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Updated: 1 hour 45 min ago

Picture story

Tue, 07/20/2021 - 11:22

His Holiness the Je Khenpo conferred Tashi Lekdhar to Lopon Tashi formally recognising and appointing him as Khenpo for Silu Paksamkha Goenzin Dratshang in Paro yesterday. Khenpo Tashi, who is from Wangduephodrang,  started his monastic schooling at the age of eight. He served as a teacher for Silu Paksamkha Goenzin Dratshang prior to his new position.

Don’t know, so don’t tell

Tue, 07/20/2021 - 11:21

A week ago, the Chief Scientist of WHO Dr Soumya Swaminathan’s statement on the mix and match of vaccines went viral on social media platforms even in Bhutan. 

It was twisted and turned on social media. This heightened the apprehensions of those who were unsure of the second dose.

WHO officials later clarified that her comment was referring to those who had already received, for example, a full course of a vaccine series and then they were trying to get additional doses of a vaccine.

The government’s renewed and aggressive vaccination advocacy drive would have been far more effective had it not been for this piece of misinformation. 

Our problem is that there are still far too many in the communities who are gullible and vulnerable to believing in such falsehoods. We are exposed to vast media contents but we know not how to consume them.

After leading a team of volunteers to receive Moderna as the second dose, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering spoke for more than two hours to place on record that the vaccine was the best choice among what is available. 

A lot of things became clearer on various vaccine-related issues for more than 2,000 people who watched him live on his official social media page as he answered 37 questions.

Despite the difficult conditions ushered in by the heavy monsoon weather, vaccines have reached to the remotest corners of the country. 

The vaccines were delivered closest to the settlements across the country at a huge cost – both monetary and physical hardships for the vaccinators. 

Herd immunity is the target.

Even if a single person declines to vaccinate because he or she has read some unsubstantiated claims on the internet or social media, it’ll be a massive loss for us individually, and collectively.

Conversely, it will be a gain, a huge one at that.

Notwithstanding the advantages of social media, unfortunately, they are also a major source of misinformation. Education is vitally important. Other ways, it is called media literacy. We need it now more than ever.

The effect of our gossip mongering habit is amplified by social media. It has a larger impact now because of the wider reach, impacting society and even national security, if we don’t achieve herd immunity.

With misinformation persistently making rounds, it has become critical to invest in media literacy and critical thinking skills to not just debunk but pre-bunk fake news.

Bhutanese have to learn to distinguish fact from fiction. For a start, what will help is if one does not know a thing for a fact, don’t share or pass the unfounded information on to another person.

If in doubt, consult not the experts on social media but health experts.




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Moderna is best for second dose: PM 

Tue, 07/20/2021 - 11:20

PM responds to various questions on heterologous vaccination and post-vaccination scenario   

Younten Tshedup  

In an attempt to convince people to get vaccinated, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering spoke for more than two hours yesterday evening, responding to over 37 questions from people on the second mass vaccination campaign.

As a medical professional, he said that the reason why he opted for the Moderna vaccine as his second dose after receiving AstraZeneca during the first was because of the efficacy of the mix-and-match regime.

Lyonchhen explained that of the many heterologous (mix-and-match) approaches to Covid-19 vaccination, the regime that was recommended in Bhutan was backed by scientific evidence and research.

He said that what the government and experts in the country were recommending was mixing the Moderna vaccine as the second dose to AstraZeneca (first dose). This regime, he said, has proven to be more efficacious especially against the emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus including the Delta variant, which is the dominant variant in the country today.

“This is the reason why I took Moderna as my second dose to my first dose of AstraZeneca,” Lyonchhen said. “I’d like to have the maximum protection by using a safe vaccine.”

He said that he didn’t mix the vaccine as a politician to show off or for any other reason. “I wouldn’t risk my life for that. As a professional and a medical practitioner, I cannot bring politics ahead of the efficacy of a vaccine.”

He added that mixing AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines was also a heterologous approach but that regime of mix-and-match was not studied and backed by evidence.

Lyonchhen added that now with the availability of different types of vaccines in the country, the government was giving people a choice. “However, if you are in doubt, take Moderna as the second dose to AstraZeneca as the efficacy is much higher.”

Many countries, where two doses of Sinopharm or AstraZeneca vaccines were administered, Lyonchhen said, were now looking for a third dose of a mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna).

 

Eligibility 

All adults, above 18 years, in the country are eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccines, Lyonchhen said. This includes pregnant or lactating mothers, people with comorbidities, those in high-risk areas or under lockdown, alcohol dependent or those in quarantine facilities.

Lyonchhen said that medically there were no counter-indications that Covid-19 vaccines were unsafe for pregnant or lactating mothers. “During our first dose, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers were not given the vaccine as they were not included in the test conducted to study the efficacy of the vaccine.”

Almost seven months after the Covid-19 vaccines were first used, the Prime Minister said that there were no reports of any complications induced by vaccines in pregnant and lactating mothers.

Lyonchhen also urged elderlies with comorbidities to come forward and get vaccinated.

“We recently lost an 83-year-old woman in Phuentsholing. Besides her multiple medical conditions, the woman was unvaccinated,” he said, adding that upon investigation it was learnt that the family of the deceased felt that the woman should not get vaccinated given her medical condition and her minimal interactions outside.

“If she was vaccinated, she would be with us today because vaccination reduces mortality by almost 90 percent,” he said.

Except for those currently infected with the virus, people with anaphylaxis or severe reaction to vaccine, and those with flu-like symptoms, the rest would be eligible to receive their Covid-19 vaccine, Lyonchhen said.

For the active patients and those with flu-like symptoms the vaccination date would be deferred. They, however, would receive their dose at a later date.

People currently in the quarantine would also be given the vaccines upon the completion of the quarantine period.

With many questioning if the second dose would be still effective after a long gap from the first dose, Lyonchhen explained that a delay in receiving the vaccines on the dot was not a worry in terms of developing antibodies for future protection. “The only risk here is that people would be exposed to infection during this window.”

 

Relaxations 

Besides doubts on the heterologous regime, one of the biggest concerns during the two-hour Live Facebook conversation last night was on post-vaccination relaxations.

Lyonchhen assured that a certain level of relaxation would be made in the existing protocols. However, he said that the relaxations would be contingent upon the vaccine coverage and herd immunity, which the government was targeting for from the mass campaign.

“If we can achieve the required herd immunity of 80 plus percent coverage, relaxations would definitely come,” he said. “By the end of the month, we have an opportunity to become one of the first counties in the world to achieve herd immunity against Covid-19.”

Edited by Tshering Palden




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Tashichholing residents are fighting against Covid-19 and elephants

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:42

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

With Tashicholing in Samtse under lockdown for the fourth time, residents said elephants are frequenting the area and causing menace.

Elephants, in parade, are running on the blacktopped roads, fields and in the courtyards, posing risk to humans, properties and crops.

On June 15, a 62-year-old farmer from Peljorling A was trampled by an elephant and dragged about five metres. It happened between 8.30am and 9am.

The man was rushed to the Sipsu basic health unit. He sustained a minor injury on his knee.

According to forest officials, the man encountered the elephant while collecting bamboo about 400 meters away from his house.

An official said the man didn’t see the elephants since the area is covered under thick bushes and it was raining heavily at that time.

“The elephant was returning to its safer ground below Sipsu bridge after grazing in the village at night.”

Elephants cause menace every year in Tashichholing. They attack crops, properties and even villagers.

In December 2019, an elephant killed a 69-year-old woman in Maneydara village.

In Belbotay, Jai Narayan Katwal and his family had a close encounter with an elephant on June 30 this year. It took the family and locals more than 30 minutes to chase the animal away.   

“The elephant had done the damage by then,” he said.

The stone wall of his two-storied house was wrecked. The elephant also had eaten about 480kg of rice grain (some strewn and wasted) from the grain store. It also consumed 50kgs each of salt and Karma Feeds. Windows and doors of the house were broken.

“Forest officials had come and recorded our loss,” Jai Narayan Katwal said, adding that the RICBL officials also had visited and asked him to return to their office after the lockdown.

Forest officials are trying to resolve the elephant issue in Tashichholing.

An official said they have a Quick Response Team (QRT) among the villagers. Field gears such as raincoat, torch lights, and boots have been provided. The team is activated whenever the elephants are there.

“We have given a shared responsibility to them,” he said. “But nothing can be done during the lockdowns. We just inform people to alert people.”

The primary concern among the foresters is the issue of mobility, the official said, explaining that Tashichholing is vast and the roads were not pliable in small cars.

“Foresters live in scattered areas,” he said.

An early warning system was installed a few years ago but it is defunct now.

Tashichholing range office has given awareness on safety to the people. “QRT is always on alert mode every day,” an official said. “A radio collaring project is also in pipeline but it is delayed due to the pandemic and the lockdowns.”

He said equipment is ready, but they need experts from Thimphu.

“The work will be carried out in this financial year.”

Other projects such as enrichment plantations to replace unnecessary jungle with useful plants, construction of watch tower and making physical barriers are among many key programmes in the plan.

Meanwhile, residents are waiting eagerly for action to resolve the elephant problem for good.

It has been a disheartening moment for Dil Raj Rai, a village folk in Jogimara as elephants damaged about 50 teak trees from his farm a week ago.

“The trees were three years old,” he said. “I heard some trees were damaged yesterday. I haven’t gone to see it yet. I don’t feel like going.”

It was not the first incident. Dil Raj claims he has lost over 150 teak trees to elephants in the last two years. Among the damaged trees, only few survive.

Edited by Tashi Dema




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Forester dies on duty

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:41

Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

A 45-year-old forester passed away after falling into Phochhu in Punakha while patrolling the river in a boat.

The incident occurred below Tsekha village under Toedwang Gewog on July 16, past 11:30am.

Kuensel learned that he was with four other foresters on the boat when the rapid current threw him off the boat. He was wearing a life jacket and a helmet.

Although, he knew how to swim, he was washed away more than 200 meters downstream.

Another 28-year-old forester who dived into the river to save the deceased was also washed away around three kilometres.

Locals, police and de-suups rescued him and he was admitted to Punakha hospital. He was later released. He is in stable condition.

Foresters patrol the river to control illegal fishing and other activities such as sand theft according to Wandgue’s Chief Forest Officer.

He added that this practice was introduced a couple of years ago but it was the first mishap.

The patrolling is done once every two to three months.

This time, there were two boats with five foresters in each patrolling the Pochhu and the Mochhu rivers.

The deceased is survived by his wife and three children.

Edited by Tshering Palden




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Gewogs surrender power tillers to FMCL for convenience 

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:40

Phub Dem | Paro

Hiring oxen was more convenient than using the gewog’s power tiller in most gewogs in Paro. Farmers had to wait for hours for it to arrive and at times it won’t even start.

Except for Dopshari gewog and some chiwogs, others have returned the gewog power tillers to Farm Machinery Corporation Limited (FMCL).

The power tiller promise was linked to increasing farm produce through farm mechanisation to achieve self-reliance in food production.

However, the distribution came with problems concerning maintenance and utilisation. While the machine was distributed to every gewog during the last government’s tenure to help farmers, many issues arose.

Farmers said that while the machine was helpful the way it was managed gave way to numerous problems including getting a trained operator.

Yeshi Tshomo from Tsento said that the operators didn’t care about the machine as it was the state property. “Some people even exchanged their old machine parts with the gewog’s tiller.”

With all these issues, Yeshi Tshomo and many from the gewog bought their own power tillers.

Namgay from Shaba shared similar issues adding that hiring from FMCL was convenient and famers do not have to waste time in maintenance and hiring operators. “Many residents have power tillers nowadays.”

Shaba Gup Chencho Gyeltshen said his gewog has five power tillers for each chiwog, and the gewog had a difficult time managing the machine. He said that the main concern was hiring an operator and taking care of the machine.

He said that locals used to hide their new power tillers, putting pressure on the state power tiller. “Maintenance was expensive and difficult. Most of the power tillers are driven off-road.”

Running out of options, he said the power tillers were handed over to FMCL as the ownership was already with them. “It is convenient to hire the machine from FMCL as they have professional operators, and they maintain them whenever required.”

The operators were paid Nu 9,000 for a month. Chencho Gyeltshen said that power tillers came to use only during the paddy season. “Power tillers are put to use roughly for five months, but we have to pay the operator during the rest of the year. It is not sustainable.”

Dzongkhag Agriculture Officer, Tandin said that there were no issues in handing over the power tiller to FMCL as the gewogs depend on it for maintenance and operators anyway. “It is convenient for the farmers as FMCL has hiring services.”

He said that the machine was handed over in consultation with gewog, adding that hiring from FMCL was an advantage as they didn’t have to hire an operator, pick and drop the machine and the rate was the same.

Besides monitoring issues, he said that the gewogs had to return because the ownership was with FMCL.

However, many chiwog tshogpas said that the farmers were unhappy with the decision, reasoning that the government snatched it away.

According to Bjikha-Phubana tshogpa Pemba Tshering, the farmers were shocked when they learnt that the gewog was handing over power tillers to FMCL as there was no issue in using it. “Everyone thought that it was for the farmers, but we had to hand it over.”

He said that it was difficult to understand the reasons behind pledges as one government distributes the machine while the other takes it over.

Chencho Zangmo said that farmers were disappointed as they can avail themselves of the service from the gewog rather than having to visit FMCL and hire the machine every time. “Farmers have to register and hire the machine, and it takes a lot of time.”

She said that private power tillers charge double the price, Nu 3,500 , adding that farmers still prefer to hire FMCL.

Lotey Gyeltshen, Nephung-Dochorten tshogpa, said that the gewog power tiller was useful, but it was taken away without notice. “It’ll be convenient if the machine is kept with the gewog.”

Edited by Tshering Palden




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Who is allowed to reside at ISC in Gelephu?

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:36

Nima | Gelephu

Almost four years into operation, all the plots of the Industrial Service Centre (ISC) in Trashiling, Gelephu has filled where enterprises set up their businesses to provide important services to the growing town of Sarpang.

ISC has 108 plots allotted to different investors and interested individuals to set up workshops, warehouses, car wash, and manufacturing units in over 100 acres of land within the thromde.

ISC has become an important part of Gelephu thromde, employing over 200 skilled and unskilled employees, according to the record with Gelephu Thromde.

However, residents following the development at ISC say that the service centre is becoming more residential and commercial with several apartments and commercial setups sprouting at the centre.

A resident from Gelephu, Sithar Dorji, said that the development and execution of plans at ISC lacked monitoring. “There are bigger buildings than godowns and workshops. Not sure how the thromde approved the drawings.”

He added that the purpose of the industrial service centre is defeated when the plot owners focused on building apartments and commercial operations at the ISC.

“If the trend continues, it would be difficult for other residential buildings in the town to sustain. These lapses should be attended to properly. A canteen would be reasonable but setting up restaurants and bars at the centre needs proper monitoring,” said Sithar Dorji.

ISC workshop association’s executive member, Chencho Wangchuk, said that the thromde had allowed the plot owners to build apartments for manager or the owner, rooms for workers, a tool room, and a canteen.

“There is no risk of the centre becoming residential because we don’t keep people from outside the centre. Only those staff working at ISC is allowed to stay at ISC. We couldn’t pay the workers much. It would be difficult for them to sustain if they are to stay in a rented apartment,” he said.

He added that the thromde did not allow constructing even a two-storied building in the ISC area considering the impact it would have on other residential buildings in the thromde.

“On the contrary, there are some plot owners who couldn’t get proper access to sewerage lines and other basic facilities. The road within the ISC is poor. We reported to thromde but we are asked to complete the construction,’ said Chencho Wangchuk.

Gelephu Thrompon, Tshering Norbu, said that there were bigger residential structures than the business set up currently. “We are keeping track of it. If we don’t allow plot owners to build residents, there would be more issues. We have to see earnings of the worker there.”

He added that the plot owners building residence for themselves and workers shouldn’t be a problem. “They would grow gradually and enhance business capacity in the later stage. Now they lack financial capacity.”

The thromde has allowed construction of an apartment for the owner or manager, rooms for staff and a canteen on the designated plots.

ISC representative, Kamal Pradhan, said that the plot owners were entitled to build a house for caretakers. “What has happened now is that the people stay in ISC, a good house for the caretaker is built. This is done for the future chances of expansion. This is just a remedial measure.”

There are over 95 plots allotted for eight different activities at ISC today; thromde has reserved 13 plots for its future use and plans.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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Let’s protect ourselves

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:35

The wait is over. Exactly 115 days or 16.4 weeks after the first dose, Bhutan is ready to vaccinate the entire eligible population with the second dose. The vaccines are dispatched, vaccination centres readied and the people informed about the time and places.

It has been quite a long wait. The plan was to start the second dose within 8 to 12 weeks after the first in March. However, situations that were out of our hands delayed the second dose. Fortunately, science convinced us that 16 weeks is not too late. Now that we have everything ready, the people should play their part.

We all should go out and get vaccinated, if not encourage others and help people get protected against the coronavirus, which is not seeing its end. Vaccination, as of now, is the only hope and the solution. Led by the Prime Minister, about 600 volunteers got their second dose, a mix of vaccines yesterday. The volunteers received the Moderna vaccine. All of them received AstraZeneca for the first dose. 

With some disturbed by recent news about the risk of mixing vaccines, the Prime Minister took the Moderna vaccine to encourage people and convince doubters that it is safe to mix vaccines. As of yesterday, except for minor irritants, no one complained of severe side effects. Many are using social media to share their experience and encourage people to come out and get the vaccine.

The Prime Minister who supports mix-and-match vaccines led by example as the nation rolls out the campaign tomorrow. We could surmise that every Bhutanese eligible would be waiting for the vaccine. Having witnessed how Covid-19, especially the Delta variant, caused havoc in the region as recently as last month, many should be convinced how vaccines could protect the people from the disease. If it didn’t prevent people from getting infected, it significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization or succumbing to it. This is proven scientifically. Countries that have rolled out the second dose are lifting all restrictions. On the other hand, many governments are struggling or getting blamed for failing to procure vaccines to protect its people.

We have vaccines, for that matter, choice of vaccines. And we have seen how vulnerable we are without the vaccine. We lost an octogenarian last week who had not received the first dose. We are seeing an increasing number of cases even with a  lot of restrictions put in place. The only hope is vaccination and if we can achieve herd immunity, we will be safer.

 As we wait to roll up our sleeves, there are some who are disturbed by recent news on the risk of mixing vaccines. To reiterate, mixing and matching vaccines against Covid-19 is not new. Many countries, including those with stricter health standards, have done it. As a rumour-mongering society, people could be disturbed when rumours spread. There is more evidence of how getting vaccinated or mixing vaccines can protect a population from Covid-19 than people dying because of the vaccines. The Prime Minister who is from the medical field chose to be the first to receive a different vaccine for his second dose. This should encourage the doubters. 

A rumour spreading lately is that if people choose not to get vaccinated, they would be made to pay for quarantine or medical treatment. This rumour, perhaps, is worth spreading as we prepare to roll out the much-awaited second dose and protect the population.




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Book Review: Review of Buddhist Jurisprudence and Pre-Constitutional Principles

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:34

The Book Buddhist Jurisprudence and Pre-Constitutional Principles recently published, authored by the retired and also first Chief Justice of Bhutan, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, and Jeffrey Avina provides deep insight into Buddhist teachings relating to law along with the western legal principles, inviting attention to the resemblances between two viewpoints, thereby venturing into a field not commonly explored before.

The Book is arranged in 15 chapters beginning with a definitional approach to the law from western legal thinkers such as Aristotle, and Roscoe Pound to Buddhist explanation of State, leadership and legal principles. The succeeding chapters analyses, and draws a comparison between the western and Buddhist legal jurisprudence through the lens of legal classification and philosophy; offences, judges and their qualification; jury system; administration of justice and judicial procedures; general principles of liability and affirmative defences; decision-making process and decisions; the foundation of sentencing and punishment; Buddhist criminal jurisprudence; grading and categories of criminal offences; laws and ethics related to the public welfare; affiliation between the modern constitutional ideas and Buddhism; and the correspondence between a caring government that leads to a just society.

The authors accurately compile the Buddhist teachings accentuating laws and its philosophies and compares with the corresponding equivalent of western legal theories and their underlying basis. Further, similarly, as Buddhist values were assimilated into shaping the legal system in the east, the influence of western religious beliefs in modelling its laws, is also evidently portrayed. The Buddhists teachings on the way of righteousness, Code of Laws (Vinaya), impartiality and equanimity, have been incorporated into most modern Constitutions albeit under different terms such as rule of law, right to life, separation of power and so forth. The philosophical rationale that lay behind the legal principles originated from the west including the procedural feature of conducting trials has almost a parallel justification under the Buddhist teachings. The evaluation of Buddha’s teachings on the preciousness of human life, justice, fairness, liberty, equality, peaceful coexistence etc. made by various scholars presented in the Book indicates the universality of these principles, as generally applicable to human beings, propounded 2500 years ago, and relevant even today.

An interesting facet of Buddhism displayed here is its germaneness to social life, emphasis on justice and betterment of human existence through certain rules, guidance, and standards as opposed to only ultimate enlightenment as perceived by most. Buddha’s teaching spanning over approximately 2500 years covers a wide array of subject matter each applicable to their respective intended subjects including to bodhisattvas, arhats, monks and nuns, and the laypeople generally. Although world literature is replete with exhaustive discussions on the origin of legal principles, and their mutating forms with changing circumstances excluding the fundamental principles, infrequently is there a book that draws an analogy between Buddha’s teachings on law and the western legal principles, with detailed elucidations on Buddha’s teachings on substantive as well as procedural laws.

This Book abounding with the mammon of symmetrical analyses of western legal philosophies and principles, and Buddhist legal jurisprudence will be valuable to the limited literature on the same.

Reviewed by Attorney General Lungten Dubgyur and Senior Attorney Namgay Wangmo




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Residents live in fear of flood from Kalikhola 

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:33

Choki Wangmo | Dagana

In the early 1990s, Motilal Gurung, 57, from Sibsooni in Lhamoidzingkha, lost four acres of his land to a flood. After waiting for about two decades, he got 2.9-acre land substitute in 2019.

For residents living along Kalikhola river, the monsoon has become a nightmare.

Motilal Gurung lives 50 metres away from the river and his agricultural fields are located along Kalikhola river. “There is increased risk. A gabion wall was built to protect us from flood, but during monsoon, it changes course and flows towards our village.”

Residents from Lal Bahadur Pradhan’s chiwog lost more than 50 acres of land to flood in 1992. They were not eligible for land substitute since it was not washed away. “One acre of my agricultural land is still under debris. I use it as a cowshed.”

Without land in a safer place, he lives about 400 metres away from the river.

In 2016, the local government (LG) constructed a 600-metre-high gabion wall. “Accumulation on the river bank has increased from the debris deposited but during monsoon, it gets submerged. Water then overflows to our village that is lower than the river bank.”

A resident, Chandra Shaker Koirala said that the flood risk was high in Koilatar and Belaytar chiwogs even.

“During monsoon, people cannot sleep in peace due to the fear of losing their cattle and land to floods and landslides that can be caused by swollen Kalikhola river. Many households are near the river and every monsoon, the farmers are terrified,” he said.

He claims that such risks had been there since he was nine years old. “Today, I am 31 and our village is still going through the same problems. Although the LG officials and the members of the parliament (MP) are aware of the problem, not much has been done to reduce risk on our livelihoods.”

“It is time for interventions by the authorities concerned,” he added.

There are 15 households in Belaytar and 13 in Koilatar.

About five households live near the river source in Dorona.

Residents said that although they approached the officials and relevant agencies, it fell on deaf ears.

“The solution is simple. We need strong gabion walls that are effective in flood protection,” said one resident.

“Gabion wire would be helpful. Communities are forthcoming in carrying out mitigation works but we need support. A gabion wire could prevent boulders and deposits from accumulating.” said Lal Bahadur Pradhan.

In monsoon, he said that the river rises as high as 200-metre mark.

An irrigation canal of four chiwogs above the settlement also posed risk to settlements. “If there was a flood or if the canals burst, we will be washed away,” said a resident.

Villagers claim that the MPs and the minister for works and human settlement visited the area. “They said that they wouldn’t be able to help.”

According to one resident, the LG officials told them to seek support from the central government.

Lhamoidzingkha Gup Surja Bahadur Limbu said that the flood risk was increasing by the year.

Knowing the challenges and risks to people, he said that the LG approached the relevant stakeholders and even informed the ministry of works and human settlement about the risks. “The issue was discussed in Dzongkhag Tshogdu many times.”

“We carried out dredging and excavation works to change the course of the river but the risks are still rampant during monsoon,” Surja Bahadur Limbu said.

Recently, two households in the high-risk area were asked to relocate.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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Agriculture project to supplement food security initiatives

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:29

Chhimi Dema

Agriculture ministry with support from UNDP has begun agriculture project to promote green jobs and winter vegetables production to supplement the government’s food security initiatives.

The project that began earlier this year has 381 beneficiaries including youth and laid-off employees from sectors affected by the pandemic.

Under the project, the pre-production works like land management, setting up greenhouses, and electric fencing have been completed; farms were ready for cultivation. Farms in Trongsa and Dagana are already under cultivation while those in Tsirang would commence its cultivation this winter.

According to a joint press release from the agriculture ministry and UNDP, the project supports Bhutan’s recovering efforts in line with UNDP’s Covid-19 2.0 programme priorities.

The 31-year-old Karma Jamtsho said that he worked in the tourism sector and seized the opportunity hoping to make some income. “I had barely any idea about farming before. The work is tiring but farming will ensure that I can sustain myself later.”

The beneficiaries were trained on the installation of greenhouse, nursery preparation, potting, transplantation, training of tomato under protective structure.

The project has prepared and brought 174 acres of land under cultivation.

In Trongsa, the project installed 70 greenhouses and 30 more were to be installed this month. Moreover, two mini tillers and power trillers were procured to assist land development and cultivation.

In Tsirang, 126 greenhouses have been distributed to the farmers.

The project also developed water storage ponds and distributed innovative solar e-fencing or chain links.

The project has three complementary outputs which focus on sustainable and smart vegetable farming, improving post-harvest market access, and reskilling and upskilling of youth for jobs in the agriculture sector.

In the first output area the project has procured, distributed, and installed micro-irrigation systems, provided solar-powered fence and chain links, supplied climate-resilient seeds, mulching materials for soil moisture retention and weed control, and nursery materials like plug trays and poly pots.

The second output of the project looks at establishing enterprise and agribusiness pack house units for storage and packaging, promoting packaging bags and product branding, and establishment of onion curing sheds.

The third output area looks at access to climate-resilient production technologies, the establishment of agribusiness and entrepreneurship, encouraging women and youth involvement.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk




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No adverse reactions after mix and match vaccination: MoH 

Mon, 07/19/2021 - 11:27

All 613, who switched to Moderna vaccine for the second dose, are fine says Sowai Lyonpo 

Younten Tshedup  

Three days ahead of the nationwide rollout of the second dose of Covid-19 vaccine, 613 people received their booster dose in a heterologous (mix-and-match) approach on July 17.

According to the health ministry, the event was conducted as a part of public sensitisation. Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, Speaker and some members of the National Assembly, senior government officials, and individuals between 88 to 18 years received Moderna vaccine for their second dose.

Health officials said that no major side effects were recorded as of yesterday. Two ‘minor’ AEFI (adverse events following immunization or side effects), dizziness and itching around the injection site, were reported on the first day of the ‘test dose’.

However, given a large number of people receiving the vaccine ‘voluntarily’, many took to social media to question the rationale of conducting such an event with so many volunteers.

“We would have also volunteered had we known they would entertain so many people,” wrote one.

“The government has already said there is an option for us to choose the vaccine. Why are they so focused on convincing people to get the Moderna vaccine now?” expressed another.

Health officials said that the test dose was conducted taking in a representative population sample of diverse age groups including those with existing medical conditions to study any possible side effects.

Following the vaccination, Lyonchhen said that it was an opportunity for him to protect himself and the community. “We know how the Delta variant has now engulfed the whole world. There are temporary solutions through non-pharmacological interventions but the only solution, in the long run, is through vaccination.”

As a medical practitioner, Lyonchhen said that of the many vaccines that have been introduced in Bhutan over the years, Covid-19 vaccines were one of the safest and most thoroughly studied vaccines.

 

The rollout plan

Technically, the nationwide rollout of the second dose will begin tomorrow (July 20). Sowai Lyonpo (health minister) Dechen Wangmo said that the modality would be similar to the first nationwide campaign which is for a duration of one week — July 20 to 26.

All those residing in Bhutan, 18 years old and above, who completed a minimum of eight weeks from the first dose will be eligible for the second dose in either homologous or heterologous regimes.

Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that although there is an option to select between the types of vaccines, people should opt for Moderna given its high efficacy.  

It was learnt that vaccination in urban areas would be based on the zoning system where de-suups would facilitate the mobilisation of people to the identified vaccination centres.

In Rural areas, local leaders and the dzongkhag task force would mobilise people and identify the vaccination centres. Local authorities would identify sites to be used as vaccination centres with adequate facilities to ensure 30 minutes of observation following the vaccination.

Vaccination in the high-risk areas and in places that are under lockdown would be implemented as per the protocol for the high-risk areas or lockdown situation (surveillance testing strategy). Lyonpo said that a mass-screening test would be conducted in the high-risk areas before rolling out the vaccination campaign in these areas. 

Home-based vaccination services would also be provided to those who cannot walk or are bedridden after the seven-day nationwide campaign.

Meanwhile, if a positive case is detected in a vaccinated individual or any individual in the locality during the vaccination campaign, vaccination at the locality will be immediately suspended. A 72-hour blackout period will be enforced for that locality whether zone, mega zone, in the town or village.

Following the risk assessment and vaccination would resume only once the situation improves in the locality.

Lyonpo urged people to follow all existing Covid-19 protocols while coming to get the vaccines. “We encourage people to get the vaccines from their respective zones or mega zones.” 

Edited by Tshering Palden

 




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Focus point

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:25

picture story

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:24

The huge landslide at Chuserbu on Wangdue-Trongsa highway, which closed the highway to traffic on July 15, was cleared yesterday evening. 

Double loss for Samdrupcholing community 

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:23

Community paid Nu 20M in advance to procure machines and want their money back

Tashi Dema 

In the beginning of 2020, promoters of a community group called Pema Dejung Kuenphen Private Limited (PDKPL) in Samdrupcholing approached a 73-year-old man to buy shares.

As a resident of Samdrupcholing, the elderly man grew up seeing many people become rich from the coals mined in his locality and thought he could finally have some stake in the natural resources at his backyard make some income.

The man and his family members started looking for money. They took loans and invested Nu 97,000 to buy shares. “I was hoping we could make good money out of it.”

He said he encouraged many people to become members and invest in the community group after he was convinced by the prospects, a new opportunity in his twilight years.

Like the village elder, 4,184 people from 1,715 households of 73 villages from Martshala, Pemathang, Phuentshothang and Samrang gewogs of the drungkhag became members of PDKPL and invested more than Nu 35 million (M) to make some profit from the State Mining Corporation Limited (SMCL) that is miningcoal in Habrang and Tshophangma.

A 34-year-old man resigned from his teaching profession to become a member of the group. “I thought PDKPL would do well and benefit the community.”

He said he was happy when SMCL took over coal mining in the locality in 2014 and thought the benefit could trickle down to the residents. “I was excited when the idea of the community group was shared. I decided to become a member.”

The group members, led by gups of four gewogs, formed a steering committee on December 2, 2019.

The 13- member steering committee drafted a community group charter, bylaws and decided to procure 27 machines and 22 10-wheelerstrucks. They called for quotations from dealers in December last year.

Nine dealers participated and the members awarded the work to a Thimphu based company called TCD Private Limited based on its assurance to help and support the community group in banking related works and processing letter of credit (LC).

Members also said they chose TCD because he was the lowest bidder with a difference of 5 to 6M and promised to establish a workshop with a complete set of tools and accessories for machine service and maintenance.

TCD also assured a buy-back policy facility for all machines of three to five years of registration date for five years.

According to the memorandum of understanding drawn between TCD and PDKPL, TCD would appoint PDKPL as sub-dealer of genuine parts for Samdrupjongkhar.

It stated machines should reach Samdrupcholing within 30 days of the Letter of Credit (LC) or full payment is made.

PDKPL paid Nu 20M as advance to TCD by February this year and issued a purchase order for 24 machines by February 8.

The group appointed a lawyer on the suggestion of TCD  as their representative to apply for LC and follow up other banking procedures and process, as they could not come to Thimphu because of the pandemic as Samdrupcholing was a red zone.

Members said they provided documents and correspondences TCD wanted,but since the machines never arrived, they lost the opportunity to hire machines to SMCL and be a part of the mining activity.

The group approached the Prime Minister and even Druk Holding and Investment (DHI) for time extension when they could not deploy the machines on time. A time extension of 45 days.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, during the recent meet the press session said the government would not be able to help the community, as the community could not fulfil the agreed conditions.

He said the government is exploring how to help the community members who invested in procuring the machines.

Meanwhile, members of PDKPL cancelled their deal with TCD in March this year and wanted TCD to return their 20M, as it is community money.

When members in Thimphu could not make any breakthrough with TCD to return the money, they suggested the committee members come to Thimphu.

Of the 13 steering committee members, seven reached Thimphu on April 12. They visited offices and TCD eight times asking for their advance payment.

 

Machines in Kolkata

TCD’s proprietor, Tashi Choki Dorji, said the machines are lying in Kolkata and he could not deliver, as the community group could not provide him LC and also make full payment. “They even could not obtain a work order from SMCL to process theLC.”

He said discussions to return the advance payment are on hold, as the community members went to the media and PMO and defamed him. “I issued a notice that until that is resolved, we will not discuss the repayment.”

Tashi Choki Dorji alleged the committee members ofplaying with the sentiments of people. “They did not do a proper job. If they made the payments, the machines could have arrived. I don’t have to produce LC, as I am just a dealer. TCD has nothing to do with the banks.”

As the steering committee members run from office to office in Thimphu, community members are worried in Samdrupcholing.

“The matter is of huge issue here,” the 73-year-old man said. “We are poor people. We want our money back.”

For the committee members, villagers are pressurising them. They either want to see the work progress or their money back.

A Samdrupcholing resident said the government and concerned agencies should relook into the matter and consider given the impact  of Covid-19 pandemic. “The steering committee members meant well for the community. We hope SMCL will ensure the community gets the jobor we get our money back.”  

No trash collection in quarantine hotels in Punakha

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:23

Phurpa Lhamo | Punakha

People in quarantine facilities in Punakha have raised health concerns over the dzongkhag task force’s decision to not allow garbage out of their rooms before they complete the quarantine period.

A Phuentsholing resident, who moved out to relocate her two school-going children has been in quarantine in Punakha since July 1.

She said that the initial quarantine period was seven but was later extended to 14.

“Now we are asked to stay for 21 days as informed by the PM. It is really difficult with all the trash inside the rooms.”

The quarantine period extension came after two individuals who travelled from Phuentsholing tested positive in Wangdue. Those in Punakha were also in the same group.

With increasing number of days in quarantine, individuals complained that keeping trash bins inside the room for longer duration was a problem.

In Punakha, three hotels have been identified as quarantine facilities. There are 105 individuals in quarantine in Punakha.

According to a source, when some people in quarantine facility tried to leave trash bins outside their rooms, they were advised to keep it inside. “Those who complained of trash bins were informed that the bins wouldn’t be collected until the end of the quarantine period.”

According to a dzongkhag taskforce member, the individuals were provided with plastic bags to store their garbage.

He said the decision was according to quarantine protocol, which denied outflow of any kind of materials. “If we allow people to move in and out, then there is no use of quarantine.”

However, individuals complained that the smell was becoming unhygienic for those living inside the room.

There are parents with children younger than one-year-old whose garbage also includes diapers.

According to a woman in quarantine in Punakha, although the plastic bags were provided, she said that the bags had to be opened after every meal to dispose waste.

“We have tried to reduce garbage. If we have leftovers, then we don’t bring any food,” said a man who is inside one of the quarantine facilities in Punakha.

“As per the standard operating procedure (SOP), they are supposed to take trash at certain intervals.”

The fourth edition of guidance and SOP on quarantine for Covid-19 states that commercial waste bag or biohazard bags shall be collected and sealed when the bag is three fourth full and shall be placed outside the room to be collected by the cleaner, which will then be placed at designated area.

It also states that for the designated facilities hotels used for holding travellers from affected countries and no case confirmed in the facility, the general waste disposal process shall be followed. “However, the facilities or hotels quarantining the primary contacts, sprinkle or pour two percent glutaraldehyde or 0.5 percent bleaching solution on waste bag and keep it for 20 minutes, tighten it and then dispose.”

The dzongkhag taskforce member said that the taskforce considered emergency situations and had also advised flushing small disposable waste in the toilet.

He shared that regular outflow of things from quarantine facilities meant high risks of breaching protocol.

Meanwhile, the individuals were allowed to leave their trash outside their doors yesterday after staying in the quarantine for 14 days.

Edited by Tashi Dema

Potato auction stalls in Samdrupjongkhar

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:22

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

The Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) office in Samdrupjongkhar could not auction the potatoes yesterday as the bidders could not meet the FCB’s base price.

The FCBL’s base price was Nu 25.5 a kilogram (kg) of big potatoes, while the bidders quoted up to Nu 24 a kg. About 24 metric tonnes (MT) of potatoes reached the auction yard from Drametse in Mongar yesterday.

However, farmers of the eastern dzongkhags will not have to take their potatoes to the auction yard in Samdrupjongkhar. FCBL has deployed two teams to collect the produce from the villages on July 14.

The FCBL paid Nu 24 for big, Nu 14 for medium and Nu 10 for small potatoes, while the FCBL also bore the transportation charges. Last year the price ranged between Nu 18 and Nu 26 for big, Nu 14 and Nu 24 for medium, and Nu 12 and Nu 16 for small potatoes. 

Since bidders cannot come to the auction yard to quote their prices and conduct the online auction, the auction yard officials take photos of the products and upload them online in the WhatsApp group. Bidders then quote their price. 

A complex manager, Sawdev Koirala, said, “Although we deployed teams into villages, we allow farmers to bring products to the auction yard.” 

He said the potato business would be a loss this year because of abundance and low prices in India. “We’re doing the best to help farmers.” 

“We face payment and banking problems because most of the Indian bidders don’t have bank accounts. It would help if the concerned authorities could allow us the cash handling at the border gate. We also have a cash box at the gate,” the manager said. 

He said a vehicle could be allowed to enter the gate multiple times to ease the transportation problems to India.

Edited by Tshering Palden

Prime Minister to get Moderna for second dose today

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:21

Mix-and-match vaccination is safe say the PM and experts

Younten Tshedup  

To boost public confidence Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering will receive the Moderna vaccine as his booster dose at 9am today.

This would be three days ahead of the scheduled second mass vaccination campaign which starts from July 20. Lyonchhen will receive the Moderna vaccine along with a group of volunteers at the RBP flu clinic in Thimphu. He was the second person to receive the Covishield vaccine (AstraZeneca) on March 27, earlier this year.

In a news release posted on social media, the Prime Minister was quoted saying, “In addition to my professional understanding and scientific data, this will help me share my personal experience with you all.”

Lyonchhen announced the government’s plan, in his office’s Facebook page, to go ahead with the Moderna vaccine as the second dose for those who received AstraZeneca as the first dose. However, he said that AstraZeneca doses will also be made available as the second dose for those who insist on it for personal reasons.

Lyonchhen, in the Facebook post yesterday, said that all the Covid-19 vaccines that have received emergency use approval (EUA) were safe. Bhutan currently has four different types of vaccines at its disposal — AstraZeneca, Moderna, Pfizer, and Sinopharm — which are all WHO EUA approved.

However, he said that on the protection from the vaccines there was growing literature indicating better immune response in people who received mRNA (Moderna or Pfizer) as their second dose to AstraZeneca as their first dose.

He explained that while the heterologous regimen (mixing of vaccines) produced better immune response, it did not mean the homologous mode (same vaccine for two doses) of vaccination were ineffective. “It is also valid to have same vaccine for the second dose.”

Given the sufficient doses the country had, Lyonchhen said first-timers can receive either AstraZeneca, Sinopharm or Moderna vaccines and for this group of people, the second dose could be Moderna and Sinopharm vaccines in four weeks later or AstraZeneca between 12 to 16 weeks in homologous mode.

Heterologous options would also be provided based on availability, he added.

The country has secured approximately 965,850 doses of various types of Covid-19 vaccines including 60,000 plus extra doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the first round.

The Prime Minister also said that the limited number of Pfizer vaccines (5,850 doses) would be used to cover children between 12 and 17 years in high-risk areas of Phuentsholing and Samtse. The vaccines would also be used for those travelling outside for treatment and studies.

“While studies are underway, we are also waiting for evidence to emerge in the coming days for use of Moderna in children below 17 years, for which works are already underway to ensure timely vaccination,” he added.

 

Mix-and-match is safe   

There is growing evidence that mixing of Covid-19 vaccines was not only effective in triggering a robust immune response against the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus but it was also found that the side effects were almost the same as in the homologous approach, if not less.

Of the many, three studies conducted in the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany found that mixing of AstraZeneca vaccines with a mRNA vaccine produced significant increase in the immune response in people.

People aged 18 to 69 participated in the clinical trials for the studies. It was also found that there were only mild to moderate side effects including headache, fever, joint pain, and pain at the site of injection. No major AEFI (adverse event following immunisation) were reported in any of the studies.

Technically, mixing of different vaccines has been happening for a long time now. The same heterologous approach is used in vaccines for malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, and some cancer therapy.

Some experts said that all the EUA approved vaccines for Covid-19 were made keeping in mind the initial strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus detected in Wuhan, China. “No doubt the vaccines are still effective today. However, the efficacy of these vaccines reduces when it has to fight new mutants like the Alpha, Beta, or the Delta variants,” said an expert. “This is why the mix-and-match regimen is picking up in many developed countries where multiple variants of the virus have been reported.”

Lyonchhen said that people must consider getting vaccinated first rather than exploring the choice of vaccines. He said that the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 virus was more contagious which was why a high vaccine coverage was required to achieve herd immunity.

“We need to vaccinate an arbitrary minimum of 80 percent of the total population, in the shortest possible time. This will give us the much-desired opportunity to reduce Covid-19 from the public health hazard status to an individual health problem,” he said.

Lyonchhen said that vaccination, and subsequently herd immunity, was the only way to enter the ‘new normal’ era sooner. “However, as we consider post-vaccination protocols, the same restrictions will continue to be imposed on those who are not vaccinated, given the risk they pose to themselves or others.”

Mass share auction raises over Nu 2 Billion 

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:20

…. RSEBL says shares will be allocated equally

Tshering Palden 

Close to 26,000 bidders oversubscribed the Bhutan National Bank Ltd (BNBL) and Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (RICBL) shares by 204 percent and more than 162 percent during the monthlong auction raising more than Nu 2 billion (B) altogether.

More than 14,400 bidders placed their orders for 71.91 million (M) shares of BNBL and more than 11,300 bidders sought 25.47M  RICBL shares.

The RSEBL announced the sale of 35,240,867 shares of BNBL at a floor price of Nu 33, and 15,640,000 shares of RICBL at a floor price of Nu 70 on June 15. The discovered price of the shares remained at Nu 33 for BNBL and Nu 70 for RICBL. The highest bid for the shares went as high as Nu 200 per share.

The shares would be distributed equally, according to RSEBL Chief Executive Officer Dorji Phuntsho. Which means all bidders would be allocated shares. 

“For those who bid higher, the remaining amount after deducting the discovered price would be refunded,” Dorji Phuntsho said. 

To ensure that the opportunity to buy the shares was provided to every eligible Bhutanese, besides the brokerage firms, RSEBL sought help from the member financial institutions, community centres operated by National CSI Development Bank, and Bhutan Post offices in all the dzongkhags, the CEO said.

More than 4,000 bidders bought the shares through the community centres and 10,000 bidders applied through the RSEBL’s locally designed online system. Brokerage firms facilitated 25,800 bidders to buy the shares.

The share allocation process will complete on July 26.

The shares were held in the name of Sungchob Fund and Kidu Fund. The proceeds from the sale of shares will replenish the reserve for National Resilience Fund (NRF) for continuing income and interest payment support under the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu (DGRK).

Considering the ongoing difficulties Bhutanese face due to the pandemic, His Majesty The King commanded the continuation of the DGRK for 15 more months in April this year. Within 48 hours after the announcement, almost 5,000 people applied for DGRK.

His Majesty’s Kidu Fund has been used to grant Kidu to thousands of Bhutanese to alleviate hardships and provide the ultimate social safety net. The Sungchob Fund was established as a security fund for the country during times of need.

The NRF was set up in April 2020 to provide economic relief to people during the pandemic.

This is the first time the stock exchange handled such a large scale offer of sale. Dorji Phuntsho said, “The auction was a success.”

Policies, not climate change is killing agriculture

Sat, 07/17/2021 - 14:18

When farmers from other parts of the country, especially from the east, come to the Punakha-Wangdue valley on study tours, they leave with a tinge of envy seeing the vast flat and fertile agriculture land. Many feel they could become rich farmers overnight given the potential of the vast flatlands with the great Punatsangchhu flowing by it, almost kissing the fields.

The reality is that farmers of the valley are short of water to irrigate their fields. They somehow manage for drinking. Sanitation is not a big concern as long as they have enough to cook their meals and wash their clothes. What they need is enough to irrigate their fields, the source of livelihood. 

That farmers in Punakha are facing water shortage problem is a big policy problem. For decades we have been insisting on food self-sufficiency. Food can be only grown in places where nature favours. Topography and water is one. In the Punakha-Wangdue valley, everything can be grown. We have seen how agriculture has transformed lives and livelihoods. 

The Changyul village in Punakha is not only known for the legendary Changyul Bum Galem, but also agriculture prospects. The first green chilies to hit the market from west Bhutan comes from Changyul. The flatlands, even if farmers are not the owners, has potential as vast as the fields. Without water, agriculture cannot thrive.

The pressure from urbanisation and the prospects of an easier life is threatening many to leave farming and come to the already crowded urban centres. The logic is simple. When farming becomes difficult, many look for alternatives. The false promise for better lives in towns and cities is leading to fallow land – no matter how flat or fertile they are. Shortage of water is the final nail on the coffin.

The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn all the attention. It has also revealed how growing our own food is important. Agriculture, still the mainstay for many and the largest employer cannot be neglected.

 It is not only in Guma gewog of Punakha. Water shortage for irrigation is becoming a problem in many places. From Paro to Trashigang, Sibsoo to Bangtar, farmers complain about water. They have no idea  how water sources that fed them for generations are drying up. They have no idea about new technologies in agriculture.

Our policy makers and researchers have the answers. While farmers continue guarding their small share of water day and night, technology in agriculture has advanced. The way we farm should change and farmers should be taught that. The Mochhu river is an eyesore for farmers of Changyul. They cannot tap it to irrigate their fields because they have no means.

Water pumps, an old technology is still new to our farmers. They cannot afford it. Small government initiatives are quickly forgotten after the ministers drive off after the inauguration, in flashy Toyota Prados. One such vehicle could fund water pumps or wells or new watershed management in a dzongkhag. 

If we want our farmers to work in the farms, if we want to achieve the dream of food self-sufficiency or stop rural to urban migration, a growing problem, we have to rethink or prioritise agriculture. Investing in agriculture is one solution.

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