Chhimi Dema

It is 5:44 am. The day starts early for the farmers who have gathered in the Centenary Farmers’ Market (CFM) in Thimphu.

The parking lots below CFM are filled with pickup trucks carrying loads of vegetables and fruit. Inaugurated in October 2008, CFM is the largest physical retail marketplace in the country.

Farmers from Punakha, Wangdue, Paro and south Thimphu, and some from as far as Dagana come to sell their farm produce every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

There are green chilies, cabbages, spinach, ferns, broccoli, beans, carrots, apples, rattan (patsha), and produce on sale.

The day started at 3 am for Choki Wangmo from Paro.

It has been five years since she started bringing her vegetables to the CFM.

Some farmers spend the night at the parking below CFM to secure a place inside the marketplace

“Farming is not a profitable business but it is enough to sustain ourselves,” she says.

The parking space below CFM is jam-packed with pick-up trucks carrying sacks of vegetables and crates of apples. The gate to CFM opens at 6 am.

“Those who get a parking spot inside CFM have a better chance of selling their produce,” says Rinchen Lam, 38, from Paro, who secured her place on the footpaths. She says that parking space is an issue in the marketplace.

“Even if we cannot make a profit from selling our produce, we don’t run into losses, because higher demand for vegetables in Thimphu allows us to sell at lower rates,” she says.

She brought about 15 bags of red chilies and a sack of eggplants and beans to sell.

Last year, she earned Nu 2,000 for a sackful (ranges from 25 to 26kgs) of red chilies. These days she gets Nu 1,600 for a sack.

Rinchen Lam says: “If a season has bountiful production for a certain type of produce, then the price drops for that produce.”

According to the Annual Agriculture Statistics 2020, a total of 57,727 metric tonnes (MT) of vegetables were produced in 2020. Compared to 2019, the production increased by 10 MT in 2020.

The major vegetables grown in the country are turnips, cabbages, cauliflower, and chilies.

It is 6 am. The gate to CFM opens. Vehicles honk their way in. The honking continues for about 10 minutes until the parking spots inside are filled.

Tshewang Norbu, 58, from Jimena occupied a parking spot. He has brought a few crates of apples and three sacks of green chilies.

“What we see today­–the quantity and quality of farm produce–is far better than a decade ago,” he says.

He has been engaged in farming and selling to the vendors and wholesalers in Thimphu for two decades.

“Not many were keen on farming before and what was available in the market came from Kabesa, Pamtso and Jemina in Thimphu,” he says.

He says that the pandemic is making people realise the importance of food, and attributes the increased production to the efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests.

But not all fare well in the farming business.

Tshewang Norbu, today, can fetch Nu 800 for a cart of apples (approximately 18kgs). “Those with cold storage facilities can preserve their fruit for the off-season but not all have the same access,” he says.

A total of 4,056 MT of apple was produced in 2020, of which, Paro and Thimphu accounted for 88 percent of the total production.

However, in 2019, from a total of 60,022 MT of fruits, 4,321 MT of apples were produced, which shows a decrease in 2020’s production.

Nima, from Paro, has unloaded all his crates of apples. He says he is satisfied with the earnings. However, he says he used to earn more than a hundred thousand before the pandemic and today, he earns close to Nu 75,000 for 100 crates of apples.

“With the establishment of CFM, farmers can earn well,” he says. “The practice before was to roam about carrying our produce.”

It’s 7:35 am. Some parking spots are vacant. Still, wholesalers and vendors continue to bargain with the farmers.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk