A youth-led group engaged in climate-smart green forage production and sustainable dairy farming in Zhemgang, one of Bhutan’s remotest districts, improve livelihoods and tackle human-wildlife conflict and biodiversity loss.
Life was anything but easy or attractive in Shingkhar Gewog, Zhemgang. Large swathes of farmlands remained fallow as the remote community grappled with lack of irrigation facilities. Livestock depredation by wild animals was a serious concern. Many livestock owned by the villagers are unproductive local breeds, so they contribute nothing or very little to household income. It was no surprise that people in the community started leaving their villages in search of better lives. Shingkhar has 60 empty households, the highest among the eight gewogs in the district.
But things have been changing for better in recent years. From a forlorn community a few years ago, Shingkhar is now teeming with life. At the heart of this transformation is a youth group.
In 2018, the group comprising 23 young people- 19 women and 4 men- ventured into climate-smart green forage production and sustainable dairy farming, an initiative of the Regional Livestock Development Corporation supported by GEF-LDCF funded project, Enhancing Sustainability and Climate Resilience of Forest and Agricultural Landscape and Community Livelihoods.
The group was provided with fodder seeds, such as Paspalum, Ruzi, Stylo, Lucerne, Leucaena diversifolia and Gliricidia slips, and fencing and cattle shed construction materials. All members were also provided with a heifer each and received trainings in fodder development, production, and conservation technologies. They were exposed to the Total Mixed Ration (TMR), a feeding method that ensures a nutrient rich diet for the cattle.
Together, these young people have so far brought 35 acres of fallow land under green forage production, harvesting more than 315,000 kilograms of fodder every year.
25-year-old Ms. Kesang Dema leads the group. “Human-wildlife conflict was our main challenge. The wild boars and bears ate all our crops and killed our livestock,” she said.
“The problem has eased a lot after we started growing fodder. We don’t have to let our cattle into forests for grazing any more. This also meant less pressure on the forests. And the fencing supported by the project has helped keep the wild animals away from our fields.”
Currently, the group produces 80-90 litres of milk every day and dairy products made from it are sold to schools in the community. “We earn around Nu. 12,000 every month from the sale of dairy products, such as cheese, butter and yoghurt, in addition to the monthly income of around Nu. 3000 per member from the sale of milk to the Milk Processing Unit,” said Kesang.
Seemingly insignificant but the climate-smart green forage production and sustainable dairy farming initiative has helped address numerous pressing social, economic, and environmental challenges facing the remote community. And the youth group driving this success have bigger hopes and dreams. “We want to upscale our forage as well as livestock production,” said Kesang.
Such a move will not only lead to improved livelihoods for the locals but also encourage the young people stay in their villages, curbing rural-urban migration. Meanwhile, the group’s success story is already inspiring others to follow suit. A similar initiative is being replicated in Langthel gewog in Trongsa.