To Happy Retirement – a Tribute to an Agriculturist to the Core

Mr Ganesh Bahadur Chettri who served in various positions within the Department of Agriculture retired last week after what he described as a memorable, fulfilling and enriching career dedicated to the Tsa-Wa-Sum. The advisor to the Department of Agriculture completed 35 years 5 months having also reached the highest position (ES1) in the civil service.

Born in 1959 in what is now Yoetsheltse in Samtse, Mr Ganesh B Chettri completed his bachelor’s in agriculture sciences from the University of Udaipur in Rajasthan, India. Following a six month stint with other graduates in rural Gongthong in Trashigang working on a rural water supply scheme as part of the National Service he joined the Department of Agriculture, then housed at Kawajangsa, in January 1984. He was soon sent to the then recently established Centre for Agriculture Research and Development (CARD) in Bajo, Wangdue as the officer in-charge.

Mr Chettri served at the centre for over 15 years during which he also pursued his master’s qualification from the University of Los Banos, Philippines, specializing in plant breeding. He returned home bagging the university’s 1992 M.M Lantin Special Award for achieving the highest grade point average among the senior masters’ students. He headed the centre as the Program Director from 1996 until April 2000 when he was transferred to Thimphu as the Joint Director for the then Department of Research and Development Services (DRDS). He served in the same position when the DRDS was realigned and re-named as the Department of Agriculture in 2003. Mr Ganesh was promoted to specialist (ES3) in 2007 and thereafter served as the advisor to the department until his retirement after rising to the position of ES1.

In a career spanning over three and half decades, Mr Ganesh Chettri shall be remembered for his significant contribution to agriculture and rural development. He spearheaded some of the major agriculture development plans and programs of the department besides playing an instrumental role in shaping the department in terms of its institutional set-up and functional framework. He also oversaw the conceptualization and implementation of a number of the department’s field programs and major projects to support national priorities and strategies. Back in the DRDS days, Mr Ganesh was also responsible for leading the research program for the entire RNR sector – agriculture, livestock and forestry.

A rice breeder by training and a staunch proponent of rice farming, Mr Ganesh Chettri would invariably drive home the significance of rice cultivation as what he would always qualify as an irreparable means to Bhutan’s food security and food-sovereignty. Justly so, he is credited with initiating for the first time in Bhutan the crossing of traditional rice varieties with improved accessions, subsequently leading to the development of improved high yielding rice varieties including the Bajo Maap series that are now widely cultivated. Even while managing the CARD as its program director, he would stick true to his professional calling as a researcher, often missing out on his lunch as he waited for the pollens to burst on the rice panicles collected in his lab so that crossings could be successfully made.

In his initial years at Bajo, he was also an integral part of the team assigned to promote “new vegetable crops” in the Punakha – Wangdue valley, a task that most officials would recall then as a formidable one. Production of tomatoes, cabbages, cauliflower, peas, beans, asparagus, and several green leafy vegetables – hitherto almost unheard – hit the roof, and resulted in a glut. Sending down truckloads of tomatoes to Phuntsholing only to be transported all the way back, and finally feeding them into the Punakha River back in the mid-80s is remembered as a unique experience.

Mr Ganesh Chettri considers his 35 odd years of service to the nation in a sector that contributes directly to enhancing the lives of our largely rural populace an entirely enriching one. Those fruitful years have also provided him with a ringside view of the pace of development in the country. A rich array of pleasant memories associated with those early years, according to him, still stoke a profound sense of perspective in terms of where we began and we are now. Preparing the 6th FYP on a typewriter as a young officer and getting past the first draft using a pencil seem so far-fetched now. When the first computer to the office arrived with support from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Project in 1987, a huge crowd turned up at the centre, thrilled so much to be part of a history themselves as much as to witness the installation of the new machine! “Much to everyone’s amazement the computer churned out prints at the press of the command prompt signalling the end of the typewriter era,” he recalls.

Communication and accessibility were a major hurdle those days. He recalls how challenging conducting on-farm rice trials in Tsirang and Dagana in the absence of the Wangdue-Tsirang road used to be. One had to make that circular trip all the way to Trongsa, Zhemgang, Sarpang and then move up to Tsirang, often with a visiting foreign expert in tow. Pool vehicles were still far and few between and taking the public bus or hitching a ride in private trucks were the common means of commute. The CARD office in its initial days did not have a telephone connection. “Looking back, it cuts a very amusing scene to have the telephone exchange peon at Gangthangka holler down from Tencholing slope every time we had urgent calls from headquarters in Thimphu!” Mr Ganesh mulls.

Much of his unwavering enthusiasm and the energy with which Mr Ganesh Chettri served to the very final hours of his service he says are attributed to the inspiration that he took from the rare fortune he had in observing HM the Fourth Druk Gyalpo at work. He considers HM the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s royal vision, drive and support for food self-sufficiency in the early stages of agriculture development by far as the most significant of chapters in Bhutan’s agriculture development history.  HM then used to personally chair the project steering committee meeting of the IFAD supported Punakha – Wangdue Valley Development Project. HM the Fourth King’s regular visit with National Assembly members, the Royal Family, and senior government officials every consecutive year those days and receiving appreciation from HM himself on the centre’s achievement was a highpoint in his career that he recalls with profound contentment.

Apart from the range of significant contributions that he made, Mr Ganesh is also remembered for initiating the Community Based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) approach to research in the country, initiating and developing the National Seed Policy and Seeds Act, and for preparing the Arable Agriculture Policy, Strategies, and Plans for the 9th FYP Plan. He also played a major role in leading the commodity chain analysis exercises in 2007 and 2009 that helped put together comprehensive commodity chain structures in the form of seven books for seven major crops. Mr Ganesh Chettri also authored several reports and documents of national significance including scientific papers, and also served as the Editor In-Chief for the Bhutan RNR Journal in the early 2000s.  He has also been instrumental in formulating as well as managing several projects with development partners like SDC/ Helvetas, IDRC, CIP, Austrian Assistance, DANIDA, IFAD, IRRI and the EU. In the months running up to his retirement he worked as part of the team leading several of the ministry’s exercise like the RNR Vision 2045, the Organic Flagship Program, the National Food Security Reserve, the RDTC review, Seed Rules and Regulations, and Pesticides Rules and Regulations to name a few.

The DoA organized a dinner reception last week in his honour, also graced by HE Sanam Lyonpo and Dasho Secretary. HE Lyonpo also felicitated Mr Ganesh and presented the Civil Service Award for Life Time Achievement as well as other token in recognition of his service.

Colleagues who have worked closely with him at the department will remember Mr Ganesh as someone who always had a “no two ways about it” approach to a task, and would give his best in seeing it through. Colleagues will miss his presence, and the forthright disposition with which he guided, advised and mentored a number of colleagues. His foresight, penchant for meticulous analysis and the vast institutional memory he holds will be dearly missed. The department will lose out on what it earnestly considers a tall figure in the country’s agriculture development.

The DoA family extends our heartiest congratulations and Tashi Delek on his retirement, and for successfully completing 35 memorable years in service to the nation. Wishing him and his family a fulfilling and a peaceful retirement.

Contributed by Lakey, Department of Agriculture, Aug 2019

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