Due to the border closure resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, farmers cannot travel to Phuentsholing for the yearly potato auction unlike in the past years. The government’s Buyback scheme has set the rate for small size potatoes at Nu 13 per kilogram (kg), Nu 17 per kg for medium size and Nu 19 per kg for big potatoes.
Until last year, the lowest potato auction rate stood at Nu 22 per kg and rose to Nu 40 per kg.
Farmers stated that they are not happy with the government rates. Keep aside earning a good profit, they feel that they may not even be able to meet the expenditure cost at the rates being offered to them.
In the past years, even if they lost their half of the crop production to diseases and rain, they were somehow able to earn good money from the good prices fetched then.
Chapcha Gup Tobgay said that COVID-19 had impacted the potato business, leaving farmers disheartened. Every chiwog under Chapcha gewog cultivate large quantities of potatoes as the main source of income, he said.
People in his gewog are potato dependent, he said adding, “The production this year has gone down due to disease and certain percent of the production was lost to the heavy rainfall. Moreover, the rate of potato is too less. So it is definitely a situation to be worried about.”
Although meetings were held with Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) and officials from the agriculture ministry with regard to the buyback rate, however, the rate cannot be negotiated as it is fixed by the government, he added.
Due to COVID-19, they are taking their potato yield to a temporary auction yard in Damchu this year.
The Tshogpa of Lobneykha chiwog, Dawa, said that the farmers do not want to sell their produce to FCB due to the low price, and therefore, they are storing the potatoes to sell it in the future, with hopes of getting a good price. However, in doing so, half of the production gets ruined in the rains.
“People in our chiwog look for their own markets and take it to sell at doorsteps since they get a decent amount compared to the government rate. They are taking it to the markets by themselves,” she said.
She also said that as far as she knows, only a few households took their produce to FCB in Damchu. The rest are keeping the potatoes in storage while others are selling it in the market.
Dema from Lobneykha said she used to earn well from selling potatoes, which is her only source of income. She is dismayed that she did not get a good yield this year, and even more disheartened that there is no market to sell what she managed to grow.
“As of now, I have not taken my produce to FCB as the rate is too low. I am getting a few orders from Tshimasham and Phuentsholing, so I am taking it to them as the rate is much better than the government’s,” she said.
Phobji Gup, Jamtsho, said that 50 percent of their production has gone down from the past years and three chiwogs under the gewog have lost their production to hailstorm a few months ago.
“Rates in the past did fluctuate, but the minimum we used to get is Nu 25 per kg in Phunetsholing. This year, due to the pandemic, farmers cannot travel to Phuentsholing, and therefore, FCB will be coming to our doorsteps,” he said.
Farmers are not keen on selling their potatoes at the government rate but they have no choice. More than 300 households depend on the revenue through potato, he said.
He said, “Selling it when they (FCB) come to buy at doorsteps can cut cost. So I think it should be fine selling it though we used to earn a lot in the past years. This year is a waste but we are helpless.”
A 45-year-old farmer from Phobji said that he used to earn minimum amount of Nu 600,000 each year from the sale of potatoes.
“I don’t know what to do. The production itself is very less, and on top of that the rate is too discouraging for us. We feel our hardwork is a waste,” he said.
He said the farmers would be relieved if the government can reconsider the rate and increase the price so that they can at least cover the cost of expenditure, he added.
“If it goes on like this then we may suffer. We are not saying that the government is not helping but they can do better. For now, I have no plans to sell it to FCB,” he said.