Vegetable vendors and sustainability of agriculture

Agriculture is important for the socio-economic development of the country. More than 65% of the population is engaged in the sector and it contributes more than 20% of the country’s GDP.

Sustainable development of agriculture is the key to food security and alleviation of poverty in Bhutan. Today, the sector is overwhelmed with numerous hazards contradicting the country’s sustainable development goals. This is impacting our subsistence farmer.

Fragmented landholding, changing landscape use, human-wildlife conflict, impact of climate change, lack of proper irrigation, limited use of advance mechanism, infrastructural development, etc., are the most pertinent issues resulting for low productivity of the agro-products in the country. Further, lack of international markets and linkages are also affecting large-scale production for export. This further makes wary our educated youth to take innovative initiatives in the agricultural sector thus increasing rural-urban migration. The impacts of rural–urban migration are at large both rural and urban: lack of working force, vacant house (empty house) at the rural area and over population, unemployment, and other associated problems in the urban area.

After the government suspended the import of vegetables from neighboring country, the price of vegetables has shot up. The vegetable business in the country is awkward and hard to understand. The profit for vegetable vendors is huge comparing to our farmers. The hardship of our farmers are being sold to the vendors who are imposing huge price on the vegetables. Local and pure organic product is strong phrase used by these vendors to sell. Consumer has no space to negotiate. Lack of proper storage facilities is compelling farmers to sell early and consumer have to buy at the highest.

There are more than three vendors involved in vegetable venturing business in the country for a single vegetable product. Still prices paid to our subsistence farmer are comparatively lower.  For instance, a farmer sells a 25 kg bag of chili at Nu 2,000 to Nu. 2,500.  Vendors purchase all the bags at bulk and sell to another vendor at doubling the price. By time, consumer purchase, the price of the chili is already tripled to Nu 250 to Nu 300 a kg.

The increasing price of the local vegetable has already limiting the consumption of local vegetables, increased price of the food in restaurants, and people are concerned about the ban on import of vegetables, which may force government to lift the ban.

Is this sustainable business for our subsistence farmers?

There is need to further study cost effectiveness of our product and regulate pricing of local vegetables. If the temporary ban on import of vegetables is lifted what will happen to our subsistence farmers investing more in vegetable production? Studies on cost effectiveness and pricing strategy are crucial for these issues.

There is immediate need to give proper regulation in the context of pricing strategy.

By Nim Dorji

The writer is a researcher in Thimphu

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