Tanden Zangmo and Sonam Choden / Thimphu
Vegetable vendors were encouraged to buy and sell local produce from within the country in order to make a difference to the farmers, consumers and themselves.
This was the objective behind Agriculture Minister Lyonpo Dr Pema Gyamtsho visiting the Centennial Farmers Market in Thimphu on April 13.
He spoke on the current rupee crisis and how the vendors could help alleviate it.
The visit also aimed to understand their situation and find a long-term solution to the problem of fresh food supply by way of improving agricultural productivity and the marketing system in the capital.
Lyonpo said it would reduce dependence on imports and the country could work towards self sufficiency which would avert another rupee crunch.
The Department of Agricultural Market Sector (DoAMS) has already identified the major vegetables that are consumed and is on the look-out for the seasons that will match with the local climatic zones so that production can be planned. It is working with its technical colleagues to have a proper plan in place.
“It’s a good initiative as people say that there are chemicals added to the vegetables but here we have an environment where we are trying to minimize the import,” said the Director of DoAMS, Chencho Norbu, adding that “in other words we are trying to productslocal and healthy products for our consumers.”
The Director also said that though the production is good from the local farmers, the farmers have difficulty in selling their products so they stop growing vegetables for sale.
“We could not upscale the business because vegetables were being imported cheaply from India.”
A stall owner at the Thimphu Centenial Market, Tshomo, said, “We will face difficulty as most of the vegetables are being imported from India especially during winter.”
But it comes as an opportunity to the farmers, encouraging them to grow more crops or vegetables, especially in midsummer.
However, one of the major concerns of consumers is that if not imported, the amount of local vegetables produced here will not be enough to meet demand for longer than one to two months.
The vendors complain that the vegetables available locally are only spinach and spring onions during season. Dried chilly produced in the country is also never enough, the same is the case with tomatoes and onions.
“We try to export potatoes but hardly gain any profit so we bring the stock back and it is saved as seeds for the next cultivation,” said Chador Phuntsho, “vegetables grown in the country are good but there is no wide variety.”
The agriculture ministry is targeting the higher altitude pockets during the summer for farmers to grow different vegetables and in the winter, the lower zones.
Even before the rupee crisis, there was a record of vegetable seed distribution and promotion encouraging farmers to grow more. Seeds worth more than Nu 1 mn were distributed to the farmers to produce for the markets of Puna Tsang Chhu and all mega projects.
But Sonam Zangmo feels that vegetables grown in the country are very costly and may cause problems for both buyer and seller.
DoAMS is also working on the feasibility of the eastern dzongkhags exporting vegetables to India. Plans and discussions on how to approach and implement these are on.
A recent survey by the Department of Agricultural and Marketing Corporation (DAMC) revealed that 208.318 tons of vegetables worth INR 1.35m were imported by 32 vendors (14 wholesalers and 18 retailers) last week alone while 112.615 tons of local products were available for sale in the same period.
In a single year alone, Bhutan imports fresh food worth INR 286 mn annually while each wholesaler spends INR 0.2mn and retailers spend Nu 10,000-20,000 per week.