Yangyel Lhaden

Unlike in the past, farmers need not travel to the border towns to auction their vegetables. They can sell their produce at an identified area closer to their homes.

Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited (FCBL) has started buying farm produce since June 18.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and given the difficulties faced in exporting farm produce, the government provided financial support to FCBL to buy from farmers.

FCBL will buy 24 agriculture produce from farmers at government-approved rates ranging between Nu 4 and Nu 48. FCBL will make instant payment to sellers at the collection point.

However, the approved rates have already drawn criticism on social media. Most farmers are unhappy about it. Some said that it was convenient. “It (the price offered) is a joke,” said a retired civil servant who went to organic farming.

A farmer from Haa said that he could sell his large red potato for Nu 40 at the local markets but the approved rate was only Nu 18.

Another farmer from Punakha said that the buy-back rate was low, but it was convenient since she did not have to struggle to sell her product.

FCBL’s Agricultural Marketing Service Division head, Sangay Choeda,  said that the approved government rate was an average auction rate of past five years which was inclusive of transportation charges from the collection point till the border. 

“Unlike in the past, farmers need not wait for weeks at border towns to auction and wait for more days to receive payment. Farmers will directly benefit and the approved rates are reasonable considering the situation,” he said.

On the first day of procurement, at the collection point in Damchu, Chukha, FCBL bought 275 bags of cabbage from six farmers and 271 kilogrammes of radish from a farmer.

The buying takes place over a new online system, Online Farmers’ Market System, an extension of the existing Bhutan Commodities Market Initiative by  FCBL with Royal Security Exchange of Bhutan ( RSEB) launched on May 15.

There are 58 registered clients using BCMI.

One of the farmers, who used the system, said he couldn’t negotiate the price with the buyer. Another farmer said that no one called after uploading the details of her produce.

The system requires farmers to upload the details of their produce with contact information. The expected rate by the seller is subject to negotiation with the buyer.

A farmer said that they should be allowed to upload more pictures.

Sangay Choeda said that since it was a new system, they were focusing on creating more awareness about the system to make it successful.

He said that a user manual on the system was circulated to local governments and relevant sectors. Local government officials are expected to disseminate information to farmers.

A team from FCBL and RSEB is visiting dzongkhags to create awareness on the system and buy-back scheme.

The system is expected to improve the ease of doing business.

The government issued an order on June 2 to temporarily control the import of commonly grown vegetables and fruits in the country to help farmers sell their produce.

Farmers said that due to poor market linkages, selling their farm produce has become difficult.

FCBL official said that the new system would improve the ease of doing business in the country which has remained a major challenge. “The system will bridge that gap,” he said.