Donor: European Union

Photo credit: UNCDF

When the local authority in Phangyuel Gewog, central Bhutan, received climate finance through a grant from the Local Climate Adaptive Living (LoCAL) Facility, a community-wide consultation began about what to prioritize. The men wanted to invest in farming, the women to cut down on their water-carrying tasks. In the end, the water storage solution they developed meets everyone’s needs and is opening up new economic opportunities in the form of winter chili production.

Water scarcity is a growing concern in Phangyuel and climate change is a key contributing factor, resulting in erratic rainfall and rainy seasons that are shorter but more intense. Livelihoods hang in the balance through the longer dry spells when crops fail, and cattle die. Using a grant from the LoCAL Facility and following consultations with the community, the local authorities invested in a series of channeled irrigations systems linked to water storage tanks that ensure 270 households have access to water year-round – a boon for the men and women alike.

“If only the men go to the meetings, we know what they will decide because the men have to carry farm tools and [do] the harvest,” said Phub Dem Tshogpa, one of the elected representatives in the Gewog, explain how it’s important that everyone attends community consultations. “But if the women go to the meeting, they will prioritize water, as they carry the water.”

“I am glad to be able to service my community particularly women as they share all their concerns with me openly and I am able to share their concerns in the local assembly. Water is more precious than gold for us here in Phangyuel gewog…. our priority has always been in securing water sources and as leader, I take up water related issues with the local assembly.”

Bhutanese winters are harsh with vegetables often in short supply. One crop that is sought after throughout the year, but particularly in the winter months, are chillies. A staple of Bhutanese traditional cooking, chillies are treated more like a vegetable than a spice or garnish. The government is even supporting development of special strains of chilli that can be grown in lower temperatures in a bid to meet national demand in the winter months, when many Bhutanese believe the peppers’ natural heat warms their bodies and keeps out the fierce cold.

Armed with a year-round water supply, thanks to the investments made with the LoCAL grant that irrigates 1,000 acres of dry and wetland, and picking up on this national demand for chillies, Kinley Dendup Mangmi Dy, Head of the Phangyuel Gewog had the bright idea of introducing winter chilli crops. After a few trials, the chillies are growing well year-round, generating a new income stream for the community that has rapidly adopted the crop – 400 acres of land are now devoted to chillies in Phangyul. The winter chillies are so sought after that buyers book production in advance and drive out from the cities to collect their spicey wares.

Bhutan one of the first countries to pilot the UN Capital Development Fund's LoCAL over ten years ago. Today, LoCAL's performance-based climate resilience grants (PBCRGs) are being adopted as an integral part of Bhutan’s decentralized approach to adaptation and, with EU funding, is scaling up nationwide. As of early 2023, more than 344 small-scale investments have been realized through PBCRGs, delivered in 100 Gewogs. Furthermore, some 34 countries across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Pacific are following Bhutan and Cambodia’s lead and implementing or designing their adaptation initiatives using LoCAL, which also has an ISO Standard published in 2022.

Traditionally, Phangyuel residents used to survive solely on rice production, which is susceptible failure during climate change-related water shortages and drought. The LoCAL grant paid for over a kilometer and a half of piping and storage units for residents to tap streams for drinking water, animals and crop irrigation during the dry months. The water is a lifeline that the community is proud of and protects.

“The population of this Gewog lives mainly from rice cultivation. [Before] the streams would supply the fields for farming but as the rains are reduced or untimely - it is dry when it needs to rain and when the harvest is about to come, it rains!” said Dy. “Even drinking water here has become more precious than gold. Some drinking water sources - particularly the smaller ones - if they run out, it means big trouble.”

“Farmers will set up guards on rotation to keep their sources protected and safeguard whatever water sources they have,” he adds.

The new water system and take-up of chilli production has ushered in a new era for the Phangyuel community. Chillies, as well as being in high demand in Bhutan, are not a particularly thirsty crop. It makes them a doubly valuable option for the farming community of Phangyuel. In a bid to increase production, and perhaps even increase yield, the community is now trialing new cultivation techniques.

Dy is developing what he called ‘underground chillies’, which involve digging half a meter to a meter below the soil level to plant the chillies in what he described as ‘underground’ parcels. This, he said, protects the plants from the cold and wind and reduces the quantity of water they need to grow. Results are encouraging and after a difficult period, Phangyuel is once again looking like a viable farming community.

Close to one of the water tanks stands a deserted house, high above the paddy fields. The previous owners, struggling to keep their fields irrigated, were forced to abandon their farm.

“It was a young family and they wanted to look for a chance in the city,” Tshogpa explains. “But that was before. Now you see, thanks to the [water] system, we can irrigate all of this.”