An international certification system for farm products hinders export dreams

The founder and the chairperson of the Khenrig Namsum Cooperative (KNC), Thinley Wangdi, started farming with 16 members on a 5-acre land in Zhemgang in 2015. The motive was to improve the livelihood of the people of Zhemgang through the creation of a reliable, profitable and sustainable market for renewable natural resources products in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders.

Now, Thinley Wangdi has expanded KNC farming land from 5 acres to 150 acres with 230 farmers. He cultivates crops like seasonal vegetables and fruits, which he sells in local markets.

He along with his KNC members aspire to cultivate more naturally grown farm produce, and to substitute imports.

Throughout his seven years of farming experience, he said there is a ready market for local products in the country, and bigger opportunities lie ahead to export their farm products abroad.

However, there are challenges. Thinley Wangdi said consumers complain about the high price charged for local products compared to the imported products. He said it is due to the high cost of production as there is limited manpower. All the farming work has to be done manually as the geographical conditions in the country makes it difficult to use the modern agricultural machinery.

There is a market for fresh naturally grown vegetables and fruits in the country, but during the off-season, farmers cannot grow the same items. He said there is also the need for the technology to store products, like chilies during off-season, so the supply remains in the market benefitting the farmers and the consumers.

“Similarly, now is the season for watermelon and farmers are not able to sell their watermelon. Many farmers are discouraged to see their watermelon spoiling.  The watermelon season ends next month,” he said, and added, “If only the experts can tell us how can we produce all varieties of crops in all seasons.”

Farmers are not able to sell all their vegetables and fruits, besides that, they are also not able to export any processed products or farm products.

KNC produces processed products, such as ginger powder, turmeric powder, orange peel and other dry products. Although there is market for these products, however, the products need to be internationally certified (a standard outlines the requirements and specifications a product must meet to ensure its quality).

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forests is looking at this now, said Thinley Wangdi. BAFRA provides them with a certificate, but this certification does not work outside the country, he added.

Meanwhile, Thinley feels that more importance should be given to agricultural work as it can really curb the unemployment issue in the country. 

“Many of the youth are not coming forward in the farming area, because it requires hard work and comes with challenges. Also, there is a need to change of the mindset of the people that farming is a respectful job,” he added.  

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