Despite challenges and little returns, the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCBL) has operationalised 119 farm shops across the country today.

The corporation opened 31 new farm shops in the country this year.

With works ongoing for the remaining 86 shops, the corporation aims to take farm shops to all 205 gewogs by the end of this year.

FCBL officials said that of the 86 remaining shops, about 35 will be opened in July and August this year.

Chief executive officer (CEO), Karma Nidup, said FCBL would establish the shops in all 205 gewogs by the end of this year in collaboration with agriculture ministry, dzongkhag and gewog administration.

He said that the farm shops are helping the rural communities, especially the far-flung communities such as Sakteng, Laya, and Lunana. “Farm shops benefit the rural communities, help stabilise the price, encourage farm production and generate employment.”

Karma Nidup said that the farm shops have also worked as reserves during emergencies.

However, going by the figures the corporation officials shared, the government may have to provide more financial support.

FCBL has spent about Nu 56.14 million (M) until December 2016. The agriculture ministry has supported with about Nu 6.69M worth of equipment and the infrastructure. The government provided staff through guaranteed employment program of the labour ministry.

In terms of supplies, as of December 2016, FCBL supplied stock worth Nu 115.32M out of which food grains worth Nu 70.42M was supplied to the farm shops.

Meanwhile, the food corporation faces several challenges in commencing and operating the farm shops across the country. “The biggest challenge is fund shortage,” an official said.

Officials said that with limited FCBL budget that had to be diverted for farm shop operation, FCBL has requested the government for Nu 200M overdraft (OD) facility.

Poor road connectivity to farm shops is another challenge, which leads to the delay in reaching rations.

Officials said a shortage of storage space during monsoon when the roads are cut off makes it difficult to keep stock. “Due to the huge amount of stock value in the farm shops, FCBL is also losing opportunities in other potential markets,” an official said. “In addition, frequent stock replenishment also escalates the overhead costs.”

FCBL has also been facing difficulty in sharing and receiving timely information as most farm shops are located in the remote parts of the country and lack proper mobile network connectivity and Internet services.

Officials said that after operating for two years now, the FCBL management has resolved some of the challenges.

By December 2016, there were about 87 farm shops in operation. Only 15 shops generated some modest income amounting to Nu 0.821M, while the remaining 72 farm shops suffered losses amounting to Nu 4.63M.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing