Study to ascertain the demand of local vegetables versus imported ones among institutes and hotels

vegPopular votes are on the need for farmers to maintain consistent supply and quality vegetables plus there should be room for negotiations on the otherwise exorbitantl price the farmers hope for

The customer is always king, if any economically sensible business is not bereft of the most common sense, that customers are prime for the very existence of it. However, this concept is hardly endorsed by Bhutanese farmers.

This is mainly because the farmer/sellers dream of striking gold and go from rags to riches over night. Such mindsets of the farmers – the primary producers of foods and crops is said to lead to losing customers permanently. Better sale of their products at a small margin of profit is the trick of the trade.

This will hopefully change with the Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives’ (DAMC) attempt to ascertain what quantities of vegetables are imported by high-end hotels and institutions within dzongkhags. The department has initiated a study focused on vegetables, fruits, meat items, both local and imported.

About 76 high-end hotels and institutions were surveyed within the dzongkhags of Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, Haa and Paro to get the real market information to be made available to the farmer producer and other beneficiaries. They’ve used structured questionnaires to get an in-depth information on such fronts.

According to the officials with the DAMC, the survey divulged that high-end hotels have two purchasing seasons comprising peak season which looms around March, April, May, September, October and November. This is followed by the lean season falling within June, July, August, December, January, February months.

DAMC also confirmed that the institutions especially schools have constant demands for vegetables and meats throughout the year except two months during winter break in December and January. Almost all the schools and training institutes have signed a pre-contract with the local suppliers except the College of Natural Resources mess in Wangdue. However, Ugyen Academy in Punakha has direct contract with Indian suppliers.

“It is understood that both high-end hotels and institutions prefer local vegetables and fruits, provided the farmers ensure consistent supply with reasonable price,” said the official. He also said that the produce should be of local origin and should have all the varieties required by the hotels and institutions.

While closely networking with 76 respondents, about 91% of them pointed out that they are willing to sign contract agreement with the parties who are willing to purchase local vegetables and fruits.

However, on the contrary, the study also found out that both high-end hotels and institutions still prefer imported vegetables and fruits over the local ones. This is mainly attributed due to cheaper price and the abundance of the imported vegetables. In addition, respondents have said that most of the farmers cannot meet the requirements during off seasons. “They cannot meet our demands in lean seasons, so, we are compelled to switch to imported vegetables,” pointed out one respondent.

The vegetable requirement in high-end hotels and institutions are supplementary and most of the farmers cannot meet the requirements.

Moreover the respondents shared that the imported vegetables have better shelf life than the local ones. The farmers’ failure to maintain consistent supply of local vegetables they said is the greatest bottleneck in remaining committed to the local suppliers.

Imported vegetables cover all the major items required by the hotels and institutions at reasonable price whereas local producers are limited to few varieties required by the hotels. “They cannot supply us  all varieties we require in one basket,” said one Phuentsholing hotelier adding that farmers prefer to produce only easy crops like sag, beans, carrot and potatoes, which is hardly half the variety they are looking for. “Lack of varieties of vegetables and fruits is seen as one of the most serious concerns especially with the high-end hotels, so the emphasis has to be on varieties of vegetables and fruits rather than going for easy to grow crops and more readily available crops,” said another hotelier.

Other reasons why schools and training institutes always prefer imported vegetables are because they have limited stipends. With the limited stipends the students are entitled to, they said local vegetables come pretty expensive with the entitlement range. Hence, they go for imported ones which are comparatively much cheaper. Beside they have to float tender to supply vegetables either biannually or annually at same price.

Farmers may have lot to sell but they also bring the produce in the market without proper packaging, grading and sorting of vegetables. Due to that farmers cannot compete with the imported vegetables in terms of quality and price. So the farmers need to be made aware on quality maintenance parameters.

Most of the hotels and institutions mentioned that they have bitter experiences in buying local vegetables from the local farmers because they don’t supply vegetables in time, charge higher price than the market price, lack consistency, no varietal coverage and supply poor quality vegetables. Hence, they said, first our farmers should be aware of such things.

Most of the institutions have a pre-contract with the local vegetables suppliers, who consistently supply imported vegetables with a very competitive price. So the farmers have to be motivated/educated to take-up commercial vegetables cultivation rather than practicing subsistence cultivation.

Besides farmers have to be educated in collective marketing to reduce marketing costs and to have good bargaining power.

Given that the farmers are able to stay committed and consistent in supply and varieties, almost all the hotels and institutions are more than willing to forge a good link with the farmers. This way, they said, they get what they require while farmers can make a steady income. “Quality and supply consistency but more than that, farmers should be willing to come on a negotiation table and agree on reasonable price, rather than charging exorbitant price. Then, we can develop good seller-buyer relationship,” said a respondent.

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