Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, a shortage of food commodities has prompted people to panic buy and stockpile food items.
In the meantime, the Deputy Chief of Policy and Planning Division and Coordinator of Argo Enterprise Development under Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, Tshewang Tashi, said that the ministry is working to ensure steady food production in the country.
“We are planning and working on with how to rationalize and collect vegetables from the people across the country. We have developed a model, and we are meeting the genuine collectors. And we are also developing a format to buy back the commodities and working on with the collection planning, so that people don’t lose their crops,” he said.
The ministry will collect items from all the dzongkhags depending upon the season. “At the current moment, most of the vegetables will come from southern parts. And people living in North will be preparing for the production at this time. We have to make an announcement in such a way that people produce those crops,” Tshewang Tashi said.
He added that the next announcement is to be made to the general public to plant their own home vegetable gardens.
He said, “In summer the production will be carried out here and in winter it will be done in southern parts. For instance, Sarpang is best known for chilies in the winter, and we will announce saying that we need 10,000 metric tons of chilies, those people living in that particular place will attempt and produce chilies.”
He added that the government is investing a huge amount for the BuyBack scheme.
“We want to do it in such a way that the country doesn’t go hungry and don’t depend on import. Our food import is Nu 9 billion a year, and even the import of meat is very huge. So, if we can produce these items in the country, the money circulation remains inside the country, it will be more than Nu 10 billion,” he added.
He said that the ministry plans to buy every quality food items produced by the farmers in the country.
“We will give a guarantee that we will buy every food items produced, but the quality should be good. We are coming up with the plan and working on the pricing factor. The central idea is, we want to produce enough food,” he said, adding that it will generate thousands of employment opportunities.
He said that the government will help and support the farmers with the resources to produce food items.
“We will try to set production factories and the government will try to help the farmers with water, seeds and other labour forces. And the best support can be land development. The fallow lands can be tilled and used for farming,” he said.
He added that the vegetable prices might slightly increase but the government will look into the pricing factor.
“The government has controlled the import of vegetables, at the moment, because of the situation, and it has created a force scarcity, so the immediate action we have to do is to enhance production. The very important thing is we have to advocate to the farmers, the middle man and anyone who is bringing in the mainstream market not to escalate the price because of the COVID-19 situation,” he added.
He said that the BuyBack scheme is aimed at encouraging farmers across the country to work on farm production as means of achieving import substitution.
“The government is trying to put a very good package that is the BuyBack scheme. This is a good opportunity for people to work on food production. The government is channelizing the resources in such a way that it is going to promote crops and food commodities in the country, which will increase the food security and we don’t need to depend on others and minimize the risk of COVID-19,” he said, further adding that the country is in the good hands of the ministry.
Meanwhile, Yeshey Penjore, the Minister for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, said that the country already has 25 percent of food reserves in the country, and the essential commodities are being imported from India.
“We already has 25 percent food reserves in the country. The commodities are on the way, and infact, the government is working on to secure essential commodities for six months. The commodities coming from India will be made for running in the market. We are requesting and facilitating all the wholesale dealers to keep on stocking and not only the food items but also other essential commodities,” he said.
Lyonpo said that the government has already released the money and FCBL is working on it.
“As of yesterday, we already have received 25 percent of stock means. For instance, 10,000 metric ton of essential food items are being imported and it is enough for three months, and we have distributed 3,000 metric tons across the country and the remaining 7,000 is on the way. More will be coming as the Government of India will continuously supply these commodities,” he said.
Lyonpo also said that the ministry and the dzongkhag will work together and plan on how to collect, distribute and store the food items.
“The government will support with the resources and the ground work will be carried out by the dzongkhag,” he said, adding that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests is not fearing COVID-19, but accepting it as a blessing in disguise for people to work on food supply sufficiency.