A middle path?

This autumn, the harvest season, we are seeing a lot of problems with vegetables. In the capital, vendors are crying foul for abruptly stopping their business by closing the Centenary Farmers’ Market  (CFM). 

In the south, truckloads of potatoes are lined along the roads with export restricted. Many are complaining about not finding onions and tomatoes or the price vendors are charging.

In the villages, farmers are complaining of chilies rotting away or getting stolen. It is about shortage, excess and not having a market, a familiar problem in the vegetable business. 

There is some development in the CFM issue, however. Starting tomorrow, some vendors will sell from the CFM. There is a middle path found after the vendors appealed to the Prime Minister. A card system would restrict the number of vendors, expected to reduce crowding at the otherwise busy market. This is a temporary measure and will provide a temporary relief to the nearly 500 vendors. 

Decongesting the CFM is a good idea. 

If we can spread the vendors across the city, it will have multiple benefits. Apart from decongesting the busy part of a town for Covid-19 reasons, farmers will have choice in choosing which market to take their produce and consumers will have competitive price.

It will take some time, but once the city’s residents get used to visiting the vegetable market in their area, business will pick up. Besides, the closure coincides with the ban of import of vegetables. The only source is the local producers. Once the markets are ready, the priority will be given to the licensed vendors of the CFM.

As the name suggests, it is a farmers’ market. It is not Centenary Vendors’ Market. The idea was to provide market to the farmers. Farmers are at the mercy of the vendors who “book” vegetables by the sack load before they are unload from Boleros and DCM trucks. They have no place to sit and sell. Quite often we see CFM officials chasing farmers who sell near the CFM gate or on the sidewalks. And quite often we see customers looking for farmers because they know the deal is better both in terms of price and quantity.

We have bigger issues. The lockdown and the restrictions happened when we were producing a lot of vegetables. Import is restricted and soon we will see shortage of vegetables. Not many dzongkhags produces enough vegetables in winter. There are efforts, but we are still learning to grow vegetables in winter. 

There is also a focus on promoting agriculture, vegetables being a priority. Our farmers and those returning to farming will be encouraged if they find the venture profitable. For this, they need access to market. If they can bring their produce to a farmers’ market in populated towns like Thimphu, it will make their legs lighter.

What will happen to the CFM after all the vendors move out is not sure. Making it an exclusive farmers’ market sound a better idea.

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