Reasonable vegetable & food prices – can FCB provide some relief?

This article is written keeping in mind normal market conditions. However, before proceeding further, a farmer (calls himself an educated farmer group called Happy Cooperative) told me that it was an opportunity for them to try and bring focus on their agenda, which is growing our own food.

When one talks of costs of living, in its simplest form it simmers down to two main expenses, food and rentals. Many times we have had issues of house rents being increased in contravention of the provisions under the tenancy act and while the Government tries to address this issue with projects for housing what I want to focus on today is on the food expense front.

Living in Thimphu many complain of very high costs of vegetables and I would imagine it would be similar. Exceptions maybe in areas near the southern border where expense on food maybe relatively cheaper. This has put more pressure on managing expenses of households. While an increase in salary at the first instance may appear to increase money in hand, it also results in simultaneous increase in rentals and cost of food, setting in motion once again costs playing catch up with disposable income.

Most of us will still remember how the prices of goods were regulated in favor of consumers when we still had very few shops. Food Corporation of Bhutan, known more popularly as FCB would bring in goods and sell at very reasonable prices. This did not allow for others to sell at high prices and the consumers benefitted immensely from their services. I am sure many households in the rural part of Bhutan still relate FCB to fair price shops where prices were most reasonable.

Many years down the line we find ourselves discussing a similar scenario in the vegetable market. While the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) have produces from our farmers, I am guessing the more significant part of the market have vendors selling produce imported from India. Use of pesticide and fungicides while growing these vegetables and fruits is a concern, for the time being I want to focus on the trading aspect of the market.

Vendors buy these produce from India and bring them back to sell to us. While there is nothing wrong with vendors supplying produce that we want, one wonders if the price we pay here is a fair price. I have reasons to believe it could be cheaper, we could pay less for these produce.

I have learnt that FCB had operated at the CFM but had to leave eventually. I was told that it was felt by the vendors that FCB supplying the produce in competition was not fair. We also know that the Ministry of Agriculture could subsidize FCB if need be to supply these produce like they supplied so many essential commodities in the past, bringing good balance to prices, why should not FCB  operate and bring the benefit of cheaper food to Bhutanese?

While food security remains a very critical aspect of our overall debate on our agricultural development policy (which I hope was already in place) but making what is in the market circulation reasonably affordable if we can help it is also important. I hope the Ministry of Agriculture and the Board of Directors encourages FCB to come in and use the infrastructure and the expertise they have acquired over many decades to the benefit of all Bhutanese.

 

The writer is the National Council MP from Gasa

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6 comments

  1. The concerns stated in this article are vague. It is not in the interest of the general population’s and the country’s economic benefit. I am not sure how would bringing FCB to do the job will solve the rupee crutch, if at all that was the motive. 
    We definitely need to try and reduce the imports; yes working to reduce to the imports of vegetable is good. But what are the methods applied to do that. Our farmers cannot produce more due to various reasons, such as lack of irrigation channel, road networks, high cost of transportation, labour shortages, lack of expertise, and lack of channelled market. 
    To bring FCB to do the job is the most outrageous way to solve any problem. It will actually have a negative impact. If the writers concerns are with regard to paying high prices for these vegetables imported by private, then how can one ensure that FCB will not indulge in malpractices too? Or is it that FCB will be able to getting the same vegetables at cheaper rates from India, without any additional costs to the govt. budget? FCB being the only supplier creates monopolistic market and thus dangers to corrupt practises. 
    Market dynamics is such that no institutions can enforce anything, but what can be done is that it can help create an environment that corrects the healthy business on its own, by allowing a free open competitive market. 

  2. people are putting forth views for and against the rupee crunch and the need to home grow vegetables but no body is talking about price regulating vis a vis local vegetables.without price regulation in the face of limited income or earnings, it is all nonsense to talk about. it is common sight these days the farmers are making a kill out of the situation. a kg of peach cost Nu. 70; a kg of brinjal is Nu.60, 60-70 for cabbage, etc…. so the need of the hour is to talk about cost as much as it is about the home veggies.

  3. sonam,
    i think there was an article some weeks ago where prices of vegies in falakatta and thimphu were given and differences of around 472% were shown. That should answer most of your questions and concerns.

    On top of that – FCB can buy in much much larger quantities so costs will definitely come down (I believe its called economy of scale).

    And last but best — with democracy has come the freedom to attack the RGoB with anything, so everyone including FCB will surely be on guard. Whereas you cant really blame and attack private vegie importers as they are not accountable to you.

    So do you want someone who is accountable to you or someone who does not have to answer to you?

  4. yes, while encouraging local producers to produce vegetables and other crops is good and important as means of livelihood, and overall food security, we shoud not forget the reasonable pricing aspect, and that more than one third of our population is below poverty line. inflation in one sector will contibute to other sectors and our economy is bound to suffer anyway. There should be benefits and profits for all but in a balanced way. so if FCB can contribute to this, i say WHY NOT?

  5. NC Saiyab! what economic are you planning? After 5 years as elected peoples representive why are you creating simplicity into complexity. what is different between puting FCB and direct marketor? Instead of creating needless task please envision for peaceful Bhutan.I do not see why you have to create so many unwanted plans which is affecting general public life. A leader should be problem slover not the problem creator. please enough is enough

  6. What is the whole point of this article? This newspaper is becoming cheaper than I imagined.

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