As animals turn sick farmers still do not have other options due to Karma Feeds’ monopoly position as the biggest commercial manufacturer of feeds in Bhutan

On 29 January 2022, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) issued a notification to stop the sale of the suspected batches of the feed manufactured and supplied by Karma Feeds throughout the country on 14 and 15 January 2022, as it could be the possible cause of recent sporadic reports of death in horses and cattle sickness.

On 22 and 23 January, a few cases of cattle and horses getting severe diarrhea and loss of appetite were reported in seven dzongkhags. The affected districts are Paro, Chhukha, Trashigang, Thimphu, Samtse, Haa and Tsirang, as per a report shared by the Department of Livestock. A total of 451 cattle and 122 horses were affected of which 17 horses have died in Thimphu, Haa and Paro.

In December 2021, a similar incident with tainted feed occurred in which over 3,000 birds died and thousands of birds were afflicted across the country.  Karma Feeds compensated the affected farmers but many farmers said they were not consulted on the compensation and are not happy with it.

According to a press release issued by Karma Feeds, cattle and horses are often freely roaming and grazing, and potentially exposed to a myriad of on farm and off farm factors that can cause adverse reactions, including infections and diseases by biological or non biological agents.

The company claimed that most of the symptoms reported, so far, are also similar to symptoms of diseases that can be caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. Other key issues that need to be also examined is the handling and storage of feed once it has left the factory, farm sanitation, and other environmental factors around the farms.

“All our feed is formulated based on nutritional requirements for specific livestock animals based on national regulatory requirements. All bags for each type of feed are clearly labeled in words and pictures for the intended animals, and we do not recommend giving any of our feeds to horses,” the company said.

Department of Livestock’s principal feed and fodder development officer, Ganga Maya Rizal, said that the ongoing feed issue is under control, mainly because the farmers have not continued feeding their animals with the suspected feed.

The country has about seven animal feed millers. Karma Feeds, on the other hand, is the country’s sole and largest commercial feed manufacturer and supplier. Karma Feed produces 200 tons of animal feeds every day, whereas other feed producers generate 20 tons or less. Karma Feeds manufactures feed for all livestock groups.

She said that a level playing field is provided for all feed millers. It is up to the feed millers to enhance their business capacity.

“Karma Feeds is the country’s largest feed manufacturer, and many farmers count on them because Karma Feeds has better credit facility, better marketing and distribution outreach and higher production capacity,” she said.

According to Agriculture Minister, Yeshey Penjor, the country lacks the technology to evaluate whether the feed is contaminated or not, and so the ministry sent a sample of the so called tainted feed to Bangkok, but the results are yet to come.

Lyonpo said that because the raw material is imported for the manufacture of feeds, the ministry suspects it came from there.

“However, because the test results have not yet come, we are unable to conclude that this is due to the contaminant,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo said that the government is encouraging the private sector to partake in feed manufacturing, but because no one has, the FMCL is stepping in to produce animal feed.

“Unless the government steps in with all the money and sets up the industry and hands it over to the private sector, the private sector is not willing to come forward and set up the business with their money,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo added that the government can only encourage the private sector to take up the proposal, not force them to do so.

“We are receiving proposals, however, it is a very small-scale business that expects over 100 percent government subsidies. The few feed producers we have are doing it on a small scale and for their personal consumption. As a result, Karma Feeds is the only in-country animal feed company operating on a commercial scale,” Lyonpo added.

Lyonpo said there are around 9 feed importers. The ministry has requested a few importers to import the feeds, but they’re unable to do so on a large scale.

“As a result, we’ve been compelled to request Karma Feeds to import about 40 to 60 percent of the feeds. The only way to move forward is to encourage the private sector to begin manufacturing feed in the country,” Lyonpo added.

Meanwhile, a farmer in Tsirang, Tashi, said it is not due to free grazing of animals or bacterial illness, as stated by Karma Feeds in their explanation statement.

“Just lately, I began feeding a fresh batch of feeds supplied by Karma Feeds, and after giving that specific feed to milking cows that are kept within the respected area and never taken for free grazing, it was discovered that the cows began with diarrhea and a severe decline in milk output.”

Another farmer in Thimphu, Dorji, said, “What Karma Feeds has said does not make sense to me. We would have believed if there were only a few cases, but nearly seven districts are affected, indicating that there is something wrong with the feed, itself.”

However, in the absence of a large alternative supplier farmers will continue to have to depend on Karma Feed or not give feed to their animals.

While, the government over the years has gone in for a policy of de-monopolization in many fields from airlines to telecom it has not been successful in ensuring a private or state competitor in this field, leading to the current situation.  

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