Farmers in Zhemgang embrace non-wood forest resources, a shift from cash crops

In Zhemgang, the farmers of Marangdud in Ngangla Gewog are shifting away from growing cash crops. Instead, they are making good use of the area’s abundant non-wood forest resources. The Drongtshep Shingmin Tshogpa group is busy turning bamboo shoots into pickles, getting ready for the Bhutan Bird Festival taking place in Tingtibi later this month.

Traditionally, the people in the lower Kheng region of Panbang depended heavily on cash crops such as mandarin oranges and ginger. As the production of oranges and ginger decreased in recent years, the Drongtshep Shingmin Tshogpa group decided to search for other ways to earn money.

“Our parents used bamboo shoots for various purposes, including curry, pickles, and other dishes. Creating pickles is a fresh concept for us, and we believe it will benefit our younger generation,” said Kinzang Thinley, a member of Drongtshep Shingmin Tshogpa.

“We gather bamboo shoots from a forest located one to two kilometres away. Our main challenge is obtaining enough funds for the other pickle ingredients. Being young, raising funds can be difficult for us, but we are willing to put in the work,” said Tandin Wangchuk, another member of Drongtshep Shingmin Tshogpa.

The Drongtshep Shingmin Tshogpa began its operations in 2019 but had to halt production because of the pandemic. They resumed work once the pandemic situation improved.

This year, the group successfully made around 1,000 bottles of bamboo shoot pickles and earned more than Nu 100,000.

The group’s chairman said that, in addition to bamboo shoots, they can also gather eight other non-wood forest products, including soft broom, wild avocado, mushrooms, and walnuts.

Drongtshep Shingmin Tshogpa’s Chairman Dorji Wangdi said, “Our programme involves harvesting bamboo and creating items like pickles and bamboo crafts such as bangchung. We have an abundance of bamboo in our forests, and we only need to pay a small royalty, which is a maximum of Nu 100. Our goal is to help farmers generate income, even if it’s not substantial.”

In addition to a possible herbal tea from Panbang, the group has ambitions to expand their range of non-wood forest products in their business.

Some members believe they have a sustainable business model that also encourages forest conservation. Furthermore, the group prioritises creating appealing branding and packaging to promote their products locally and nationally.

Currently, the group comprises about 26 members from five different villages.

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