Rice bank for indebted Punakha sharecroppers

Article in kuensel by Dawa Gyelmo

Rice bank for indebted Punakha sharecroppers

Farmer Tshering, 50, of Zarbisa village in Kabisa, Punakha, need not worry about buying rice until the next paddy harvest season.
The father of three is among 13 beneficiaries, who received seven bags of 25kg white rice each from the Voluntary Artists’ Studio Thimphu (VAST), yesterday.

Initiated by the VAST as the first step towards their fourth rice bank project, volunteers were there to distribute rice crucially required to relieve shortages that occur at this time of the year before the harvest.As Tshering’s family owns only 70 decimals of land, they are sharecroppers, who pay the landowner about 136kg of rice for every langdo (area ploughed by an oxen in a day) of paddy field they cultivate on. “It’s a blessing, we don’t have to worry about buying rice until harvest time” Tshering said, expressing his gratitude to the sponsors and volunteers.

Pem, 32, mother of four from Kabisa, said the aid has relieved her from borrowing rice for this season. She owns only five langdos of land, which, Pem said, was barely enough to make ends meet. Without an alternate source of income, and having to work on fields that belong to others, for which they have to pay back in rice, was a difficulty. Pem said she borrowed 400 dres (one dre is roughly about 1.7 kg) of rice from a landlord last year, due to shortage of rice and is yet to repay the debt. “The interest keeps increasing when we fail to repay on time,” she said.Most of the farmers are in debt to more affluent landlords and some debts are inherited. Om, another farmer, said the practice of borrowing grains in the past because of lack of shops had left many farmers indebted. “The debt is passed on for generations and the interest kept growing,” she said. “We’re happy to learn that the rice bank would last for five years,” she said.In one village, there was a woman who had inherited rice debts of her grandparents. Including her own debt, the woman owes about two to three truckloads of rice to other farmers.

VAST coordinator Kama Wangdi said rice was distributed to families identified with the help of local leaders. Kama Wangdi added that the pre-relief distribution is expected to avoid rice-borrowing practices of marginalised farmers until the next harvest. When farmers borrow rice they are also obliged to help in the fields of those who lent the rice. This leaves the borrower with less time to focus on their own fields and can create a situation where they will be more likely to need to borrow rice again in the future. Kama Wangdi said the distribution of rice this time was expected to help farmers avoid needing to borrow rice and spend more time growing rice for themselves.

“With the money we received from sponsors and based on information from local leaders, we conducted a baseline survey on food-aid and debt-relief last May, according to which the beneficiaries were selected,” Kama Wangdi said. This year, the volunteers focused on three villages Rangrikha, Rangrichuku and Zarbisa under Zarbisa chiwog. It is expected that farmers could eat the rice provided during certain period till harvest without having to work for others and work in their own fields. In doing so, they will be able to repay the existing debt without having to borrow more.

Kama Wangdi said the idea is also to help young volunteers see firsthand the real situation in rural Bhutan, thereby encouraging youth to develop for themselves a sense of responsibility for and connection to the well-being of others. He said the rice bank project is to help reduce the vicious cycle of debt, since borrowing from other villages is done at a high rate of interest. The rice bank project was first realised when 46 volunteers were on an art camp in a village in Punakha a few years ago. The volunteers learnt of the practice of borrowing rice back then. “We couldn’t imagine such a situation in a place like Punakha that has the highest rice cultivation,” Kama Wangdi said. A survey was carried out, during which they found that the only solution to the issue was to provide rice during summer. The volunteers then sought sponsors. The issue, however, was the durability of the project. The volunteers then worked with communities to form groups, comprised of locals, appointed chairpersons and members. A memorandum of understanding was also drawn that states that farmers can borrow rice from the rice bank but have to repay two dres for every 20 dres of rice they borrow. This would help ensure a continuous stock of community rice and solve the problem of borrowers needing to work the land of lenders.

VAST has created three rice banks in various villages in Punakha in former years. Kama Wangdi said the fourth rice bank would start in the Kabisa community, where 13 farmers would be members; VAST, through the help of rice bank sponsors, would provide rice at the initial period. The farmers can then borrow rice during summer season from rice bank and pay minimal amount of interest. Farmers have to pay two dres of interest for every 20 dres of rice they borrow from the rice bank. With every new harvest, members would put back two dres extra of red rice. After five years, when the rice bank project ends, members will divide the rice they have in rice bank equally. Alternatively, the members of the tshogpa can choose to continue the bank and even include other villages. “Our main intention is to ensure that, because of the whole process of rice bank, some families have something to eat,” Kama Wangdi said.

VAST is looking for more sponsors to help establish the fourth bank next year.

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Relief rice for families in Punakha

On July 2nd and 3rd, VAST distributed relief rice to Zarbisa, Rangrikha, and Rangrichungku villages Kabjisa under Punakha dzongkhag. Each of the 14 recipient households received 175 kg of rice and 6 families from other villages received smaller amounts 25 kgs to 50 kgs. Households were selected on the basis of a baseline survey conducted by VAST volunteers and advice from community leaders. The rice will help families feed themselves until the harvest without having to borrow rice from other landowners, a process that keeps borrowers stuck in a cycle of debt.

The rice was dispersed in preparation for the fourth rice bank project, which will begin next year.

VAST Bhutan would like to thank Country Walkers, USA; Akiko Ueda of Japan; and Dorji Gyeltshen of Smile Bhutan, for their generous financial support that made this initial step possible. We would also like acknowledge the contributions made by Tashi Tobgay and Pema Tshering who provided their vehicles for transportation of volunteers. Thank you also for all the hard work done by volunteers who conducted the baseline survey and relief rice distribution. In particular we would like to thank the following volunteers: Tshogpa Karma of Zabisa Chiwog, Apa Dorji from Kabjisa, Tshering Dorji from Kabjisa, Phurba, Rajesh Gurung, Sangay Dorji, Pema Norbu, Bhagiraj, Karan, Maiyesh, Jason, Lobsang, Tshering Wangchuk, Palden, Wang, and many others.

VAST Bhutan is still looking for more sponsors for the establishment of the fourth rice bank in 2015.



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Category “B” Winners of the CRC “Imagine (Y)our Future” Art competition for the VAST Bhutan Summer Art Camp

Category "B" Winners of the CRC "Imagine (Y)our Future" Art competition for the VAST Bhutan Summer Art Camp

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Category “A” Winners of the CRC “Imagine (Y)our Future” Art competition for the VAST Bhutan Summer Art Camp

Category "B" Winners of the CRC "Imagine (Y)our Future" Art competition for the VAST Bhutan Summer Art Camp

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Breaking through the bounds of tradition

Asa-Kama-479x640Courtesy :Kuenselonline K2  

Bhutanese contemporary art is growing to be a creative force to reckon with

COVER STORY As a student of traditional art, while painting a thankga, Karma Wangdi would often find himself experimenting with colours and the background.  But then he would realise he was dabbling with an object of worship, and there were rules that he couldn’t and shouldn’t bend.

That’s when Karma Wangdi, long before he was endearingly called Asha Kama, one of the leading contemporary artist, gave up painting, a passion he had pursued since childhood.

Since academics was not his strength he sought for scholarship to study fine arts in India. “But I was asked to study traditional arts first.”

After about four years, he was employed by the civil service in the information department, where he started block and screen printing, and was later sent to study graphic design in India.  Ten years later, he was doing the same.  When he went for his degree in communications in London, that’s when his passion for painting revived.

“I was learning graphic designs, but was also exposed to European art, western art, Japanese and Oriental art and there were museums that I could visit,” he said. “I stopped painting because of my own weakness in understanding the spiritual part of traditional painting, and also because of the nature of my job.”

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The Youth Interaction through Art Camp, this winter was organised on 5th-14th January 2014 at Chuzagang in Gelephu, Sarpang. It successfully engaged more than 80 Bhutanese youth, 20 volunteers as instructors and helpers.

This camp was themed, “Art against Alcohol”. It created a platform for young people to interact and share their experiences and propose solutions to social issues in relation to alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

The Youth Interaction Art also aimed on bringing together youth from different parts of the country to exchange their ideas,experiences and views on important social issues. The event promotes a more cohesive and harmonious society. It calls for greater youth participation in proposing solutions to important community issues.

The Youth Interaction through Art Camp at Chuzagang, Gelephu organised by VAST Bhutan in collaboration with READ Bhutan shaped the weeklong Art Camp/workshop with Art against Alcohol as the theme with an emphasis on responsible drinking and the dangers of excessive drinking to one’s health, life, family and society. The Art Camp used art as the medium of expression and involved the community members. The Art camp was sponsored by READ Bhutan and Bhutan Foundation.


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First Bhutanese ceramic artist starts off his journey

Maiyesh Kr. Tamang, first Bhutanese ceramic artist starts off his journey at VAST Bhutan, producing his first work of 120 bowls which was  commissioned by Tarayana to be send to Japan. This will be the beginning of ceramic art in VAST. VAST-Bhutan is looking forward to classes, workshops and training in ceramic art led by the only ceramic artist and a founding member of VAST Maiyesh Kr. Tamang.


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VAST-Bhutan would like to wish all the VAST members, students, friends and well-wishers a very happy new year.


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Shades of togetherness Indo-Bhutan Young art camp

23-29th December, 2013

9 young indian students artist lead by Sunika madam from Empowerment Delhi joined young artists from VAST-Bhutan at Thimphu from 23th- 29th December 2013.This was the first student art exchange program between the two countries. The paintings of this camp were exhibited in the Nehru-Wangchuck Center in Thimphu Bhutan.

indo-bhutan Read More »

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VAST members volunteered at CAMP RAVEN by taking art classes,there were about 80 students,Group 1 at Decholing and Group 2 at Lhuntenphu .

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