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