Agriculture Minister Yeshey Penjor said COVID-19 has taught lessons on why Bhutan should be food self sufficient and where Bhutan went wrong in securing that food security.
“It was a blessing in disguise for the Ministry to learn so many things from the experience of COVID-19,” the Agriculture Minister said.
Lyonpo said that the Ministry has totally failed in its preparedness. He said there is very poor marketing and network distribution in the country.
“We do not have preparation for preservation of products and the same is with the distribution and marketing network. The lockdown happened suddenly and the Ministry was totally panicking on how to collect produce from the source and reach it to the consumers. And then consumers too were panicking as some did not have vegetables. So the Ministry as well as the consumers are totally unprepared,” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo said, “We have realized how demand differs when such a disaster and situation arises. It clearly indicates how unprepared we are in terms of identifying the important commodities that we need and in terms of preservation and post harvest management.”
Lyonpo said that the country needs to work on market facilitation and preservation when there is excess production.
“This season we had over production because we do not have any good post harvest management in place. We lost many substantial quantities of vegetables to waste. This tells us we need to focus more on market facilitation right from the moment when there is production, we should take care of the produces, in collection, transportation and storage,’ Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo added that the country has also very limited value chain industries.
“Other option is drying and powdering but we do not have any facility equipment for powdering so we couldn’t carry it out. However, we did try to dry cabbages and chillies,” Lyonpo added.
Lyonpo said that people should focus on production of winter produce too.
“We have been too dependent on import, so when there is lockdown and there is no import we panic. So should there be no import, what should we do? So we need to focus on winter production and post harvest management on how to add value to the produces and preserve it. So that way in the lean season we do not really need to worry about import,” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo added, “We are preparing and remodeling our 2021 plan to the COVID-19 scenario. Of course we were preparing the contingency plan before the COVID and now we have also got an idea to focus more on the plans.”
Lyonpo also added that if the next lockdown comes sometimes in November and December, then there won’t be resources problem like the country had in July and August.
“We should be better off and in fact we have developed Standing Operating Procedures on how to import and export local produces, ensure internal distribution and on what the Ministry should do and what local government should do ,”Lyonpo said.
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