Educational institutes proves to be major absorbents of local vegetables

Yet another school in east Bhutan joined hands with the farmers’ group to produce local vegetables and agreed to buy all their produce. This time around, the school will also buy dairy products from February next year.

The Jampeling Higher Secondary School under Kanglung gewog of Trashigang and the Rongthong farmers’ group signed a supply contract at the end of October.  According to the supply contract, the farmers will deliver vegetables and dairy products to the school from February 2013 onwards.

This is the seventh school in Eastern Bhutan to sign such an agreement under the IFAD-funded Market Access and Growth Intensification Project (MAGIP). In the Eastern Dzongkhags boarding schools alone require 109 MT of vegetable per month, an enormous income opportunity for local farmers.

An official with Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) Thinlay Wangchuk said, “Schools believe local vegetables are healthier than the imported vegetables which they have mostly been buying till now”.

He added that such change in school perspective toward local vegetables contributes to the development of the communities.  “The beauty of these kinds of contract is that farmers have a guaranteed market with a guaranteed price,” he said.

The Rongthong farmers can now sell 2400 kg of vegetables every month.  It comes as a boon to them especially in the backdrop of the present situation where farmers have to transport their produce for at least half a day if not a whole day to sell in the nearest market. “This is an attractive deal.”

The other six schools which recently signed supply contracts with local farmer groups are Lhuentse Higher Secondary School (HSS), Tangmachu Middle Secondary School (MSS), Gyelposhing Higher Secondary School (HSS), Tashitse HSS, Nangkor HSS, and Pemagatshel MSS.

The total value and quantity of vegetables of these contracts add up to more than 230 MT and nearly Nu 3.5mn for 10 months of supply in 2013. However, in winter when the schools close for their vacation, supply will be stopped.

According to Marketing Counselor with RMCO, Bhim Raj Gurung, with the government’s priority for Bhutan to become self-sufficient in vegetable production by mid-2014, the interest of both schools and farmers to come to an agreement to supply agricultural products has greatly increased.” This, he said, is a viable form of contract farming for Bhutan.

The RAMCO have planned to facilitate another seven contracts between schools and farmer groups. With two schools which RAMCO facilitated to linking earlier with support of FAO and CoRRB, it will soon bring the total number of contracts to 15.

Trashigang District Agriculture Officer (DAO) Dhendup Drukpa committed during the signing ceremony to provide a greenhouse to the farmer group. “Supplying food for students on a weekly basis is a large responsibility, and therefore we will support the farmers group,” said the DAO.

The Vegetable Value Chain Program – East under MAGIP supported more than 1300 households in the six Eastern Dzongkhags in 2012 to produce and market vegetables.

RAMCO is the main implementer and SNV Netherlands Development Organization provides technical assistance. The current number of clusters of farmers under the program will be increased from 29 to 44 in 2013. Next to contributing to Bhutan’s self-sufficiency in vegetables, it also aims to export vegetables in the long run.

Not many people are aware that Western Bhutan increasingly exports vegetables to West Bengal during the summer months. Because of the heat and humidity in the Indian plains during the monsoon, it is difficult to produce vegetables and prices increase, and cooler areas like Bhutan can capture that marketing opportunity. The mentioned program aims to establish a similar vegetable export in the East.

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