Photo Courtesy: NOB Bhutan Private Limited

Bhutan unable to export 1,800 MT of potatoes: Agriculture minister

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said the biggest challenge with exporting vegetables during the previous season was formalization of trade by the Government of India (GoI). Despite this, the ministry facilitated the export of vegetables valued over Nu 460 million.

“The challenges will continue to occur, but we will address them as they arise. However, we believe that there will be no significant influence on vegetable imports and exports,” Lyonpo said.

According to Lyonpo, in comparison to prior years, the country will, undoubtedly, have greater vegetable output this winter, but still then imports have to be made.

Lyonpo said that last year, about 47 percent of the vegetables were imported, and the ministry predicts less than 40 percent this year.

“So far, we have imported the major commodities, and we will continue to import as needed. We are unable to export the potatoes, and we are attempting to consume 1,800 metric tonnes of potatoes within the country, as of now. Similarly, we are attempting to consume the chilies grown in the country by drying them up and storing them. We do not allow the import of chillies, cauliflowers, or beans, and we have restricted the entry of potatoes for now,” Lyonpo said.

Since the beginning, the BAFRA team has been monitoring, seizing, and destroying illegally imported chilies, as well as enforcing fines.

In the case of other vegetables, such as cabbage, carrots, and beans, the ministry has completed the Pest Risk Analysis (PRA) and has been notified by GoI in September 2021, which was not present during the previous export season. GoI has notified PRA for 13 commodities. Another 28 items have been identified as having export potential, and the PRA is still underway.

Meanwhile, the ministry is developing and boosting winter vegetable production in all the dzongkhags.

“We are preserving self-sufficiency in vegetables, for the time being, and we don’t know how things will be after the pandemic since we have to manage this way during the pandemic. When everything normalizes and the borders open up and become transparent, it will be harder to control the illegal import of vegetables, and when individuals carry out the illegal import, they will sell at a lower price, and consumers would undoubtedly choose to buy cheaper items. As a result, we are concerned that it will have an impact on domestic output,” Lyonpo said.

The ministry is constructing three additional cold storages in collaboration with FCBL for both export and domestic marketing and distribution. The cold storages in Wangdue and Sarpang are nearly completed, but the cold storage in Trashigang will be delayed by two months due to water leaking from the foundation.

Two more cold storages are in the design stage. Lyonpo said that the country has to rely on private sector owned cold storages for storing the vegetables meant for export. The ministry is also promoting the value chain but the country cannot do it on a large scale since it is a private enterprise and this is something that requires private investment.

“In terms of marketing throughout the country, we have completed linking the farmers’ groups to schools and will supply the schools through FMCL. And there are other institutions we are looking into, such as Dratshangs, armed forces, and other feeding programs. And production will occur in accordance with demand. And where there are cold shortages, we will have to import,” Lyonpo said.

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