In the wake of rupee crisis, curbing imported vegetables was seen as one of the means to address the problem. However, marketing local vegetables is proving to be challenging.
To implement the Plan for Accelerating Vegetable Production and Marketing in 2012, farmers were given incentives to cultivate vegetable especially focusing on the winter season. The plan which was devised by Department of Agricultural Marketing and Cooperatives (DAMC) and the Horticulture Division is at a crossroads today.
A vegetable marketing and supply venture called FreshVeg, took the challenge to make local vegetable supply a reality. But their dream seems to be far-fetched.
“The lack of variety in local vegetables is the weakest link in the supply chain of marketing the local vegetables,” said the CEO of the venture Khampa Tshering.
Some consumers have complained that lack of variety in local vegetables keeps them away from opting for local vegetables and some think that local vegetables are expensive. But FreshVeg is determined to change this perception.
“Surprisingly we are too low on prices,” Khampa said, “even lower than the retail prices of imported vegetables.”
He added that the venture is not aiming at huge profits by hiking the prices of local vegetables. It is rather started to bring income to the farmers and let consumers buy local vegetables which makes for a two-way benefit.
The Fresh Veg CEO said that the lack of logistics facilities to operate the supply chain efficiently and effectively is a serious blow to their efforts. FreshVeg has been collecting vegetables from five southern dzongkhags. Within two months of their business, they collected over 10,000 metric tons of local vegetables.
“Since vegetables are highly perishable crops they need careful post-harvest handling,” said Khampa. However, FreshVeg has expressed that it cannot afford to buy all the technology and transportation facilities needed to operate the supply of vegetables.
The whole system depends on maintaining the ‘cold chain’.
“Otherwise, it will be hard to maintain the freshness of local vegetables, because they are collected travelling long distances to villages and farms in the nook and corner of our country,” ” said Khampa.
Currently, FreshVeg is working to modify the erstwhile auction yard near Thimphu Centenary Farmers’ Market into a cold storage and a sale outlet.
To minimize the operational burden, DAMC has been rolling out subsidies to FreshVeg in terms of transportation, storage and outlet facilities, and promotion of local vegetables. But the venture calls for more support.
“Without major input in terms of investment and expertise the initiative to produce and market local vegetables may go awry,” said Khampa Tshering. He added that executing the venture through a Public Private Partnership approach would be successful where both the government and private entities can be at stake.
The need of the hour for such an initiative based on social responsibility to serve the society is ‘lots of support and investment’.
“If we look in India and elsewhere supply chain in agri-business is well organized and invested well,” said Khampa.
The private initiative came into being with a loan from Bhutan Development Bank Ltd. (BDBL) in the name of the promoter Lobzang Dorji.
“It is because of the financial support from the bank that we were able to operate our business. “At the same time we are now quite strong with the subsidies we are receiving from DAMC,” he said.
Today the venture has 15 employees working long hours doing door-to-door deliveries to restaurants, hotels, resorts, institutes, and retailers.