Bhutan farmer, Sithar Dendup, received Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s World Food Day Model Farmer Award on October 16 for his water management and teaching contributions to Bhutan’s’s environment and agriculture sector, FAO said in a statement.
Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand, who presided over the annual event, presented FAO’s annual Asia-Pacific award to Dendup and three other Asian and Pacific farmers from Philippines, Thailand and Tonga for their outstanding achievements in agriculture and food production.
Dendup is an active caretaker of a water users group. He says he “takes a keen interest in water management, including watershed improvement, irrigation water distribution, canal maintenance and drinking water supply.” He is also the spokesperson for a farmers group and after work he teaches illiterate farmers in his village how to read and write for several hours after their farm chores are finished. No one ever said that farming is an easy life. But farming can be especially challenging when you live in one of the most remote corners of one of the most remote countries in Asia.
The village of Thangbuang Tsamang in the Mongar district of mountainous Bhutan is about as remote a farming community as exists in Asia. But it is home to Dendup, who says he would not choose to live anywhere else in the world. Dendup, who grows vegetables, loves his village and cares about its future. He was naturally alarmed when he learned that a school-feeding program in his area run by the World Food Programme would be phased out in 2018. Nutrition and food security for the children of ThanguangTsamang would surely deteriorate. Something needed to be done. Then FAO came to his village with the idea of establishing one of its Farm-to-School projects. As a farmer and a teacher, Sithar was all for the idea to sustain the school-feeding program by involving the community in producing enough food for the children.
That sounds easier than it was. Most of the village’s farmers, working on their own, toiled long and hard and were rewarded with low yields and poor quality vegetables. Most farmers produced just enough for themselves and their families. There was no surplus to sell at markets or for the schools. Dendup saw a better way. If they worked together, he reasoned, they could pool their labor and improve quantity and quality. With FAO’s help, they could exchange knowledge, ideas and learn from each other. With constant encouragement and coordination from Dendup, the villagers formed a Farmers Group and began working communally on 25-acres of soil, growing a wider variety of vegetables than ever before. They also cultivated rice and planted fruit trees for a better diet, nutrition and food security.
Water is scarce in Tsamang village, so Dendup led an effort to lay irrigation pipes to the communal farm. Yields and quality immediately began to improve. The farmers began selling some of the surplus at markets. But they made sure to also supply vegetables at far lower cost to the Tsamang Primary School and its 130 students. They did the same for local civil servants and others working for the community. The farmers of Bhutan are very independent. Dendup says the key to maintaining their cooperation is the children. They are the future. And it is a future looking increasingly bright and sustainable, thanks to the hard work and leadership of Dendup.
The award ceremony is part of FAO’s Asia-Pacific 2013 observance of World Food Day, marking the 68th anniversary of the founding of FAO in Quebec City, Canada on 16 October 1945.