Agriculture: It is a bright day in Chapcha. Potato farmers are toiling along Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway. The tuber is getting all the attention this season.
Growers are expecting better harvest they had in the past.
For Yeshey, 25, this is the first time she is in the fields, but not entirely without any skill.
“My brother harvested 85 packets [one packet = 50kg] last year,” said Yeshey. “I am not sure how much I can harvest. But I expect more.”
However, when the farmers sell potatoes at the auction yard in Phuentsholing, they in terms of dogang, which is 100kg, which translates to Nu 20 to Nu 22 per kg.
This price is low considering what farmers could fetch in 2014. Average price of potato in 2015 dropped to Nu 16.55 from Nu 25.97 in 2014.
Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCBL) auctioned 22,597.24 metric tonnes, which is 14.22 percent less compared to the 2014 production. In 2014, farmers brought about 26,345.58 metric tonnes of potato at the auction yards.
FCBL officials attributed the hike in the price in 2014 to a bad production in West Bengal, India. The West Bengal government, restricted potato export, and welcomed import from Bhutan.
Considering Nu 60 per packet for transportation, many potato growers were not happy. Even transporters in Chukha experienced declined movements in 2015.
However, growers are expecting better price with better production.
Another Chapchap, Aum Thinley Biddha, is weeding in her fields about 50 metres away from Yeshey’s.
“The tuber plants at the moment are growing excellent,” Aum Thinley Bidha said. “But the sun and the rain must be balanced for a good harvest.” Aum Thinley Bidha auctioned 100 packets in 2015. What she got from the sale was nowhere near what she made in 2014.
Unlike other growers, Chapchaps preserve their own potato seed. In 2015, Tashigatshel villagers in Bjabcho Gewog complained of low-grade potato seeds. Their harvest had faced a drastic drop.
Tashi Pem, another farmer, said: “It is only me and my husband at home.” Together, they take about 200 packets for auction annually. It is the price that makes the difference and not the quantity, she added.
There is also an interesting story behind the potato growing culture in Chapcha. Changlo,a villager, said a man brought three red potatoes in the 1970s. The three potatoes were sliced into pieces and grown. About 10kg potatoes was harvested. The man then distributed the seed to the villagers. So the red potato flourished in Chapcha.
Potato growing culture in Chapcha progressed only in 1970s, like in many other Bhutanese communities. Not long after, a Swiss native, Fitz Maurer, brought 400kg of different tuber varieties to grow in Bhutan. After that potato farming went commercial.
Helvetas then started the first phase of potato project with the Bhutan National Potato Programme from July 1983 to March 1987. A second phase of the Helvetas-assisted potato project was extended until June 1990.
Rajesh Rai, Chapcha