Nature to the rescue

Plans of cold storage facilities for potatoes along the passes are in the pipeline

Stock up the local potatoes in a simple wooden shed that is located high up on the mountain passes across the country, and let the nature act as a cold storage to increase this perishable farm produce’s shelf life and make local potatoes available in the market throughout the year is what Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) is currently working on.

Instead of having to incur huge expenditure procuring sophisticated cold storage equipment and the additional costs using electricity, the icy and frigid mountain temperature, agriculture ministry plans would serve the same purpose, if not, do even a way better job.

Agriculture Minister Yeshey Dorji said, “It is like harnessing the natural energy in its raw form in favor of our needs in most environmentally and ecologically friendly manner.” “Such a simple technology will have no adverse environmental impact,” he added.

As simple as the technology is, Lyonpo explained that even establishing it would entail no sophisticated machineries. He said simple wooden sheds will be constructed using few locally available materials such as planks. The sheds would serve as warehouses for storing potatoes. But the trick here is the ‘frosty surrounding air’ which would automatically keep the potatoes intact and avert rotting.

Hence, the ministry will soon establish six such cold storage facilities in different locations of the country. It has been tentatively decided to construct cold storage shed in six different passes along the highway stretching from west to the east.

Apart from tourist attractions, as of now, the frigid mountain temperatures in winter only impeded travels when the snowfall in thick inches blocked the highways. It also claimed lives when the ice made the travel more

precarious. So, basically, the high mountains passes in the country, which Bhutan has in abundance, were more of a curse. This is until the ministry would harness and explore its potential.

Since all such mountain passes are along the national highway, no approach road will be constructed, saving huge cost. “There is already the accessibility in the form of national highway,” Lyonpo said. The technology would entail minimum cost while serving the same purpose.

Such facilities would cater to the needs of storing potatoes from all major potatoes growing areas. For instance, those at Pelela will serve to the need of cold storage facility for farmers producing potatoes in Phobjikha while another one at Yotongla will store produces from Bumthang.

As of now, lion-share of the potatoes that the Bhutanese farmers produce every season is exported especially to the neighboring state in India. The lack of cold storage facilities is attributed as the main reason to import potatoes during the lean season.

Not many farmers choose to retain and store their produce for the lean season rather as soon as the product is harvested. Instead, the famers choose to rush to the nearest Food Corporation of Bhutan’s auction yard. Except for few kilograms they retain for their consumption and few more as a seed for the following season, Bhutanese potatoes growers dispose off the rest due to no cold storage facilities in the country. Even if there are, it is not readily accessible for the farmers. Hence, farmers rush their product to the auction yard, with fear of their potatoes getting spoilt and incurring loss when such product would fetch them lower prices.

But with mountain cold storage facilities, such problem would be solved and the ministry is complacent that more farmers would come forward to use the facility. Moreover, potatoes if sold in lean season would fetch better prices and farmers would gain more.

Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji said such innovative venture was an initiative of the past government basically spearheaded to go self-sufficiency in the domestic vegetable production. He said that it would really help people to consume what they produce and cut down on the import.

“Potatoes are grown in huge extent in our country, with no mechanism to preserve, farmers export to neighboring countries, especially India which in another time Bhutanese consumers import paying twofold price of what they sold,” Lyonpo said.

Reiterating on the Cabinet’s earlier comments, Lyonpo said, “The government would continue the good initiative of the previous government in setting up such technology to boost the home grown vegetables.” This, he said, is one of the priorities of the current government.

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