in Minjey gewog in two acres, and Budhur and Domkhar has 12 farmers in six acres and 22 farmers’ group in four acres respectively.

The seeds were supported through Commercial Agriculture and Resilient Livelihoods Enhancement Programme (CARLEP) project and economic contingency plan (ECP).

While some farmers began to sell the produce in the local market, most farmers who went on large scale production are currently curing them.

The dzongkhag agriculture sector has supported the farmers with the curing sheds.

The chief agriculture officer, Karma Chewang, said the dzongkhag has supported 22 curing sheds for the farmers’ groups. “We provide three sheds in Lekshogang, four in Thimyul, three in Gangzur, and 12 in Budur. The farmers’ groups were also taught about curing and storing process.”

A farmer from Budur, Tsheten, 56, whose 300 kg of onion from a langdo land are being cured said the curing shed has been beneficial.

He said in the previous years, some yields got damaged due to improper way of storing.

Dzongkhag agriculture officials said with curing and good storage, onion could last up to five months. However, the market is uncertain with customers preferring imported onions. As of now, boarding schools in the dzongkhag with whom the farmers’ groups have signed contract are the main market.

Agriculture officials said consultation meetings were held with the major boarding schools in the dzongkhag like Autsho and Tangmachhu central schools, Lhuentse High School and Minjey Middle Secondary School besides a few boarding primary and lower secondary schools.

The dzongkhag also boasts of growing chillies and tomatoes under protected cultivation as mandatory farming with the government and CARLEP project support.

The dzongkhag agriculture sector has supplied 54 greenhouses under ECP and 27 greenhouses under CARLEP project to groups and individual farmers this financial year.

According to agriculture officials, the groups and individual farmers were supplied with 139 greenhouses excluding 58 low cost ones between 2019 and 2021 on 20 percent cost. 

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Online music festival begins today

Wed, 07/28/2021 - 11:47

Kinley Wangchuk | Intern

Like most events during the pandemic, a virtual music festival will be conducted from today until July 31.

In the annual event called ‘The Hidden Kingdom World Music Festival’ nine Bhutanese bands and 24 international bands from 18 countries would participate.

The festival is expected to promote Bhutan’s rich tradition of folk arts, music and dance and showcase its talents to viewers in Bhutan and outside.

Two Bhutanese singers, Sonam Dorji of Music of Bhutan Research Centre (MBRC) and artistic director of Hidden Kingdom, Ugyen panday, conduct the festival.

The chief executive officer of MRBC, Sonam Dorji, said the festival would curate and preserve our cultural heritage. “The festival would ensure our folk culture finds wider appreciation and audience listenership and viewership”

He said the event is important as many fascinating facts and characters of folk and traditional music of Bhutan still remain undiscovered.

Ugyen Pandey said that folk music and arts of Bhutan have immense potential. “Through this event, people of the world will get a chance to see what has so far been sadly underrated and overlooked.”

The event, according to the organisers, would act as a platform to create and extend professional opportunities for the Bhutanese folk and traditional artists.

The Department of Information and Media under the Ministry of Information and Communications provides financial support to conduct the festival.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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Rodpashong roadblock likely to open to traffic by today evening

Wed, 07/28/2021 - 11:46

Clearing all debris takes about a week

Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Road officials are working to reopen the Mongar-Lhuentse road to traffic after the road’s formation width was washed away in Dorjilung, commonly known as Ropashong.

Landslide at 8:30am yesterday morning washed away about 100m of the road.

Road officials said the regional office in Lingmethang is currently working on alternatives to restore the formation width but continuous sinking is hampering the progress.

The regional office has hired an excavator from the locality. The machine was deployed at the site last evening. National workforce workers from the nearby camps were also deployed to clear the roads manually in convenient areas and blast boulders.

The site engineer, Geyleg, said an excavator has been hired from a private owner in Jarey gewog to clear the road in the absence of a dedicated standby machine that used to be kept at the sinking area every summer.

He said although the road would open to traffic today evening, restoring the road might take about a week.

Although 100s of vehicles were stranded on either side of the block, passengers were trans-shifted.

Meanwhile, given a perennial issue of sliding and blockage every summer, the government planned to construct Mongar-Autsho road as a bypass. However, the much excited plan got stuck after the road reached upper Chali from Gorbaktang from Mongar side and Autsho to Gumbrang from Lhuentse side.

With the road between Gumbrang and Takhambi in Tsakaling gewog connected recently, the road has become shorter. An alternative route will be in place if only Takhambi and Tsakaling connects.

Zhabtog Lyonpo, Dorji Tshering, who is on his eastern tour, is expected to visit the site today.

Edited by Tashi Dema

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