Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

Bhutan Agro has ventured into contract farming in the east to provide market assurance to farmers and get adequate supply.

The deputy chief executive officer, Kinzang Dorji, said the integrated agro-processing plant in Lingmethang has signed contracts with seven farmers’ groups involving 164 households.

“Two farmers’ groups are for passion fruits while five are for pineapples with the total acreage cover of 127 in the eastern six dzongkhags and Zhemgang,” he said.

He also said four more farmers groups, who will grow passion fruit and pineapple, have also been identified in Trashigang, Trashiyangtse and Pemagatshel.

According to Kinzang Dorji, agreements have been initially drawn for three years. “We are creating a ready market for farmers by linking with us and offering incremental prices to motivate them and improve their livelihood.”

He said Bhutan Agro also faces shortage of other fruits like mango and oranges, and they are planning to sign contract with farmers.

While oranges are abundantly grown in the east, Agro officials said the main issue is farmers sell across the border whenever they fetch good price.

The company could collect only 53.198 MT from 144 farmers amounting to Nu 1.3 million in the last orange season.

Bhutan Agro makes products like bottled and canned juices from mango, orange, pineapple, passion fruit, jam and pickles.

According to the company’s deputy CEO, the plant still has 5,000kg of blended chilli paste ready to be packed.

“The sale is not impressive and we have written to the dzongdags in the region, lam netens, and presidents of the two colleges to include chili pickle as appetiser in the mess menu of schools, colleges and institutes. But we are yet to receive the response,” Kinzang Dorji said.

He said they help farmers by buying their farm produce and urges people to consume their products.

Bhutan Agro officials said one of the reasons why people are not keen on buying chilli pickles and selling fruits to the Agro procession plant is due to lack of awareness besides imports.

Kinzang Dorji said Bhutan Agro is also in the process of developing an appropriate app to advertise through social media platforms in future.

Officials said they plan to process high-end products and export to the niche market in future.

It was learnt machinery are underutilised because of inadequate raw materials.

“Bhutan Agro hopes to receive ample supply with contract signing after fruits like passion fruits and pineapple complete their gestation period and start full production,” Kinzang Dorji said.

Established two years ago, the agro processing plant in Lingmethang is run by 36 employees. The plant has so far 11 distributors in the eastern region and few retailers.

Meanwhile, farmers who have signed contracts with Bhutan Agro are happy with the market assurance they get.

Karma Dorji, a pineapple grower in Khangma, Pemagatshel, has signed contract with Bhutan Agro.

He said most of the 32 farmers in the group are happy with the ready market which motivated them to grow on a large scale.

He initially started growing pineapples on two acres of land and is planning to expand it in the future.