The per capita per day vegetable availability is 139g for every person against the minimum requirement of 200g and domestic production of vegetables is 30,595 MT (metric tons) against the requirement of 54,445 MT.
In view of this the Prime Minister announcing that vegetable imports would be stopped from May 19 to restrict rupee flow is not comforting news either.
But while there is skepticism from various quarters, the agriculture ministry has already strategized and planned on meeting the demands from local production.
“We are on good track to bring local produce to the markets,” said a senior officer with the Horticulture Division under Department of Agriculture (DoA), Shankar Chhetri. Various strategies have been drawn from a series of meetings taking place in the ministry.
Starting this month, it is the peak season for vegetable production during summer in the northern dzongkhags (Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Dagana, Punakha, Wangduephodrang and Tsirang). These dzongkhags are to meet the demand of their local markets, feed the Centenary Farmer’s Market (CFM) and also the southern dzongkhags.
Meanwhile, during winter, the southern belt would be producing vegetables. Samdrup Jongkhar will produce to meet local demand as well as for the eastern dzongkhags; Sarpang, Samtse, Chukha and the lower part of Dagana would cater to the northern belt mainly to the CFM.
The production plan has been developed and a team from the vegetable program under the Horticulture Division will be traveling to the gewogs next week to consult Dzongkhag Agriculture Officers and prepare action plans.
Further, to support rain water harvesting which would be a boon for the southern dzongkhags that face water shortage during winter, the division will start floating tenders to procure equipment worth Nu 500,000 today.
And by today or tomorrow, vegetable seeds except onion worth Nu 800,000 will be distributed to farmers in Punakha, Paro and Thimphu which would be ready for harvest between August to November. Farmers have been asked by the department to put up their requirement for seeds.
Major support provided during the Financial Year 2011-2012 include promotion of home gardening in remote gewogs and large scale cultivation; seeds and seedlings worth Nu 1.15mn were supplied. Seeds worth 0.82mn were supplied to 23 geogs of Punakha, Wangduephodrang and Tsirang for supply of vegetables to the Punatsangchhu Hydropower Project Authority (PHPA). Farming tools and equipment worth 0.20mn were supplied; two large semi-mechanized green houses worth 0.70mn was supplied to vegetable groups in Paro and Bumthang and many others.
“The production of onion on a large scale would take some time as it is a long duration crop,” said Shankar Chhetri. However, farmers in Punakha and Wangduephodrang have already begun onion cultivation. Farmers in Samtse have also been identified for commercial onion cultivation. He added that by next year, the produce will be available at the CFM.
In the meantime, vegetables like onion, tomato and chili which cannot be produced immediately will be imported by the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB). The National Vegetable Program Coordinator with the Horticulture Division, Namgay Thinley said “our climate is not suitable for large scale production of onion”.
On the storage issue, he said that the department is willing to assist farmers to construct zero-energy cool stores which can keep the vegetables fresh for a maximum of ten days.
The plan to accelerate production and marketing
Also, the Horticulture Division and the Department of Agriculture and Marketing Cooperatives (DAMC) have jointly developed the ‘plan for accelerating vegetable production and marketing.’
The production plan is for 13 selected vegetables. In order to adopt a focused production approach, five types of vegetables from the 13 have been identified for each gewog. The identification was done based on past trends of production, agro ecological conditions and the potential of gewogs.
For instance, beans would be grown in Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Chukha, Samtse and Sarpang with a total expected production of 1,036 MT.
For immediate production of the selected vegetables, it is proposed that 60% seed support must be provided in the first year to the farmers.
Immediate plans for CFM
A survey of vegetables available in May and June indicated a total of 4,680.90 MT of different types of vegetables from Thimphu, Paro, Haa, Chukha, Punakha, Wangdue, Trongsa and Bumthang.
Linking up CFM vendors with local producers and engaging FCB are the immediate plans.
If the produce from farmers is not adequate for the CFM, arrangements to supply vegetables will be made from the farms of the Renewable Natural Resources- Research and Development Centers (RNR-RDC) and National Seed Centers.
Other interventions such as transportation subsidy, marketing equipment, minimum price support and necessary inputs may be required in the process of linking producers and markets.
For these, the budget requirement is Nu 3.81mn.
The only solution for commercial vegetable production as stated by the report is liberalization of import of hybrid seeds. This has been noted as one of the keys to success of the vegetable industry worldwide. For this, a policy review and proposal for change would be carried out.
Major vegetables are to be cultivated on a commercial scale. Their production is to be enhanced through cluster approaches, linking mega projects and schools with grower’s groups and promoting vegetable as a relay crop to rice and others.
Further, leasing of Government Reserve Forest (GRF) to interested private entrepreneurs for vegetable cultivation may be explored. As per the RNR census of 2008, around 29% of arable agriculture land is left fallow.
The budget estimates for the required inputs (July 2012- June 2013) for production support is Nu 23.78 mn and 8.7 mn for marketing support.
For July 2013 to June 2014, the required budget is 22.73 mn for production and around 6.6 mn for marketing.
On the stats
As stated in the report, Bhutan Trade Statistics of 2009 indicated an estimated 9,357 MT of vegetable imports at the value of 116 mn. Further in 2010, the import increased by 0.11 % and the value was Nu 134 mn.
Last year, the total value of vegetables imported stood at Rs 286 mn and between November 2011 till date, the Thimphu CFM imported vegetables worth Nu 83 mn.
The domestic population is calculated at 6,95,822 along with 50,000 expatriate workers.