Imagine a magical pillow that ails in hyper-tension and diabetes among other lifestyle diseases.
It is not a joke.
The humble buckwheat pillow is already popular in Bumthang, Japan and other countries for medicinal purposes and the demand for it has slowly and steadily been increasing in Thimphu, too.
Apart from ensuring sound sleep, the buckwheat husk has therapeutic effect on people suffering from various neck and shoulder ailments, and snoring among others.
It is hypoallergenic and dust mite infestation resistant and can aid in conditions like migraines. It can also prevent or eliminate allergens from one’s pillow.
However, though this miracle-product was initiated in 2008 in Bumthang, it was only since last year that its sales shot up.
In Thimphu alone, the Department of Agricultural and Marketing Cooperatives (DAMC), under the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and Forest sold 78 pillows last year.
The rate for a large pillow is Nu 450 and the small size comesfor Nu 350.
Cashing in on the heightened popularity of the cereal, thedepartment along with the National Biodiversity Centre at Chamkhar, Bumthang has also opened a confectionary outletwhere all the eatables are made from buckwheat.
The outlet sells cakes, pizza, muffin, and doughnuts among others.
With the department planning to manufacture the buckwheat husk pillow on a larger scale, it is also concentrating on buckwheat cultivation in other areas aside from Bumthang.
This idea actually cropped up as a by-product, when the department took up on the formal production of buckwheat and its flour under the Accelerated Bhutan’s’ Socio Economic Development (ABSD) initiatives. The department promoting and reviving the buckwheat is seen as the only resort to save the dying culture of buckwheat cultivation in Bhutan.
In the olden days, many Bumthaps have been brought up on buckwheat when it was not a priced commodity unlike rice which was grown in the lower altitudes and considered a delicacy. These days, the Bumthap khule (buckwheat pancakes) and puta (buckwheat noodles) are regarded as delicacies and served only on occasions.
The District Agricultural Officer of Bumthang, Gyalong, said the humble buckwheat, once considered a poor man’s staple diet is more expensive than rice today’. Currently, the rate for a kg of buckwheat is Nu 70 and increasing by the day.
“Bumthang has been having it good in recent years due to varieties of buckwheat products; this has been possible with the revival of management in area and yield,” said Gyalong.
Apart from Bumthang, the department has also looked into buckwheat production in a few other places and with this initiative, they have managed to collect buckwheat from remote villages, some with no road access in Chukha and Samdrup Jongkhar, so the product can be considered pure.
According to the Director of the DAMC, Dorji Dhradhul, this season the DAMC has collected 4.5 metric tons of sweet buckwheat from Gomdar gewog under Samdrup Jongkhar, Dungna and Getena under Chukha dzongkhags.
Currently, the department has processed about one metric tons of sweet buckwheat and has trial marketed the wheat in the capital involving two private entrepreneurs namely Araya Zamlha Organic Packers and Sonam Thuenkey that deals in the supply of vegetables.
The department wants to venture into production by next year.
“What we are doing is a trial marketing and if this program goes well this year in the market, we will encourage our farmers to cultivate more sweet buck wheat and produce more of the sweet flour to make it readily available in the market in the coming years,” said the Marketing Assistant, Sonam Wangdi of the DAMC.
Dorji Dhradhul added that the Agriculture Machinery Center in Paro processed buckwheat into flour.
Meanwhile, the DAMC has further discussed with private entrepreneurs to make buckwheat pillows and cushions; these products will especially target the high-end customers. The buckwheat has more protein content than soybeans; it contains all essential amino acids, that is the eight proteins that the body needs. Buckwheat is cholesterol free and nearly fat free; it also lowers cholesterol and stabilizes blood glucose.