Rajesh Rai  | Phuentsholing

Beginning this month, the Government of India (GoI) has approved import of 150 metric tonnes (MT) of onions a month until December.

The Embassy of India in Thimphu announced this on October 16 in a formal notification.

On September 14, India stopped onion export (except for those cut, sliced and powdered) as prices trebled in a month after excessive rainfall hit crops in states across southern India.

The ban had left the country without onions for more than a month now.

The import was given as a “special exemption for Bhutan.”

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Food Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (FCBL), Naiten Wangchuk said it is a special arrangement. India continues with its ban of onion export. 

He said that the special exemption will continue until December this year, which means Bhutan will import 150MT of onions in October, November and December.

Naiten Wangchuk said that the order for this month’s 150MT has been placed.

He said that onions brought in through Phuentsholing will be distributed to the western region, while onions imported via Gelephu will go to the central region. For the eastern region, onions will be imported from Samdrup Jongkhar.

“We have already submitted the details to the director-general of foreign trade in India,” the CEO said. The details will then be intimated to the customs offices in India.

After India announced it will stop exporting onions, the agriculture ministry made it compulsory for dzongkhags to grow onions to address the shortage in the country.

In the case of Phuentsholing, a few vendors still managed to bring in onions from Samtse, which is sold at Nu 200 a kg. In Jaigaon, a kilogram of onion is sold at Nu 40-45 today.

Although FCBL will import and distribute the onions to vegetable vendors, the price is expected to exceed the price across the border.

Prior to the pandemic, the price of most vegetables in Phuentsholing was at par with the price in Jaigaon.

A vegetable vendor said that if FCBL allowed vendors to directly buy from Jaigaon traders, the price would be much lower than the onions distributed by FCBL.

Even the rate of tomato, which the FCBL imports and distributes to vendors is Nu 100 to Nu 120 a kg at the vegetable market today. In Jaigaon, it is sold at Nu 38 to Nu 42, sources said.

“The actual price of a kg of tomato charged by FCBL is Nu 63,” a vendor said.

However, considering the damaged tomatoes and transportation, the buying price climbs at least to Nu 75 a kg, which reduces the profit margin for vendors, he said.

On October 16, the Embassy of India also announced that the Government of India sanctioned the import of potato, areca nuts, orange, apple and ginger from Bhutan. All these products were listed in India’s import (regulation) list from Bhutan.

This has come as a huge relief to thousands of farmers across the country, which includes potato traders in both Phuentsholing and Jaigaon.