Marketing: Of the 200 gewog farm shops that the Agriculture Marketing and Cooperatives Department (DAMC) aims to establish by 2018, 79 will be up by June this year, DAMC officials said.

The department’s farm shop coordinator Sonam Norbu said 39 shops are functional today.

The shops have bought 152 metric tonnes (MT) of maize and 144.05MT of paddy until December last year.

The department has signed a memorandum of understanding with Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) for collection of farm produce and operation of the shops until 2018. FCB will be supplying the maize to Karma Feeds.

The shops would also buy areca nuts (doma), cardamom, and ginger and store them in the cold storage facility of the FCB until they are sold off.

“The produce would be sold with value addition wherever possible,” he said.

“The shops are mainly to provide easier market access to farmers with a buy back system whereby farmers can sell their surplus farm produce,” Sonam Norbu said.

“Besides, they also cater to famers with various farming inputs such as fertilizers, tools, and seeds to enhance production,” he said. “The shops also sell essential grocery items.”

Sonam Norbu said the farm shops are mostly in the eastern dzongkhags as the gewogs had government structures lying underused.

“These structures are repaired, which takes about three months,” he said.

So far, only two new structures were built one in Eusu gewog, Haa and the other Chuzergang in Sarpang, each costing about Nu 2 million (M).

The department has spent about Nu 27M to establish the shops.

Gewogs that have shortages of such facilities and unused government structures are given priority.

The shops are at the gewog centre for villagers’ convenience as they can attend meetings or pay taxes and buy their inputs from the shops.

“Shops would coordinate with farmers and collect the produce from them so they don’t have to bother about transportation and other costs,” Sonam Norbu said.

There are challenges in opening the shops.

“We’ve shortage of budget, and finding structures and land to set up the shops,” the farm shop coordinator said.

The ministry adjust funds from whichever project possible and the minister seeks from other sources.

In some places the department has come under criticism for killing business for the local shopkeepers.

Wangdiphodrang got the first shop in the country in May last year, and it has two now. Pemagatshel has the most number of shops, eight, Lhuentse has six, Trashigang and Zhemgang has five each, Trasiyangtse has four, Samdrupjongkhar has three, Mongar two shops, Haa, Gasa, Sarpang and Bumthang has one each.

Food Corporation of Bhutan will operate the shops until the end of the Plan and then they would be handed over to cooperatives, farmer groups or individual farmers.

In principle all 205 gewogs should have shops by June 2018, the end of 11th Plan, but DAMC officials said some gewogs located in towns might not come through.

Tshering Palden