The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted both at the national level and the local level. Since the first case in March, international borders were sealed and after August all the areas in the southern areas are identified as high risk area to ensure there is no local transmission.
There was interruption in exporting farming produce in the past as potato and few others items were not listed in the export list, Chukha Dzongda Minjur Dorji said, adding that, they however resumed and diverted it to Gelephu.
Farmers have faced difficulty and they had to dispose their products but they managed to sell their produce, he added.
Chapcha Gup Tobgay said that the pandemic has caused a lot of inconvenience to farmers whereby their market to sell their produce were blocked due to the closure of international border and with Phuentsholing earlier being a high risk area.
Nevertheless, he said, “Farmers somehow managed to sell their produce to the local market and some were sold to FCB through the buy back scheme. In the past years, farmers have no issue in selling their produce and they earn well. This year, neither FCB could buy their produce as expected by the farmers nor did they have a private market to sell to.”
It was learnt that farmers had to throw out unexpected amount of vegetables as they did not have a market. With no market in Phuentsholing, FCB also did not buy a lot of potatoes and the same happened to other vegetables.
“Farmers used to earn well and that would be sufficient to sustain throughout the year but this year, half the produce had to be thrown and half the produce were sold at a very low price due to a lack of market. Their revenue this year is very less,” he added.
To tackle such issues in the future, he said that they have proposed for a cold store so that they can store vegetables for longer period of time to be used in such times.
Chukha Thrizin Tshering Nidup said, “Due to the pandemic the price of the commodities has gone up which is understandable at some point because of the cost implications included while transshipping their goods. Transshipping is done at Sorchen as business people do not want to travel down to Phuentsholing due to the 7-day quarantine rules.”
He also said that with the restriction of movement to high risk area, this has caused trouble to the farmers whereby they take their produce until Sorchen, transship it and let the second person do the business on behalf of them.
The pandemic has impacted people residing in urban the areas the most because they are not able to get hold of the things they need when such situation strikes, he said.
“People in rural areas stock up essential items which would suffice for a year and moreover, they are self-sufficient in terms of agriculture and livestock produce. The only issue they had was, in terms of selling their produce when the borders are sealed. Otherwise they are the least affected group of people during such a situation,” he added.
Dorji from Chapcha said that the pandemic has left the farmers hand-to-mouth this year while in the past years they could save some amount from selling their produce. “The government is doing its best and we are happy with what they are doing to help us despite so many challenges. The price of buy back scheme is not so satisfying for which we have looked for our own market and sold our produce at a reasonable price,” he added.
He also said that they lost almost half their production since they couldn’t sell on time and due to no proper cold store.
However, he said that what they lost to the pandemic is nothing when compared to what His Majesty The King and government is doing for the country and people.
“I am rather thankful and I do not regret for what has happened to us. Everything happens for a reason and I am sure we can pick it up in times to come. The future will be better under our great leadership,” he said.
Pem from Lobneykha said that the only worry they had was on finding a market otherwise the pandemic did not affect them as it has affected those in town areas.
“I have no compliant of anything because nowhere around the world will we have a peaceful time like we Bhutanese are having at this moment. We can work together and be better prepared for any such situation in future,” she added.
Likewise, people have shared the same grievances on the inconveniences caused by the pandemic. Though people complained on various issues faced by them, they however remain grateful for what His Majesty The King has sacrificed for the people and to the government for handling the pandemic under the leadership of His Majesty.
They shared that such situation makes them realize on how lucky they are to be born in Bhutan and they feel proud and are ever ready to render their help.
The Chukha Dzongda said, “We got to learn a lot from this pandemic and to improve our own produce in particular. We have an issue when having to depend on imported goods during such time. If India stops selling essential items for some reason, we can be at risk. But because of the good relation and understanding, we have had no issue so far.”
Having said that, Bhutan is dependent on India, from vegetables to essentials goods, he said, adding that, therefore, they need to focus and work on how self-sufficiency, at least in farming and livestock items.
“If we can focus on farming and livestock production and make ourselves self-sufficient than I do not see much of an issue even if there such a pandemic in the future. We should together work towards achieving this,” he added.
Phuentsholing under Chukha Dzongkhag is one of the high risk areas. The pandemic has caused a lot of inconvenience to the people as their travel is being restricted especially with with the 7-day quarantine rules when traveling from high risk area.
The Dzongda said that the situation is different in the borders and the pandemic has impacted Chukha Dzongkhag and Phuentsholing in particular whereby the trade and commerce has gone down due to the closure of international border since March this year.
He said, “The business entities, the construction sector and our planned activities are hugely impacted by the pandemic. At this point of time, Phuentsholing would be one of the busiest cities in the country, however, this year it has turned the other way round, as we see no people travelling there for any business purposes nor do they want to travel to a high risk area.”
In terms of import of goods, he said that they have been importing essential goods, construction raw materials and hardware products even after the sealing of a border, however the quantity is not huge as before and what they are importing today can just meet the demand made by the people.
However, he said, “Though we allow import of construction raw materials, the demand is not so high due to lack of laborers at construction sites. They procure Bhutanese workers but the skilled laborers among the Bhutanese are very minimal. And they can’t afford to bring in foreign laborers due to the 21-day quarantine rule.”
The export of materials from Pasakha industries were never stopped but the volume has reduced as the production laborers are very less.
However, the export of boulders is hugely impacted as it remained closed for a longer period of time, he said.
This story was made possible due to support from the Department of Information and Media, MoIC.
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