Visit of the Project “Mini-Motor-Ploughs for Women Mountain Farmers”

Successful project completion

The project targeted female mountain farmers in the districts of Lhuentse and Trashigang in Bhutan, most of whom have to manage the work in the fields on their own. The aim of the project was to enable 35 economically disadvantaged female mountain farmers, who only practise subsistence farming, to increase their agricultural productivity and thus their income opportunities by mechanising the extremely costly and labour-intensive cultivation of their fields and terraces through access to microloans.

With the financial support of the City of Vienna and with the help of Tarayana Foundation/Tarayana Microfinance, all 35 women mountain farmers were equipped with mini-power-tillers. The joint effort has fundamentally changed the lives of the beneficiaries and enabled a significant step towards sustainable livelihoods and prosperity.

Monitoring visit by the Friends of Bhutan Association in March 2024

In March 2024, six representatives of the Association of Friends of Bhutan Austria visited both project areas in Trashigang and Lhuentse. Among them were three board members (Vice President Christine Jantscher, Secretary Eva Scharf-Hofner and Treasurer Gerhard Mortier).

On 12 March, the Friends of Bhutan Austria (FOBA) team met all six borrowers from this Gewog in the village of Yangchenma in the Gewog Bidung in Trashigang.

On 14 March, we visited eight loan recipients and some neighbours from the villages of Somshing and Lilabee in Gewog Gangzur in Lhuentse.  The group was accompanied by Mr Sonam Jamtsho, the field officer of the Tarayana Foundation and the programme manager of TMF, Ms Singay Zam.  The elected community representatives were also present at both meetings.

The group of loan recipients from Somshing/Lhuentse. Centre: Mr Sonam Jamtsho, front left: Mrs Singay Zam

We got the impression that Tarayana’s field officer looked after the women farmers very well. The support from Tarayana, but also from the dealer of the motorised ploughs, is very good. The machines are insured during the 18-month repayment period and maintenance is also guaranteed by the dealer, who visits the Gewog centres at regular intervals.

Great contentment with the mini-power-tillers
Talking with loan recipients in Lhuentse

The team had the opportunity to talk to the women farmers at both locations about their agricultural work and their experiences with the mini-power-tiller.  All the women farmers confirmed that the mechanisation made possible by the delivery of motorised ploughs had already led to an increase in their agricultural production, as they were able to work larger areas in a much shorter time. Especially on the terraces, transporting the small plough from one field to the next would be easy. All of them also expressed great satisfaction with the time saved, as they now only needed half a day for one acre (= 4,000 m2) of land, for which they previously had to calculate two days with hired and expensive labour (including the provision of food and drink).

However, some women farmers also said that they were usually very anxious before the day of the monthly repayment of the loan instalments as to whether their savings would be enough. It is therefore by no means easy for the women to make the money available in the 18 months of the repayment period. However, they reported that they were relieved every time they managed to save the money for another month.

Mrs Pema Dema with her husband

In Trashigang, we visited Mrs Pema Dema’s farm and were able to see for ourselves how the ploughs were being used on Mrs Thinley Dema’s terraced fields above, where the field was being prepared for chilli planting. The village of Yangchenma is remote and the families live in very simple and cramped conditions in small farmhouses scattered over the mountain. The support here actually benefits very vulnerable families. Due to the particularly hard soil, somewhat more powerful machines were used in Trashigang than in Lhuentse.

Mrs Karma Dema operates the plough

The soil conditions there are somewhat more favourable, which is why the women opted for the smaller plough variant. The first chilli harvest in Lhuentse had already been completed. Mrs Karma Dema showed us how she starts the plough’s engine on the harvested chilli field and ploughs the field where maize is now to be grown.

Some of the women farmers had already concluded purchase agreements with nearby monasteries or schools, thus securing the sale of part of their surplus and a regular income. The women also expressed their hope that the beginning mechanisation of agriculture would offer their children in particular, who would otherwise migrate to the cities in large numbers, better prospects of remaining in the villages.

Summarising the results of the project:

Greater efficiency and productivity

As expected, the motorised ploughs have made life much easier for the women in the village communities in many respects. Their work has become much more efficient and productive. In the past, women farmers often had to wait until labour was available for their fields. In doing so, they often missed favourable weather and cultivation conditions. Now the women farmers can plant and harvest on their own and, above all, carry out their work independently. Compared to working with heavy ox ploughs or by hand with shovels, spades and hoes, cultivation is not only much faster and more effective, but also more cost-efficient in the medium term. On average, the farmers had to pay up to 6 euros per day and labourer for soil cultivation during the growing season. The initial investment in motorised ploughs may seem high at first. However, over time they lead to considerable savings as less labour is required.  This also means that the loans can be repaid on time.

More time – more income

The amount of time the women spend on the various agricultural activities has been reduced. This has enabled them to save time and use their resources for other important activities, such as processing their harvest and marketing it to nearby schools or monasteries and even to the nearest town. This has already opened up new economic opportunities for the women farmers in the past year. In the future, it is expected that the sale of surplus agricultural produce will continue to generate higher incomes from agricultural activities and that the poverty of the beneficiary women farmers in the two districts can be sustainably reduced.

Reliable loan repayment

The successful implementation of the project also depends on the timely collection of monthly loan repayments. The increase in capital required for the purchase of further mini-power-tillers in the future depends on punctual repayment. The aim is to use the repayments from the microloans taken out by the women farmers to enable other poor women mountain farmers to purchase such agricultural equipment at subsidised cost.